‘Psychedelic Birth: R.D. Laing and the Transformation of Psychiatry’
Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, Strathclyde University
Professor Wendy Kline holds the Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine in the Department of History at Purdue University. During her British Academy Visiting Fellowship, Professor Kline will be conducting archival research in Glasgow University’s Special Collections on psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Professor Kline’s research project is entitled “Psychedelic Birth: R.D. Laing and the Transformation of Psychiatry.”
While many today view LSD as a symbol of the hedonism of the counterculture, the drug initially enjoyed a positive reputation as a therapeutic psychiatric tool, which has largely been forgotten. Beginning in the 1950s, dramatic changes in mental health research led to a renewed optimism in psychiatry’s potential. An avid supporter of LSD therapy, R.D. Laing was the most influential psychiatrist of the late twentieth century.
Despite Laing’s fame, there are significant gaps in our historical understanding of his life and work. Professor Kline’s research programme investigates the connections between psychiatry, psychedelics, and birth trauma through the work of R.D. Laing. By taking trauma well beyond Freudian theories of childhood development and back into the womb, Laing was able to convince many that LSD was not just a risky, hedonistic party drug of the counterculture, but a research tool that could tap into higher consciousness and heal deep wounds.