This weekend — Oct. 25-27 — Wagner College will host an international gathering of scholars for a conference entitled “R.D. Laing in the 21st Century.” The symposium, which will consider the impact of the prominent British psychiatrist and theorist, is being organized by Wagner psychology professor and psychoanalyst Miles Groth along with former Laing associates Steven Gans and Michael Guy Thompson.
For scheduling information, visit the conference website.
Interest in the ideas of R.D. Laing (1927-1989) is reviving, especially in the U.K. and U.S. While the conference at Wagner, scheduled for Oct. 25-27, is the only one in the States, it follows several that have been held in London and Glasgow in recent years.
“Laing was a complex man,” said Professor Groth. “He was, for better or worse, associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, when his books were widely read and his appearances around the world were much anticipated and drew large audiences. His popularity then may be gauged by his having merited an article by Peter Mezan in the popular magazine Esquire.
“I attribute the recent revival of interest in Laing to the similarity of the temperaments of the times, then and now: criticism of psychiatry; dissatisfaction with the mechanistic, materialistic approach to human suffering represented by pharmacotherapy and behavioral approaches in counseling, and a deep need for emphasizing the fundamental spiritual element of human life.”
Groth said that Laing’s earlier “anti-psychiatry” connection is now echoed by powerful criticism of the DSM-5, the latest version of psychiatry’s manual of diagnosis, used by clinical psychologists and social workers as well as psychiatrists.
“Laing has been embraced by humanistic psychologists — remnants of ‘New Age’ psychology — but really doesn’t belong among them,” Groth continued. “He is now also connected with existential analysis, and this is likely where the renewed interest in Laing will find its source of energy in the next few years. Here his deep affinity with existentialism parallels a return of interest in that philosophical and literary movement.
“Young people, especially undergraduate psychology students, respond with eager interest when they encounter Laing. His human-all-too-human presence and persona offer a refreshing contrast to the sober, secretive personae of the ‘regulation’ psychiatrists and psychotherapists.”
Presenters at October’s symposium include former friends, students and patients of Laing. The topics will cover Laing’s own quite varied career, from hospital psychiatrist to initiate in Eastern religious practices. Attendees can expect to hear first-hand accounts of Laing’s interest in LSD as an agent of pharmacotherapy, the continuing presence of prenatal experience in children and adults, Sartre’s philosophy, humanistic psychology, psychoanalysis, and therapeutic residences like Kingsley Hall and the Soteria Project houses. Panels will include reflections by individuals who served in therapeutic residences.
Among the best-known presenters is Frtijof Capra (“The Tao of Physics”). Two films will be screened: Luke Fowler’s biographic documentary of Laing, “All Divided Selves,” and a recently completed work showing Laing in informal discussions, edited by the cinematographer who shot “Asylum” and accompanied R.D. Laing on his 1972 speaking tour of the United States.
FOR SCHEDULE INFORMATION, visit the conference website.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about the symposium, “R.D. Laing in the 21st Century,” scheduled Oct. 25-27 at Wagner College, email Dr. Miles Groth.