Lucas Richert


On his book Break On Through: Radical Psychiatry and the American Counterculture

Cover Interview of February 12, 2020

In a nutshell

A half century ago a “radical caucus” formed in the American Psychiatric Association. The group, while somewhat small, felt that mental medicine needed to change in the US. The caucus also worried about the country as a whole. Racism. Sexism. Poverty. Dislocation. The Environment. Militarism. Political divides. Corruption. Sound familiar?

These radicals weren’t alone, though. Nor were they the first to use the term “radical.” Through research I discovered that radicalism in mental medicine is far from new, whether it’s in the field of psychology or psychiatry.

The major swings and struggles in modern mental health care have often been accompanied by the term “radical.” The introduction of Freud’s ideas into psychiatry, for instance, was described as a “radical act,” and one that bestowed “radical gifts” to contemporary culture and social life. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980 was called radical and revolutionary for the way it transformed the evaluation and treatment of mental illness.

The book offers a fresh view of the difficult struggles within psychiatry in the turbulent 1960-1970s. While radicalism in the psy-disciplines during the late 1960s has been mostly overlooked, for whatever reason, a lot has been done on Sigmund Freud and on the fight over the biological basis of mental illness. And while there is a great deal of research on the coercive and overreaching power of the psychiatric profession and the pharmaceutical industry, there is limited work about radical unrest within psychiatry. Break on Through adds to our understanding of health activism in American culture. As it happens, some pretty interesting developments occurred.