R. D. Laing: Wikis


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Ronald David Laing

The author of Knots (1970) perusing in 1983
The Ashley Book of Knots
Born 7 October 1927(1927-10-07)
Govanhill, Glasgow, Scotland.
Died 23 August 1989 (aged 61)
Cause of death Heart attack
Occupation Psychiatrist
Known for Author of psychiatry books

Ronald David Laing (7 October 1927 – 23 August 1989), was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness – in particular, the experience of psychosis. Laing's views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, greatly influenced by existential philosophy, ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder. Often associated with the anti-psychiatry movement, he himself rejected the label as such, as did certain others critical of conventional psychiatry at the time.


Early years

Laing was born in the Govanhill district of Glasgow on 7 October 1927 to David Park MacNair Laing and Amelia Glen Laing (née Kirkwood).[1] He was educated at Hutchesons' Grammar School, going on to study medicine at the University of Glasgow failing his exams on his first attempt, in 1950, but passing in a subsequent re-sit.


Laing spent a couple of years as a psychiatrist in the British Army (Royal Army Medical Corps; drafted despite his asthma that made him unfit for combat), where he found an interest in communicating with mentally distressed people. In 1953 Laing left the Army and worked at Gartnavel Royal Hospital, Glasgow. During this period he also participated in an existentialism-oriented discussion group in Glasgow, organised by Karl Abenheimer and Joe Schorstein.[2] In 1956 Laing went on to train on a grant at the Tavistock Clinic in London, widely known as a centre for the study and practice of psychotherapy (particularly psychoanalysis). At this time, he was associated with John Bowlby, D. W. Winnicott and Charles Rycroft. He remained at the Tavistock Institute until 1964.[3]

In 1965, Laing and a group of colleagues created the Philadelphia Association and started a psychiatric community project at Kingsley Hall, where patients and therapists lived together.[4] The Norwegian author Axel Jensen became a close friend and Laing often visited him onboard his ship, Shanti Devi, in Stockholm.

Inspired by the work of American psychotherapist Elizabeth Fehr, Laing began to develop a team offering 'rebirthing workshops' in which one designated person chooses to re-experience the struggle of trying to break out of the birth canal represented by the remaining members of the group who surround him/her.

Laing and "anti-psychiatry"

Laing is regarded as an important figure in the anti-psychiatry movement, along with David Cooper, though he never denied the value of treating mental distress. He wanted to challenge the core values of a psychiatry which considers mental illness as primarily a biological phenomenon, without any social, intellectual or political significance.

Laing was a critic of psychiatric diagnosis, arguing that diagnosis of a mental disorder contradicted accepted medical procedure: diagnosis was made on the basis of behavior or conduct, and examination and ancillary tests that traditionally precede diagnosis of viable pathologies like broken bones or pneumonia occurred after (if at all) the diagnosis of mental disorder. Hence, according to Laing, psychiatry was founded on a false epistemology: illness diagnosed by conduct but treated biologically.

The fact that medical doctors had annexed mental disorders did not mean they were practicing medicine; hence, the popular term "medical model of mental illness" is oxymoronic, since, according to Laing, diagnosis of mental illness did not follow the traditional medical model. The notion that biological psychiatry is a real science or a genuine branch of medicine has been challenged by other critics as well.

Personal life

Laing's personal life can be seen as an extreme example of how each generation of a family has consequences for the next. His parents led a life of extreme denial, exhibiting bizarre behaviour. His father David, an electrical engineer, seems often to have come to blows with his own brother, and himself had a breakdown when Laing was a teenager. His mother Amelia was described as "still more psychologically peculiar". According to one friend and neighbour, "everyone in the street knew she was mad".[5]

Laing was troubled by his own personal problems, suffering from both episodic alcoholism and clinical depression, according to his self-diagnosis in his 1983 BBC Radio interview with Dr. Anthony Clare,[6] although he reportedly was free of both in the years before his death. He died at age 61 of a heart attack while playing tennis with his colleague and friend Robert W. Firestone.[7]

Laing fathered six sons and four daughters by four women. His son Adrian, speaking in 2008 said, "It was ironic that my father became well-known as a family psychiatrist, when, in the meantime, he had nothing to do with his own family."[8]

Adam, his oldest son by his second marriage, was found dead in May 2008, in a tent on a Mediterranean island, following what might have been a "suicidal binge" following the breakup of a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Janina. He had died of a heart attack, aged 41.[9]

His daughter Susan died in March 1976, aged 21, of leukemia.


On mental illness

Laing argued that the strange behavior and seemingly confused speech of people undergoing a psychotic episode were ultimately understandable as an attempt to communicate worries and concerns, often in situations where this was not possible or not permitted. Laing stressed the role of society, and particularly the family, in the development of "madness" (his term). He argued that individuals can often be put in impossible situations, where they are unable to conform to the conflicting expectations of their peers, leading to a "lose-lose situation" and immense mental distress for the individuals concerned. (In 1956, in Palo Alto, Gregory Bateson and his colleagues Paul Watzlawick, Donald Jackson, and Jay Haley[10] articulated a related theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations where a person receives different or contradictory messages.) The perceived symptoms of schizophrenia were therefore an expression of this distress, and should be valued as a cathartic and trans-formative experience.

Psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers had previously pronounced, in his work General Psychopathology, that many of the symptoms of mental illness (and particularly of delusions) were "un-understandable", and therefore were worthy of little consideration except as a sign of some other underlying primary disorder. Laing saw psychopathology as being seated not in biological or psychic organs – whereby environment is relegated to playing at most only an accidental role as immediate trigger of disease (the "stress diathasis model" of the nature and causes of psychopathology) – but rather in the social cradle, the urban home, which cultivates it, the very crucible in which selves are forged. This re-evaluation of the locus of the disease process – and consequent shift in forms of treatment – was in stark contrast to psychiatric orthodoxy (in the broadest sense we have of ourselves as psychological subjects and pathological selves). Laing was revolutionary in valuing the content of psychotic behavior and speech as a valid expression of distress, albeit wrapped in an enigmatic language of personal symbolism which is meaningful only from within their situation. According to Laing, if a therapist can better understand his or her patient, the therapist can begin to make sense of the symbolism of the patient's psychosis, and therefore start addressing the concerns which are the root cause of the distress.

Laing expanded the view of the "double bind" hypothesis put forth by Bateson and other anthropologists, and came up with a new concept to describe the highly complex situation that unfolds in the process of "going mad" - an "incompatible knot". Laing compared this to a situation where your right hand can exist but your left hand cannot. In this untenable position, something has got to give, and more often than not, what gives is psychological stability; a self-destruction sequence is set in motion.

Laing never denied the existence of mental illness, but viewed it in a radically different light from his contemporaries. For Laing, mental illness could be a trans-formative episode whereby the process of undergoing mental distress was compared to a shamanic journey. The traveler could return from the journey with (supposedly) important insights, and may have become (in the views of Laing and his followers) a wiser and more grounded person as a result. This was consistent with the critique of the alleged dubious validity of "value judgements" prevalent in Western society, which was common amongst academics in the 1960s and 1970s (for example, the views of Michel Foucault).

Ontological insecurity, family nexus, and the double-bind

In The Divided Self (1960), Laing contrasted the experience of the "ontologically secure" person with that of a person who "cannot take the realness, aliveness, autonomy and identity of himself and others for granted" and who consequently contrives strategies to avoid "losing his self". [11] Laing explains how we all exist in the world as beings, defined by others who carry a model of us in their heads, just as we carry models of them in our heads. In later writings he often takes this to deeper levels, laboriously spelling out how "A knows that B knows that A knows that B knows ..."! Our feelings and motivations derive very much from this condition of "being in the world" in the sense of existing for others, who exist for us. Without this we suffer "ontological insecurity", a condition often expressed in terms of "being dead" by people who are clearly still physically alive.

In Self and Others (1961), Laing's definition of normality shifted somewhat.[12]

In Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964), Laing and Esterton give accounts of several families, analysing how their members see each other and what they actually communicate to each other. The startling way in which lies are perpetuated in the interest of family politics rings true to many readers from 'normal' families, and Laing's view is that in some cases these lies are so strongly maintained as to make it impossible for a vulnerable child to be able to determine what truth actually is, let alone what the truth of their situation is.

He uses the term 'family nexus' to describe the consensus view within the family, but from there on much of his writing appears ambivalent, as Andrew Collier has pointed out in The Philosophy and Politics of Psychotherapy (with a contribution from Laing, 1977). One strand of Laing's thinking, traceable to Marx and Sartre, condemns society for shackling humankind against its will, taking away individual freedom. Left to their own devices, people are healthy, and people with so-called mental illness are just trying to find their way back to their natural state. This was the basis for his approach to psychotherapy, as in the case of his most famous "patient" Mary Barnes. An idea typical of his work is the following quote in his book, The Politics of Experience, "We are effectively destroying ourselves with violence masquerading as love."

A paradox arising from Laing's interpretations is that it is the very need for ontological security Laing discussed in his first book that is the driving force that builds societies. Laing characterised the family nexus as often placing children in a 'double bind', unable to obey conflicting injunctions from family members, but he does not 'blame' those family members. The family members are usually unaware that they are doing such things, and are just as confused as the children within the situation. The Preface to the Second Edition and Introduction to Sanity, Madness and the Family offer a concise articulation of this issue.

The Politics of Experience (1967)


Laing's ideas are not currently generally espoused by the psychiatric establishment. Significant critiques of his ideas have been published by contemporary psychiatric authorities.[13] Lack of perceived success of "care in the community" programmes for the mental health patients in the UK, and the absence of clear evidence that patients can be practically assisted, or their lives significantly enhanced, by Laingian therapies (especially without the use of pharmaceuticals) has impeded their acceptability.

In 1965 Laing co-founded the UK charity the Philadelphia Association, which he also chaired.[14] His work influenced the wider movement of therapeutic communities, operating in less "confrontational" (in a Laingian perspective) psychiatric settings. Other organizations created in a Laingian tradition are the Arbours Association [15] and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling in London [16].

Selected bibliography

  • Laing, R.D. (1960) The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Laing, R.D. (1961) The Self and Others. London: Tavistock Publications. [17]
  • Laing, R.D. and Esterson, A. (1964) Sanity, Madness and the Family. London: Penguin Books.
  • Laing, R.D. and Cooper, D.G. (1964) Reason and Violence: A Decade of Sartre's Philosophy. (2nd ed.) London: Tavistock Publications Ltd.
  • Laing, R.D., Phillipson, H. and Lee, A.R. (1966) Interpersonal Perception: A Theory and a Method of Research. London: Tavistock.
  • Laing, R.D. (1967) The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Laing, R.D. (1970) Knots. London: Penguin. excerpt, movie (IMDB)
  • Laing, R.D. (1971) The Politics of the Family and Other Essays. London: Tavistock Publications.
  • Laing, R.D. (1976) Do You Love Me? An Entertainment in Conversation and Verse New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Laing, R.D. (1976) Sonnets. London: Michael Joseph.
  • Laing, R.D. (1976) The Facts of Life. London: Penguin.
  • Laing, R.D. (1977) Conversations with Adam and Natasha. New York: Pantheon.
  • Laing, R.D. (1982) The Voice of Experience: Experience, Science and Psychiatry. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Laing, R.D. (1985) Wisdom, Madness and Folly: The Making of a Psychiatrist 1927-1957. London: Macmillan.
  • Mullan, B. (1995) Mad to be Normal: Conversations with R.D. Laing. London: Free Association Books.

Books on R.D. Laing

  • Boyers, R. and R. Orrill, Eds. (1971) Laing and Anti-Psychiatry. New York: Salamagundi Press.
  • Burston, D. (1996) The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of R. D. Laing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Burston, D. (2000) The Crucible of Experience: R.D. Laing and the Crisis of Psychotherapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Clay, J. (1996) R.D. Laing: A Divided Self. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Collier, A. (1977) R.D. Laing: The Philosophy and Politics of Psychotherapy. New York: Pantheon.
  • Evans, R.I. (1976) R.D. Laing, The Man and His Ideas. New York: E.P. Dutton.
  • Friedenberg, E.Z. (1973) R.D. Laing. New York: Viking Press.
  • Miller, G. (2004) R.D. Laing. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Laing, A. (1994) R.D. Laing: A Biography. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press.
  • Kotowicz, Z. (1997) R.D. Laing and the Paths of Anti-Psychiatry. London: Taylor & Francis.
  • Mullan, B., Ed. (1997) R.D. Laing: Creative Destroyer. London: Cassell & Co.
  • Mullan, B. (1999) R.D. Laing: A Personal View. London: Duckworth.
  • Raschid, S., Ed. (2005) R.D. Laing: Contemporary Perspectives. London: Free Association Books.
  • Russell, R. and R.D. Laing (1992) R.D. Laing and Me: Lessons in Love. New York: Hillgarth Press.

Films and plays on R.D. Laing

  • Asylum (1972). A documentary directed by Peter Robinson showing Laing's psychiatric community project where patients and therapists lived together. Laing also appears in the film.
  • Did You Used to be R.D. Laing? (1989). A documentary by Kirk Tougas and Tom Shandel, produced by Third Mind Productions, Vancouver Canada. — Frequently drawing on stories from his own life, and from his patients' experiences, Laing presents his insight into the art of therapy, the lies we tell each other in the name of love, the recurring patterns of behaviour which sometimes can be traced to birth, and the regrettable human instinct to suppress any behaviour and thought which is strange or disturbing. A 90-minute portrait of the psychiatrist, philosopher, poet and prankster.
  • Did you used to be R.D. Laing? (2000 play). Edinburgh Festival Fringe Award winning play written and performed by Mike Maran.

See also


  1. ^ Miller, Gavin (2005), R. D. Laing, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JrHar5U6TQ8C&pg=PA7&lpg=PA7&dq=R+D+Laing+family&source=web&ots=M9m4Lel_lD&sig=Xn4qOYZS6rj30Av1HudE5g6AAFY&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=9&ct=result#PPA7,M1  
  2. ^ Turnbull, Ronnie; Beveridge, Craig (1988), "R.D. Laing and Scottish Philosophy", Edinburgh Review 78-9: 126–127, ISSN 0267-6672  
  3. ^ Itten, Theodor, The Paths of Soul Making, http://laingsociety.org/colloquia/psychotherapy/ittensoulmaking.htm, retrieved 2007-10-17  
  4. ^ "Kingsley Hall". Philadelphia Association. http://www.philadelphia-association.co.uk/Kingsley-Hall.html. Retrieved 2008-09-13.  
  5. ^ Miller (2005).
  6. ^ University of Glasgow Special Collection: Document Details, http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/manuscripts/search/detaild.cfm?DID=77056, retrieved 2007-10-17  
  7. ^ Burston, Daniel (1998), The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of R. D. Laing, p. 145, ISBN 0674953592  
  8. ^ Laing, Adrian (2008-06-01), http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,,2283220,00.html  
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J. & Weakland, J., 1956, Toward a theory of schizophrenia. (in: "Behavioral Science", vol.1, 251-264)
  11. ^ Laing, R.D. (1965). The Divided Self. Pelican. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0140207341.  
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ E.g. Peter Sedgwick, Psycho Politics (1992) London:Pluto Press, 1992
  14. ^ "The Philadelphia Association: Philosophical Perspective". Philadelphia Association. http://www.philadelphia-association.co.uk/the-history.html. Retrieved 2008-09-07.  
  15. ^ Coltart, Nina (1990). "ARBOURS ASSOCIATION 20TH ANNIVERSARY LECTURE". British Journal of Psychotherapy. pp. 165. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/119999330/PDFSTART. Retrieved 2008-09-07.  
  16. ^ "Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the New School". New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling. http://www.nspc.org.uk/html/5b_therapy.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-07.  
  17. ^ Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing. Retrieved on 16 October 2008

External links


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From Wikiquote

The requirement of the present, the failure of the past, is the same: to provide a thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man.

Ronald David Laing (October 7, 1927August 23, 1989) was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness and particularly the experience of psychosis.



I shall try to show that there is a comprehensible transition from the sane schizoid way of being-in-the-world to a psychotic way of being-in-the-world.

The Divided Self (1960)

The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness
  • Existential phenomenology attempts to characterize the nature of a person's experience of his world and himself. It is not so much an attempt to describe particular objects of his experience as to set all particular experiences within the context of his whole being-in-his-world. The mad things said and done by the schizophrenic will remain essentially a closed book if one does not understand their existential context. In describing one way of going mad, I shall try to show that there is a comprehensible transition from the sane schizoid way of being-in-the-world to a psychotic way of being-in-the-world. Although retaining the terms schizoid and schizophrenic for the sane and psychotic positions respectively, I shall not, of course, be using these terms in their usual clinical psychiatric frame of reference, but phenomenologically and existentially.
    • Ch. 1 : The existential-phenomenological foundations for a science of persons

The Politics of Experience (1967)

We are all murderers and prostitutes — no matter to what culture, society, class, nation, we belong, no matter how normal, moral, or mature we take ourselves to be.
Humanity is estranged from its authentic possibilities.
We can see other people's behaviour, but not their experience.
Psychology is the logos of experience. Psychology is the structure of the evidence, and hence psychology is the science of sciences.
Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.
We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love.
  • Few books today are forgivable. Black on canvas, silence on the screen, an empty white sheet of paper are perhaps feasible. There is little conjunction of truth and social 'reality'. Around us are pseudo-events, to which we adjust with a false consciousness adapted to see these events as true and real, and even as beautiful. In the society of men the truth resides now less in what things are than in what they are not. Our social realities are so ugly if seen in the light of exiled truth, and beauty is almost no longer possible if it is not a lie. What is to be done? We who are still half alive, living in the often fibrillating heartland of a senescent capitalism- can we do more than reflect the decay around and within us? Can we do more than sing our sad and bitter songs of disillusion and defeat? The requirement of the present, the failure of the past, is the same: to provide a thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man.
    • p. 1 of Introduction
  • We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.
    • p. 1 of Introduction
  • We are all murderers and prostitutes — no matter to what culture, society, class, nation, we belong, no matter how normal, moral, or mature we take ourselves to be.
    Humanity is estranged from its authentic possibilities.
    This basic vision prevents us from taking any unequivocal view of the sanity of common sense, or of the madness of the so-called madman. … Our alientation goes to the roots. The realisation of this is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of present inter-human life.
    • p. 2 of Introduction
  • Alienation as our present destiny is achieved only by outrageous violence perpetrated by human beings on human beings.
    • p. 3 of Introduction
  • Even facts become fictions without adequate ways of seeing "the facts". We do not need theories so much as the experience that is the source of the theory. We are not satisfied with faith, in the sense of an implausible hypothesis irrationally held: we demand to experience the "evidence".
    We can see other people's behaviour, but not their experience. This has led some people to insist that psychology has nothing to do with the other person's experience, but only with his behaviour.
    The other person's behaviour is an experience of mine. My behaviour is an experience of the other. The task of social phenomenology is to relate my experience of the other's behaviour to the other's experience of my behaviour. Its study is the relation between experience and experience: its true field is inter-experience.
  • I see you, and you see me. I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behaviour. You see my behaviour. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me. Just as you cannot "see" my experience of you. My experience of you is not "inside" me. It is simply you, as I experience you. And I do not experience you as inside me. Similarly, I take it that you do not experience me as inside you.
    "My experience of you" is just another form of words for "you-as-l-experience-you", and "your experience of me" equals "me-as-you-experience-me". Your experience of me is not inside you and my experience of you is not inside me, but your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you.
    • Ch. 1 : Experience as evidence
  • I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience used to be called The Soul. Experience as invisibility of man to man is at the same time more evident than anything. Only experience is evident. Experience is the only evidence. Psychology is the logos of experience. Psychology is the structure of the evidence, and hence psychology is the science of sciences.
    • Ch. 1 : Experience as evidence
  • Social phenomenology is the science of my own and of others' experience. It is concerned with the relation between my experience of you and your experience of me. That is, with inter-experience. It is concerned with your behaviour and my behaviour as I experience it, and your and my behaviour as you experience it.
    • Ch. 1 : Experience as evidence
  • Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.
    • p. 28
  • Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high I.Q.s if possible.
    From the moment of birth, when the Stone Age baby confronts the twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to these forces of violence, called love, as its mother and father, and their parents and their parents before them, have been. These forces are mainly concerned with destroying most of its potentialities, and on the whole this enterprise is successful.
    • p. 58
  • We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love. I am a specialist, God help me, in events in inner space and time, in experiences called thoughts, images, reveries, dreams, visions, hallucinations, dreams of memories, memories of dreams, memories of visions, dreams of hallucinations, refractions of refractions of refractions of that original Alpha and Omega of experience and reality, that Reality on whose repression, denial, splitting, projection, falsification, and general desecration and profanation our civilisation as much as anything is based.
    • p. 58
  • A child born today in the United Kingdom stands a ten times greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university ... This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad.
    • p. 104
  • There is no such "condition" as "schizophrenia," but the label is a social fact and the social fact a political event.
    • p. 121

Knots (1970)

I'm ridiculous to feel ridiculous when I'm not.
I am doing it
the it I am doing is
the I that is doing it
one sees that the gate one went through
was the self that went through it
no one went through a gate
there was no gate to go through
no one ever found a gate
no one ever realized there was never a gate
Page numbers refer to the April 1972 Vintage Books edition (New York: Random House), ISBN 0394717767
  • I'm ridiculous to feel ridiculous when I'm not.
    You must
           be laughing at me
    for feeling you are laughing at me
           if you are not laughing at me.
    • §2, p. 22
  • If I don't know I don't know
           I think I know
    If I don't know I know
           I think I don't know
    • §3, p. 55
  • I am doing it
    the it I am doing is
    the I that is doing it

    the I that is doing it is
    the it I am doing
    it is doing the I that am doing it
    I am being done by the it I am doing
    it is doing it
    • §5, p. 84
  • Before one goes through the gate
    one may not be aware there is a gate

    One may think there is a gate to go through
    and look a long time for it
    without finding it
    One may find it and
    it may not open
    If it opens one may be through it
    As one goes through it
    one sees that the gate one went through
    was the self that went through it
    no one went through a gate
    there was no gate to go through
    no one ever found a gate
    no one ever realized there was never a gate
    • "Although innumerable beings have been led to Nirvana no being has been led to Nirvana", §5, p. 85


  • Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.
    • As quoted in Wisdom for the Soul : Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing (2006) by Larry Chang, p. 412; this might be a paraphrase, as the earliest occurrence of this phrase thus far located is in the form: "Ronald David Laing has shocked many people when he suggested in 1972 that insanity can be a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world." in Studii de literatură română și comparată (1984), by The Faculty of Philology-History at Universitatea din Timișoara, and clear citation to Laing's own work has not yet been found.

Quotes about Laing

  • Laing was profoundly disenchanted with most analysts' closed-minded and dogmatic world-views, and their derogatory attitude toward psychotics. The Freudians and Kleinians in London, for their part, did not trust Laing because he committed the cardinal sin of taking Jung's notion of metanoia seriously. This was not yet evident in 1960, when he published The Divided Self. But it was vividly apparent in The Politics of Experience, published in 1967.
  • Fed up with the limelight, in 1970, Laing left for India and Ceylon, where he studied Buddhist mediation and Shiviite Yoga for 18 months. He returned a changed man. Unlike his former, angrier, radical self, the new R.D. Laing now enjoined a kind of gentle, Buddhist austerity as the best path to liberation, and expressed a great skepticism about the left's agenda and methods. Moreover, he no longer condemned the nuclear family or the use of psychotropic medication as a treatment of last resort, provided these drugs were taken voluntarily, with the patient's informed consent. He remained categorically opposed to electroshock and involuntary psychiatric treatment, and eager to explore alternatives to psychiatry. But he now rejected the "anti-psychiatry" label that others had placed on him, and made several conciliatory gestures toward his estranged psychiatric colleagues.
    • Daniel Burston, in "R. D. Laing and The Politics of Diagnosis" in Janus Head (Spring 2001)
  • Many things have changed since The Politics of Experience created such a sensation. The general public isn't as moved by the plight of these people as they were in Laing's day. And though Laing was far more effective with people like these than the average clinician in a one-on-one setting, he never developed a workable alternative to the conventional mental hospital. In the absence of such an alternative, people in distress are inclined to rely on the devil they know. Besides, really good psychotherapy is time and labor intensive. It requires a substantial emotional investment from the therapist as well as the patient. It is not cheap and not fast, and in the recent climate of fiscal restraint we want a quick fix: something clean and cost-effective, not messy and time consuming.
    • Daniel Burston, in "R. D. Laing and The Politics of Diagnosis" in Janus Head (Spring 2001)
  • Laing argued that labeling the individual often has little to do with accurate assessment of the patient's real problems, and that the remedial interventions mandated by a specific diagnosis often serve complex social functions by equilibrating extant social-systems, i.e. maintaining the status quo. In short, clinicians frequently locate the cause of the disturbance in individuals to divert attention from the processes that actually engendered their disturbed behavior. If they did not, they would often construe the "signs and symptoms" of these diagnostic entities as intelligible responses to what Laing termed "unlivable situations" — ones which the patient can neither understand, nor tolerate, nor change effectively.
    • Daniel Burston, in "R. D. Laing and The Politics of Diagnosis" in Janus Head (Spring 2001)
  • Laing had an aching addiction to fame and celebrity and it unquestionably damaged his reputation. … His need for attention was a lifelong problem and robbed his work of credibility, particularly after he had a serious midlife crisis of creativity and felt he had run out of things to say. He became a tragic figure, his behaviour erratic and self-destructive. There were flashes of the old brilliance, but much of his later output was of questionable value. Frankly, it was dreck.
  • His most original contribution, the source of his inspiration, what he wrote about and where he wrote from, was the time that he spent listening to mad people. Before Ronnie, few psychiatrists, if any, spoke with such a good ear for madness. There were others including Freud, Jung, Fromm-Reichman and Rosen, who attempted in some way to decode mad-speak, but Ronnie "hung out" with mad people. He was first of all a guy who, with people who were seen as mad, entered into a kind of a friendship; he created space that hadn't before opened up, between himself and the "mad." Also he was very plastic and mimetic, so he could imitate and get into other people's moods, thoughts, language, and world, including those of so-called "mad" people. And he was able to bring back and speak of what it was like to be "mad" (more or less). This gave "mad" people an enormous sense of relief. Someone heard them. They were not alone. Madness was not unreason, a total unintelligibility, a total difference between the sane and the insane. Ronnie showed that we're all in it together. There was not an unbridgeable gulf between sanity and madness: rather there is a continuum. Mad people felt that "this guy really understands what I'm going through." This proved extremely helpful for people who thought they were going mad, or who were told they were mad.
  • The square root of nothing.
    • An expression to describe him, used by Anne Hearne Laing, his ex-wife, as quoted in "RD Laing: The Abominable Family Man" in The Sunday Times (12 April 2009)
  • There was a lot of violence when we were young — vicious, nasty stuff — and at times it certainly felt an unsafe place to be. It was an awful culture shock when my parents separated, leaving our schools and friends in London and arriving in Glasgow in the early 1960s, which then had a frightening reputation for gang violence. We had occasional visits from my father which always ended in rows. I felt hurt, angry and confused he couldn’t be there for us.
    I have sat in on sessions with my father while he was working with clients and experienced his genius as a man who could relate to another human’s pain and suffering. There seems to me to be a huge void and contradiction between RD Laing the psychiatrist and Ronnie Laing the father. There was something he was constantly searching for within himself and it tortured him.
    • His eldest daughter, Karen, as quoted in "RD Laing: The Abominable Family Man" in The Sunday Times (12 April 2009)
  • We’ve got too many problems for him. … He can solve everybody else’s, but not ours.
    • Susan Laing, his second eldest daughter, in a 1974 feature on the children of celebrities, as quoted in "RD Laing: The Abominable Family Man" in The Sunday Times (12 April 2009)
  • Ronnie was brilliant, a complete original, but he desperately overdid the drugs and drink.
    • Sally Vincent, a lover, as quoted in "RD Laing: The Abominable Family Man" in The Sunday Times (12 April 2009)

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