Szasz is best known for his maverick positions within the psychiatric profession and his staunch defense of civil liberties and individual freedom. He has taken very controversial positions, including his assertion that mental illness, as opposed to organic sickness, does not really exist – people simply choose to act in ways that may not be acceptable to other members of society. He opposes the use of the insanity defense in criminal cases, believing that individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. He also opposes the incarceration of people deemed to be mentally ill who have not committed any crime. He is the author of many books, of which “The Myth of Mental Illness” (1974) may be the most famous.
Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1920, he immigrated to the United States at age 18. He graduated with honors in physics and received his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati. He has taught at a number of medical schools as a professor of psychiatry, including New York State University (SUNY). Dr. Szasz is the recipient of awards from many different organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Cornell Law School, and the International Commission for Human Rights.