The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care (Hardcover)
Does the insane asylum treat mental illness, or induce it? Franco Basaglia mulled this question as he became head of the Gorizia asylum in 1961, his time as an anti-fascist in a Fascist Italian jail still in his mind. Foot paints a vivid picture of how Basaglia, influenced by the likes of Foucault and Fanon, put leftist theory into practice in one small corner of Western society. A forceful and all-too-rare portrait of the successes and shortcomings of political action that aims big.— From Tony
When the wind of the 1960s blew through the world of psychiatry
In 1961, when Franco Basaglia arrived outside the grim walls of the Gorizia asylum, on the Italian border with Yugoslavia, it was a place of horror, a Bedlam for the mentally sick and excluded, redolent of Basaglia's own wartime experience inside a fascist gaol. Patients were frequently restrained for long periods, and therapy was largely a matter of electric and insulin shocks. The corridors stank, and for many of the interned the doors were locked for life. This was a concentration camp, not a hospital.
Basaglia, the new Director, was expected to practise all the skills of oppression in which he had been schooled, but he would have none of this. The place had to be closed down by opening it up from the inside, bringing freedom and democracy to the patients, the nurses and the psychiatrists working in that total institution.
Inspired by the writings of authors such as Primo Levi, R.D. Laing, Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon, and the practices of experimental therapeutic communities in the UK, Basaglia's seminal work as a psychiatrist and campaigner in Gorizia, Parma and Trieste fed into and substantially contributed to the national and international movement of 1968. In 1978 a law was passed (the Basaglia law ) which sanctioned the closure of the entire Italian asylum system.
The first comprehensive study of this revolutionary approach to mental health care, The Man Who Closed the Asylums is a gripping account of one of the most influential movements in twentieth-century psychiatry, which helped to transform the way we see mental illness. Basaglia's work saved countless people from a miserable existence, and his legacy persists, as an object lesson in the struggle against the brutality and ignorance that the establishment peddles to the public as common sense.
About the Author
John Foot is Professor of Modern Italian History in the School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol. He has published several books on sports and contemporary Italian history. He writes a blog for the Italian magazine Internazionale and has written for the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and History Today.