‘Clear thinking requires courage’ said the late Dr. Szasz

This illustration — showing Dr. Szasz paddling a over stormy seas, sums up his effect of the world of psychiatry.

This illustration showing Dr. Szasz navigating an analyst’s couch through stormy seas sums up his role in  the world of psychiatry.


Professor Thomas Szasz MD, circa 1959

Professor Thomas Szasz MD, circa 1959

Legendary psychiatrist Thomas Szasz MD (1920-2012) was a professor at Upstate when the hospitals were built 50 years ago. Around that time (1961), Szasz’s “Myth of Mental Illness,” was first published. Considered to be the most influential critique of psychiatry ever written, the book was republished on its 50th anniversary in 2011.

On Friday, August 8, Upstate’s psychiatry faculty are hosting a free, day-long celebration of his life and work at the Everson Museum in Syracuse. The event includes talks by seven Upstate experts, including forensic psychiatrist James Knoll MD.

Known as “always lucid, witty and provocative,” Szasz said many things that are eminently quotable, such as, “Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.”

His best known statement  — “If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia” — even made it into popular culture, with slight modification.  TV’s cantankerous Dr.  House said, “If you talk to God, you’re religious. If God talks to you, you’re psychotic.”

Dr. Szasz on the cover of Upstate's medical alumni journal, summer 2001. Portrait by Jerome Witkin.

Dr. Szasz on the cover of Upstate’s Medical Alumni Journal, summer 2001. Portrait by Jerome Witkin.

Szasz was a professor of psychiatry at Upstate from 1956 to 1990, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in science in 2001. He wrote 35 books and over 400 articles and gave hundreds of presentations. Dr. Szasz lived in Manlius, NY at the time of his death in 2012.

To register for a celebration of the life and work of Thomas Szasz MD, contact Linette Thorp at thorpl@upstate.edu or 315-464-3104.

Dr. Szasz with President Gregory Eastwood MD, at Upstate’s commencement, 2001.

Dr. Szasz with President Gregory Eastwood MD at Upstate Medical University’s commencement, 2001.

About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at keeters@upstate.edu or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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