Ronald David Laing


Biography of Ronald David Laing

Ronald David Laing (7 October 1927 – 23 August 1989) was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness – in particular, the experience of psychosis. Laing's views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, greatly influenced by existential philosophy, ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder. Laing was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement, although he rejected the label. Politically, he was regarded as a thinker of the New Left.

Laing was born in the Govanhill district of Glasgow on 7 October 1927, the only child of David Park MacNair Laing and Amelia Glen Laing (née Kirkwood). Laing described his parents – his mother especially – as being somewhat odd. Although his biographer son largely discounted Laing's account of his childhood, an obituary by an acquaintance of Laing asserted that about his parents – "the full truth he told only to a few close friends".

He was educated initially at Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Public School and after four years transferred to Hutchesons' Grammar School. Described as clever, competitive and precocious, he studied mainly Classics, particularly philosophy, including through reading books from the local library. He was also a musician, being made an Associate of the Royal College of Music. He chose to go on to study medicine at the University of Glasgow, seemingly for a variety of reasons including wanting to face life and death, and to become more scientific. He may have started drinking more heavily than colleagues from the age of 18. During his medical degree he set up a "Socratic Club", of which the philosopher Bertrand Russell agreed to be President. Laing failed his final exams on his first attempt, in 1950, but, after spending six months working on a psychiatric unit, passed them in a subsequent re-sit at the start of 1951.

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