Ronald David Laing (1927-1989) was a Scottish psychiatrist who was often considered part of the anti-psychiatry movement (although he rejected this characterization); he wrote many other books such as Politics of Experience, The politics of the family and other essays, etc. He wrote in the Preface to the First 1961 Edition [revised edition, 1969], "I shall try to depict persons within a social system or 'nexus' of persons, in order to try to understand some of the ways in which each affects each person's experience of himself and of how interaction takes form. Each contributes to the other's fulfillment or destruction." (Pg. xi)
He begins by saying, "is unconscious phantasy a mode or a type of experience? If it is, it is with a difference. If not, what is it, if not a figment of imagination? The psychoanalytic thesis can be stated thus: it is not POSSIBLE to prove the existence of unconscious phantasy to the person who is immersed in it. Unconscious phantasy can be known to be phantasy only after the person's own emergence from it." (Pg. 3)
He asks, "Is it a contradiction in terms to speak of 'unconscious experience'? A person's experience comprises anything that 'he' or 'any part of him' is aware of, whether 'he' or every part of him is aware of every level of his awareness or not. His experiences are inner or outer; of his own body or of other person's bodies; real or unreal; private or shared. The psychoanalytic contention is that our desires present themselves to us in our experience, but we may not recognize them. This is one sense in which we are unconscious of our experience. We misconstrue it." (Pg. 8)
He observes, "Some 'psychotics' look on psychoanalysis as a relatively safe place to tell someone what they really think. They are prepared to play at being a patient and even to keep up the charade by PAYING the analyst, provided he does not 'cure' them. They are even prepared to pretend to be cured if it will look bad for him if he is having a run of people who do not seem to be getting better. Not an unreasonable contract." (Pg. 28)
He suggests, "the man-in-the-street takes a lot for granted: for instance, that he has a body which has an inside and an outside... The ordinary person does not reflect upon these basic elements of his being; he takes his way iof experiencing himself and others to be 'true.' However, some people do not. They are often called schizoid. Still more, the schizophrenic does not take for granted his own person... he lacks the usual sense of personal unity, a sense of himself as the agent of his own actions rather than as a robot, a machine, a thing, and of being the author of his own perceptions, but rather feels that someone else is using his eyes, his ears, etc." (Pg. 35-36)
He argues, "The most significant theoretical and methodological development in the psychiatry of the last two decades is, in my view, the growing dissatisfaction with any theory or study of the individual which isolates him from his context. Efforts have been made from different angles to remedy this position." (Pg. 65) He asserts, "One basic function of genuinely analytical or existential therapy is the provision of a setting in which as little as possible impedes each person's capacity to discover his own self... A large part of the art of therapy is in the tact and lucidity with which the analyst points out the ways in which collusion maintains illusions or disguises delusions." (Pg. 105)
Laing is not the highly controversial and polarizing figure he once was; with the passage of time, one can more easily appreciate what he had to say.