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What is critical psychiatry?

Critical psychiatry is a new and evolving field of discussion and research focused on addressing the shortcomings of mental health care. While there is no one working definition, it has been summarily described through five key issues (Thomas, 2013):

  1. Issues in diagnostic nomenclature and impact of diagnosis / labelling

  2. Issues in evidence-based practices in psychiatry, especially with regards to biased research practices that favor chemical theories

  3. Issues in lack of regard for client context in psychiatry: are diverse sociopolitical contexts and variation taken into account when deciding mental illness?

  4. Issues in psychiatric coercion (treatment without consent, e.g., forced hospitalization)

  5. Issues in philosophy of psychiatry (e.g., what led to the extensive focus on neuroscience over behavior, how do we decide what is and is not pathological?)

Notably, while these are often used in reference to psychiatrists specifically, the issues are also inherent to most all forms of mental health care.

Critical psychiatry is spearheaded in the United Kingdom, where it functions primarily through the Critical Psychiatry Network (CPN). An important reading and introduction to critical psychiatry may be found in the British Journal of Psychiatry, written by CPN chairs and psychiatrists Hugh Middleton and Joanna Moncrieff. Critical psychiatry as a field is especially interdisciplinary with regards to its great use of science, statistics, anthropology, history, and sociology in understanding the state of mental health care today.

One important caveat to critical psychiatry when being compared to a predecessor, anti-psychiatry, is that while many philosophical bases are shared, critical psychiatry calls for reform more so than abolition.