R. D. Laing wore many robes in his career, including psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, social critic, author, poet, and mystic, and at the peak of his fame and popularity in the 1970s he was the most widely-read psychiatrist in the world.

Arguably the most controversial psychoanalyst since Freud, Laing’s meteoric rise in the 1960s was the result of his rare ability to make complex ideas accessible with such best-selling classics as The Divided Self (1960), Sanity, Madness and Family (1964), The Politics of Experience (1967), and Knots (1970). Laing’s impassioned plea for a more humane treatment of those in society who are most vulnerable catapulted him into the vanguard of intellectual and cultural debate about the nature of sanity and madness, and inspired a generation of psychology students, intellectuals, and artists to turn this disarming Scotsman into a social icon.

Laing’s extraordinary influence was based almost entirely on his devastating critique of conventional psychiatric practices, which he believed were often more deadly than the disease they presumed to treat. The (albeit reluctant) father of “antipsychiatry,” Laing developed a daring alternative to psychiatric treatment at Kingsley Hall, the therapy center in London where he conceived the notion of a community where therapists and patients alike could live without clearly defined roles. This controversial treatment regimen was so successful that it continues to operate nearly fifty years later and is even
funded by the Local Council in London. Kingsley Hall also inspired numerous residential treatment communities in North America that eventually led to a sea-change in contemporary attitudes about the involuntary incarceration of the mentally ill.

Now, in this unprecedented event, Laing’s former students and colleagues from around the world will meet in New York to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death in order to assess his legacy and continuing relevance to contemporary thought and practice. Wagner College on Staten Island is proud to host a weekend symposium for the purpose of exploring Laing’s legacy with those who knew him intimately in America. Representatives from existential therapy, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Buddhism, the treatment of schizophrenia and psychotic process, the humanistic-transpersonal and New Age community, and spiritual practitioners will meet to discuss Laing’s impact on these disciplines and his continuing relevance to twenty-first century attitudes about psychological suffering and health.

1 comment:

Michael Guy Thompson said...

It was the best of times and the worst of times . . .

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