1969 Radical Psychiatry Manifesto, by Claude Steiner

This document was written on the occasion of the 1969 American Psychiatric Association conference in San Francisco. It was a reaction to psychiatric practices of that time especially the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness and pro government intervention in draft resistance.  (see also Principles of Radical Psychiatry)


1. The practice of psychiatry has been usurped by the medical establishment. Political control of its public aspects has been seized by medicine and the language of soul healing has been infiltrated with irrelevant medical concepts and terms.


Psychiatry must return to its non-medical origins since most psychiatric conditions are in no way the province of medicine. A1l persons competent in soul healing should be known as psychiatrists. Psychiatrists should repudiate the use of medically derived words such as patient, illness, diagnosis, treatment. Medical psychiatrists’ unique contribution to psychiatry is as experts on neurology and, with much-needed additional work, on drugs.

2. Extended individual psychotherapy is an elitist outmoded as well as nonproductive form of psychiatric help. It concentrates the talents of a few on a few. It silently colludes with the notion that people’s difficulties have their source in them while implying that everything is well with the world. It promotes oppression by shrouding its consequences with shame and secrecy. It further mystifies by attempting to pass as an ideal human relationship when in fact, it is artificial in the extreme.

People’s troubles have their source not within them but in their alienated relationships, in their exploitation, in polluted environments, in war, and in the profit motive. Psychiatry must be practiced in groups. One-to-one contacts, of great value in crises should become the exception rather than the rule. The high ideal of I-Thou loving relations should be pursued in the context of groups rather than the stilted consulting-room situation. Psychiatrists not proficient in group work are deficient in their training and should upgrade it. Psychiatrists should encourage bilateral, open discussion and discourage secrecy and shame in relationship to deviant behavior and thought.

3. By remaining “neutral” in an oppressive situation, psychiatry, especially in the public sector, has become an enforcer of established values and laws. Adjustment to prevailing conditions is the avowed goal of most psychiatric treatment. Persons who deviate from the world’s madness are given fraudulent diagnostic tests which generate diagnostic labels which lead to ”treatment” which is, in fact, a series of graded, repressive procedures such as “drug management,” hospitalization, shock therapy, perhaps lobotomy. All these forms of “treatment” are perversions of legitimate medical methods which have been put at the service of the establishment by the medical profession. Treatment is forced on persons who would, it left alone, not seek it.

Psychological tests and the diagnostic labels they generate, especially schizophrenia, must be disavowed as meaningless mystifications the real function of which is to distance psychiatrists from people and to insult people into conformity Medicine must cease making available drugs, hospitals, and other legitimate medical procedures for the purpose of subtle law enforcement and playing a part in the oppression of women by refusing to or promote adjustment to their oppression. All psychiatric help should be by contract, that is, people should choose when, what, and with whom they want to change. Psychiatrists should become advocates of the people, should refuse to participate in the pacification of the oppressed and should encourage people’s struggles for liberation.

Paranoia is a state of heightened awareness. Most people are persecuted beyond their wildest delusions. Those who are at ease are insensitive.

Schizophrenia is an experience saner than “normality” in this mad world.

Psychiatric deception of be oppressed is at the root of people’s alienation .

San Francisco and Berkeley, 1969.

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