Some important people in this workshop: R. D. Laing and David Cooper

R.D. Laing was born in Glasgow in 1927 and he studied medicine at the University of Glasgow and went on to become a psychiatrist. His first experiment in changing the way people designated the mentally ill took place at Glasgow’s Gartnavel Hospital where he and colleagues radically altered the treatment regime in a long-term women’s ward.

Laing moved to London to work at the Tavistock Clinic and trained as a psychoanalyst at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Laing sought to develop what he called ‘an existential-phenomenological foundation for a science of persons’ and sought to set out a description of the experience of those labelled schizophrenic. Such people, Laing argued, suffered from ontological insecurity, a lack of faith in their own and others’ reality which led them to create false self systems to fend off psychological and emotional catastrophe. Laing wanted to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible, and to a great many people, including many of those afflicted, he did so convincingly. The discourse of the ‘mad’, he showed, if listened to in the right spirit could make a sense of its own. This was to be the line of thought that Laing would pursue for many years in The Divided Self (1960), Self and Others (1961), Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964) and The Politics of Experience (1967).

In order to put their theories into practice, Laing and others (including another Scottish psychiatrist, Aaron Esterson), founded the Philadelphia Association in 1965. They took over a large empty property, Kingsley Hall in London’s East End, to create a community, a place of genuine asylum where those designated mentally ill might live free from unwanted and unwarranted interference. Kingsley Hall was to be the first of over 20 therapeutic communities run by the PA to this day.

Laing died in August 1989 from a heart attack while playing tennis in the south of France and was buried in Glasgow.




David Cooper was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1931. He graduated from the University of Cape Town in 1955 and came to London, where he held a series of hospital posts. In the last of these he directed the experimental unit for young schizophrenics called Villa 21. His principal concern has been to develop existential psychiatry in Britain and to elaborate principles to overcome the methodological difficulties and compartmentalization of the human sciences. He is a founder member of the Phildelphia Association, London, and Director of the Institute of Phenomenological studies. It was David Cooper who coined the term Anti-Psychiatry. He died in 1986.

‘I have heard voices say:
”He is conscious of his life”.’

Exemplary schizophrenic patient quoted in Price’s Text Book of the Practice of Medicine – 9th edition

“The prevalent romanticization of madness has no future.
The politicization of madness is indispensable if we would create a future.”

David Cooper.

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