Book Review: Sanity, Madness and the Family – R. D. Laing & A. Esterson

Title:Sanity, Madness and the Family
Author:R. D. Laing and A. Esterson

This book is one of the most eyeopening things I have ever read. It was written in 1976 and is just as relevant today. In fact, I can’t believed it’s been so overlooked.

It is based around 11 vivid case studies and transcripts from interviews with people who have been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, and their families.

When viewed objectively like this, and through a trauma-informed lens, the power dynamics in these families is obviously unhealthy. It soon becomes clear that much of the behaviour labelled as symptoms of clinical schizophrenia can otherwise be explained in light of the family dynamics, and complex trauma, at play.

This book made me question the validity of all mental health labels, and even the construct of mental health itself. It’s clear to me that many behaviours which are otherwise labelled as mentally ill by our society can otherwise be explained by the emotional and familial systems individuals have grown up in, and the complex trauma they have experienced within these.

As more and more evidence begins to emerge about the effects of trauma on brain development, attachment, etc. especially within our formative early childhood years, we cannot keep ignoring the fact that maybe there is an answer to “mental health”, but it doesn’t lie within problem individuals. Labelling people with disorders whilst their trauma goes invalidated and unprocessed is not the way forward.

This book was written in 1964, based on research in the late 1950s. Over 60 years later it’s now 2022, we’ve created the fastest vaccine ever to cure a global pandemic, but we’re still treating people who experienced trauma like there is something wrong with them. Come on science, sort it out. The evidence already exists, and this book proves it.

Have you read this book too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.