RD Laing – Sanity, Madness & the Family



Mad to be Normal is a new film, starring David Tennant, on the life of innovative thinker, best-selling author and psychiatrist to the stars, RD Laing. He was a counter-culture cult figure in the 1960s, followed by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. He promoted a controversial approach to mental illness based on a concern for the rights of patients. He thought schizophrenia wasn’t biochemical or genetic but a reaction to a hopeless emotional situation. His book The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness, written when he was just 28, was a best-seller.

Born 7 October 1927 5.15pm Glasgow, Scotland, with an army engineer father, he studied medicine and, during a stint in the Army, became fascinated with psychiatry. Instead of medicating patients with the “chemical cosh” anti-psychotics of the time, Laing proposed caring for them in a community of equals, though he also dabbled in treating them with mescaline and LSD.

He had six sons and four daughters by four different mothers and although he wrote insightfully about the effect of defective parenting on children, appeared to have been a bad father himself. Latterly he descended into alcohol and drug abuse.

He had a 7th house Sun Mars in Libra square Pluto in the 5th – so was undoubtedly a highly stressed individual, forceful in his approach, attention-seeking with Pluto in the 5th; though with a double Libra effect capable of understanding one-to-one relationships. Psychanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung also had 7th house Suns (Taurus & Leo respectively). Like Freud also, Laing had an 8th house Saturn, which isn’t wonderful at forming intimate relationships but clearly made them both serious about what went on in deeper personality dynamics.

Laing’s 12th house Aquarius Moon opposed Neptune. Freud’s Moon was square Neptune; and Jung’s widely conjunct. This gives a peculiar psychic sensitivity to mother’s and others’ feelings. Laing had rebellious Uranus and Jupiter in Pisces on his Ascendant, the latter making him enthusiastic, sociable and self-confident, which coupled with a charismatic Pluto in the 5th would push him out to make a stir on the party and entertainment circuit.

His creative, get-it-together 5th Harmonic was focussed on communicative Mercury and argumentative Mars. His 7th Harmonic, a seeking soul, was even stronger with an entrepreneurial and innovative Fire Grand Trine, formed into three Kites, and another Mars focal point T Square. The 7H can be addictive and prone to mental imbalance. His obsessive 11H; and breakthrough/genius 13H are also notable.

He had some brilliant ideas, which were before their time and ran into heavy resistance from an overly conservative profession, but are now filtering into the mainstream. Sadly the demons which drove him to early success finally ate him. Not a happy man, but he did push back boundaries in thinking about the human condition. And prompted social workers not just to treat the child but also to treat the family.

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