Name Details

Name: Ronald David Laing
Dates: 1927-1989
Notes: Psychiatrist. Born in Govanhill, Glasgow, Scotland, 7 October 1927. Attended Cuthbertson Street primary school and Hutchesons' Boys' Grammar School. Elected a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music in 1944 and an associate of the Royal College of Music in 1945. Studied medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1945, graduating MB ChB in 1951. During this time he worked briefly as a houseman on a psychiatric ward. Conscripted into the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1951, he left in 1953 and completed his psychiatric training at Gartnavel Royal Mental Hospital. There he set up an experimental treatment known as the 'Rumpus Room', providing a setting where patients could interact with staff and each other in a social, rather than institutional setting. Later, he was a senior registrar at the Southern General Hospital and qualified as a psychiatrist in 1956. In the same year he began writing 'The Divided Self' and was appointed senior registrar at the Tavistock Clinic, London. He also began training as a psychoanalyst.
'The Divided Self' was published in 1960, followed by 'The Self and Others' in 1961. Laing qualified as a psychoanalyst and set up a private practice in London. He was appointed Clinical Director of the Langham Clinic in 1962 and in the following year began to appear in the popular media. In 1964 he published 'Sanity, Madness and the Family' (co-authored with Aaron Esterson), 'Reason and Violence' (co-authored with David Cooper) and wrote most of the articles later compiled into 'The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise' (1967). In 1965, 'The Divided Self' was reissued. In the same year, the Philadelphia Association was founded by Laing and others, which set up the Kingsley Hall project: an experimental, community household, where people were given space to work through their psychoses without resort to drugs, ECT or surgery. The project ran until 1970.
'Knots' was published in 1971. In the same year Laing travelled to Ceylon and India. In 1972 he made a lecture tour of the United States and met Elizabeth Fehr, who used 'rebirthing' psychodramas to treat patients. Laing adopted these techniques himself in 1973. He published 'Do You Love Me?' and 'The Facts of Life' in 1976, followed by 'Conversations With Children' (1978).
In 1983 Laing was interviewed for 'In the Psychiatrist's Chair' (BBC Radio). His autobiography 'Wisdom, Madness and Folly' was published in 1985, the same year a painting of him was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland. In 1987, Laing was forced to resign from the medical register of the General Medical Council. Laing died on 23 August 1989, of a heart attack while playing tennis in St Tropez, France.

Laing was married to Anne Hearne (from 1952, five children) and Jutta Werner (from 1974, three children). He also had two children from his relationships with Sue Sunkel and Marguerite Romayne Kendon.

[See: John Clay, R.D. Laing: a divided self (London, 1996), Adrian Laing, R.D. Laing: a life (London, 1994); Charles Rycroft, 'Laing, Ronald David (1927-1989)', rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [, accessed 8 Dec 2011; The Society for Laingian Studies,, accessed 8 Dec 2011.]
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