When giving notice of a memorial service for the eminent psychiatrist Theodore Lidz, the Yale Bulletin and Calendar (2001) observed that Lidz had expressed regret in his last years that he did not write just one more book to show that biology‑based lines of research and training in current psychiatry are "barking up the wrong tree". Lidz was professor and chief of clinical services in psychiatry at Yale, having taken his residency in psychiatry at John Hopkins University, where he studied with Adolf Meyer. There is no question about his distinguished standing within mainstream psychiatry. Although he was critical of the biomedical model of mental illness, this did not mean that his views were labelled and dismissed as 'anti‑psychiatry'.


Lidz's perspective in psychiatry, based in the Meyerian tradition, emphasised continuities between normal development and psychopathology. He saw it as essential to focus on the individual's life history to understand patients in the context of familial, community and cultural factors that affect personality development. He appreciated the extent to which mental illness is induced by early experience in troubled families. This biopsychological approach was developed before the emergence of anti-psychiatry.


Despite Lidz's orthodoxy, the affinity between his position and anti‑psychiatry was recognised by Boyers & Orrill (1972) when they chose to interview him for their edited collection of what they considered at the time to be most of the serious writing that had been addressed to the work of R.D. Laing. In the interview, Lidz identified various excesses in the work of Laing, but he made clear that he did not consider schizophrenia to be an organic disease and instead viewed it as a developmental reaction related to personality organisation.


Like Laing, Lidz had been involved in family studies of schizophrenic patients. Lidz viewed schizophrenia as an extreme form of social withdrawal, specifically characterised by efforts to modify reality into a tenable form by distorting symbolisation of reality, or through extreme limitation of the interpersonal environment (Lidz et al, 1957). Data was collected from schizophrenic families over several years using multiple methods involving weekly interviews with family members; observation of interaction with each other and staff; projective testing and other techniques. All families were found to communicate defectively. The essence of the problem was thought to be the egocentricity of the dominant parent or sometimes both parents that prevented the parent from understanding and treating the child as a separate and discrete individual, rather than as part of the parent or as someone whose essential function is to complete a parent's life or salvage the parents' marriage. There was either a schismatic conflict in the parents' marriage that divided the family into two camps and that resulted in each spouse destroying the worth of the other; or the family was seen as distorted by a skew in the marital relationship by the passive acceptance of the serious psychopathology of the dominant spouse by the other, with masking of the serious problems that arise, creating an aberrant environment that confuses the child.


Lidz (1972) complained that when Laing discussed mystification in the family that he did not make reference to his and his colleagues' work that covered similar ground dealing with irrational patterns of communication in the family. As far as Lidz was concerned, the work by Singer & Wynne (1965) on communication problems in the family was more influential that Laing's contribution. Lidz pointed out that Adolf Meyer had advocated taking experience as a fact in itself, which is close to Laing's perspective and that very little of what Laing proposed was new.