In 1965, the psychiatrist opened a residential treatment centre that aimed to revolutionize the treatment of mental illness. Five decades on, those who lived and spent time there look back on an era of drama and discoveryThe maverick psychiatrist RD Laing once described insanity as “a perfectly rational response to an insane world”. In 1965, having served as a doctor in the British army and then trained in psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic in London, Laing formed the Philadelphia Association with a group of like-minded colleagues. Their aim was to bring about a revolution in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
“We aim to change the way the ‘facts’ of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ are seen,” a later report-come-manifesto explained. “This is more than a new hypothesis inserted into an existing field of research and therapy; it is a proposal to change the model.”
From 1965 until 1970, as radical ideas and hippie ideals blossomed then died in cities across the globe, a former community centre in Powis Road in the East End of London became the unlikely setting for Laing’s most radical experiment in what came to be known as anti-psychiatry. “We have got Kingsley Hall and I have moved into it,” Laing wrote to his colleague, Joe Berke, when he was granted an initial two-year lease. “Others will be moving in in the next two or three weeks… I take it you will pass the word around to relevant people. THIS IS IT.”