British psychiatrist whose controversial views on madness and family life influenced some radical psychiatric movements of the late 1960s.
Laing was educated at the University of Glasgow and trained at the West of Scotland Neurosurgical Unit. He began his career at the Army Psychiatric Unit, Netley (1951–52), and the Psychiatric Unit of the Military Hospital, Catterick (1952–53). This was followed by three years in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow, after which Laing moved to London (1956), working initially at the Tavistock Clinic and then at the Institute of Human Relations. In 1964 he became the principal investigator at the Schizophrenia and Family Research Unit. His major interest was in exploring the minds of severely disturbed patients and he proposed that schizophrenia is a defensive façade and that what society calls madness is in fact a journey towards self-realization (The Divided Self, 1960). His questioning of society's definitions of sanity and insanity and his view of madness as an escape from the tensions of the close-knit nuclear family in Sanity, Madness and the Family (1965) and The Politics of the Family (1971) aroused considerable controversy and is not now taken too seriously. Outside his professional career, Laing published several volumes of poetry, including Knots (1970).