Society & Culture

Transgender: At Odds With Reality

In his infamous work The Myth of Mental Illness, the late Dr. Thomas Szasz argued that psychiatry was not a branch of medicine concerned with treating real illness, but rather an institution of social control.  He believed that psychiatry fulfilled this function by bringing under the umbrella of “disorder” those behaviors and beliefs that society at large found undesirable or difficult to deal with.  In Szasz’s opinion, the mind or, speaking more precisely, one’s internal experience could not be subject to disease, only to factual error.  He argued against the idea of psychosis as a manifestation of illness and considered delusions to be errors of judgment instead of symptoms of an underlying mental disorder.

While nonpsychiatric medicine concerns itself with lesions of the physical body, psychiatry’s object of inquiry has always been the internal experience of a person.  Contrary to Dr. Szasz’s insistence that there is no such thing as mental illness, mainstream psychiatry has continued to adhere to the notion that the internal experience of a person could be subject to a variety of conditions that represented mental pathology.  Just how one defines psychiatric disorder has been a subject of much debate.  The difficulty in arriving at the definition is related to the difficulty in adequately defining what constitutes mental...

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