I read the book, Out of the Box, Ron Leifer’s autobiography, to learn more about Leifer’s association with Thomas Szasz. I wanted to find out, what if anything, Leifer learned while studying under Szasz during medical school.
I found out that while Leifer accepted Szasz’s assertion that mental illness is a metaphor for problems in living, he did not behave as if he did. For example, at on point during Leifer’s medical training, he says he was “ordered” to push a button to administer electric convulsive shock to a “patient” who begged not to receive it. But Leifer was not “ordered” to administer shock – it is not as if Leifer was in the military after all! He could have refused to participate in such brutality. Leifer was simply told to do something unethical and he complied with the request. How different Leifer is from Szasz, who during his medical training was told he would need to work with “severe” (imprisoned) mental patients – Szasz refused and found residency elsewhere.
Leifer, we find out is not only spineless, he is incredibly naive. He believed he could maintain his job as a professor of psychiatry while not believing in mental illness. Unlike Szasz, Leifer did not have tenure and was fired. Szasz waited until he had tenure to publish his book, The Myth of Mental Illness.
This book does not offer much in terms of insight about anything other than Leifer as a naive, somewhat cowardly person.