Lucas Richert


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

Cover Interview of February 12, 2020

The wide angle

Break on Through examines the US-based mental health profession, activism, and the American mind in the 1970s. It’s quite a large canvas. I wanted readers to get a handle on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the struggles within the American Psychiatric Association. At the same time, I wanted to shed new light on emergent and sometimes bizarre mental health therapies (Transactional Analysis, Primal Therapy), Scientology, and the rise of parapsychology.

My goal was to move beyond the supposedly countercultural 1960s and closely interrogate control and resistance within the mental health marketplace from a wider angle. How, I wondered, was the American mind twisted and turned in the 1970s? What was the role of psychiatry and psychology? Who were the major actors shaping mainstream and alternative views of mental health therapy, and what drove continuity and change? How did intoxicants, for instance, facilitate therapies?

Cannabis is a good example. As many of us know, cannabis is placing pressure on public health officials, psychiatrists, and others. Just like it did 50 years ago. Increased marketing, the availability of CBD, new vaping technologies, and consumer demand force us as scholars to think critically about the past and the development of proper strategies and policies in the future. Understanding its links with mental health really matters. In Break on Through I sketch the theories and debates about cannabis and mental health – making sure to connect this to the present.