Chapter Three: Theory

There are two theories that were being looked into for their use as a new combined theory when applied to the experiences of people who have psychiatric histories. The first theory can be found in Erving Goffman’s (1961) Asylums: Essays on the Social Situations of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Other major publications of the year 1961 concerning the questionable practices of the psychiatric industry, which also influence my thinking and the work of (de)VOICED include Thomas Szaszʼs (1961) Myth of Mental Illness and R.D. Laingʼs (1961) Self and Others. Despite attempts at making themselves heard, Szasz and Laing were all but cast out of the fields of Psychiatry and Psychology. They were cornered off into their worlds, and thought of as discredited by the larger biomedical model of Psychiatry. Despite decades of persistence in calling attention to what these men tried to spotlight concerning what humans need—and more importantly, did not need—the problems they had pointed to decades ago have swelled.

The lived experiences for those who are assigned a psychiatric label remains, sadly, the same—an economic and social profit to those in power, while the true human experience is ignored opting instead for an individual to become subject to psychiatric places, products, practices, and procedures which may constitute torture or ill treatment. This is my gestalt—that which I view the whole, as greater than the sum of its parts: for all of the financial profit the psychiatric industry reaps, its practice is bankrupt. With my perspective clear, there is probably little question as to why Goffman’s (1961) work, which I detail in the next section, was chosen.

The second theory I utilized is William Cross Jr.’s (1971) work which can originally be found in an article entitled, “The Negro to Black Conversion: Toward a Black Liberation Psychology.” Cross’s work, over two decades (1971 – 1991), evolved into Nigrescence Theory in Shades of Black (1991). What Cross outlined, in short, was a process in which one comes from a deep-seated oppression in a racist environment which causes a type of self-hatred and lack of positive group identity and if she or he, by a chance encounter or tragic event, meets someone turned on in the Black Power Movement, can experience an emotional awakening which leads them out of oppression. Of course, even if one changes their perception of oneself it does not mean the world outside of the self has changed. Cross brilliantly outlined aspects of four stages which one goes through in the process toward liberation.

For the purposes of the (de)VOICED project, I focused on Cross’s (1971) Black Liberation Psychology. I explain later in this chapter that I understand the weight of the parallels that I draw, and the consequences of the language I employ. I do not merely use this language to grab attention, nor to be provocative. I use this language because it deserves attention.

The parallels of the rights movements made up of people with disabilities, and certainly as a subset, people with psychiatric histories, and our fights to obtain our rights to other groups who are oppressed are clear. For decades, the rights movement for people with psychiatric histories has been considered one of the last civil rights groups to have yet made any great strides. I am painfully aware of how despite two decades of my own work, the battle is bloodier, their army is stronger, and the public view of people like me is harsher than when I was personally subject to fighting on the front line—as a mental patient in a psychiatric institution. So, while it may be a jarring suggestion at first, to make a parallel between Black Liberation and Mental Patient Liberation, I—and many more like me—believe it is warranted, just, and overdue. It is especially overdue when people happen to be part of other oppressed groups, as well, mental patient added.

In the following pages I discuss how I am using the works of Erving Goffman and William Cross, Jr. and why, beyond my own phenomenological research processes, they were chosen as central theoretical work for the (de)VOICED project.


Cross, W.E., Jr. (1991). Shades of black. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University.

Cross, W. E., Jr. (1971). The Negro to black conversion experience: Toward a psychology of black liberation. Black World, 20, 13-27.

Cross, W. E., Jr.  Cross, T. B. (2008). The big picture: Theorizing self-concept structure and construal. In P. Peredsen, et al. (Eds.), Counseling across cultures (6th ed.,  73-88). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press.

Goffman, E. (1956). Embarrassment and social organization. American Journal of Sociology, 62(3), 264 – 271.

Goffman, E. (1959) Presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday.

Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the social situations of mental patients and other inmates. New York: Doubleday.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York:Touchstone Simon and Schuster.

Laing. R. D. (1961). Self and others. London: Tavistock Publications Ltd.

Szasz, T. (1974/1961). The myth of mental illness: Foundations of a theory of personal conduct. Revised Edition. New York: HarperCollins.

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