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Introduction of Ron Leifer, MD,
on receiving the 2001 Szasz Award

by Jeff Schaler, Ph.D.
New York City
November 9, 2001

It is a special honor and privilege for me to present the The Eleventh Annual Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties - Professional Category - to Dr. Ron Leifer, a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York.

Ron is an older philosophical brother and mentor to me. We have the same intellectual and philosophical father. There are very few pure Szaszians in the world today: Ron is one of them. A pure Szaszian comprehends Tom's ideas -- and maintains intellectual integrity, despite economic and popularity interests.

Ron is receiving the award "For courage, outstanding contributions, and selfless devotion, over the past more than 30 years, as psychiatrist, teacher, and author, to the cause of protecting the dignity of human beings against the threats posed by institutional psychiatry and the therapeutic state."

Ron Leifer was born in 1932 in Binghamton, New York, and grew up in the Bronx, where he attended public schools. He received his Bachelor of Science degree at Queen's College, Flushing, New York in 1953; his Medical Degree at State University of New York Upstate Medical Center at Syracuse, N.Y. in 1957 (now the Upstate Medical University), where he also completed his residence in psychiatry under the supervision of Thomas Szasz (1961). He completed a mixed internship in medicine and psychiatry at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. from 1957-1958, and received a Master's degree in Philosophy at Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y. in 1964.

Ron first met Tom in 1956, when he was a senior medical student and Tom had just been appointed Professor of Psychiatry at the Upstate Medical Center at Syracuse. During his residency, he was privileged to have read The Myth of Mental Illness in manuscript and discussed it with Tom in seminars. After completing his residency, he was invited to join the psychiatric faculty at Syracuse and became Tom's colleague and friend.

Ron and his close friend and colleague Ernest Becker were fired from the faculty for defending Tom when attempts were made to fire him. An account of this period is documented in his article entitled "The Psychiatric Repression of Thomas Szasz: Its Social and Political Significance," published on the Szasz site. For more than thirty years, Dr. Leifer has championed Tom's views on mental illness, liberty, and responsibility in his private practice as psychiatrist, in his writing and teaching, and in his psychiatric testimonies.

After his expulsion from academic psychiatry, Ron studied Buddhism with various Indian and Tibetan teachers and, in 1980, took refuge vows with Khenpo Khartar Rinpoche, abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York. He helped organize the first KTD Buddhism and Psychotherapy Conference in New York City in 1987. He was a student and teacher at Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca from 1992 to 1996. He is a member of the visiting faculty of the Barre Center For Buddhist Studies and is the founder of The Ithaca Dharma Society. Ron has lectured widely on Buddhism, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and is the author of two books-The Happiness Project: Transforming the Three Poisons Which are the Causes of the Suffering We Inflict on Ourselves and Others (1997, Ithaca, NY., Snow Lion Press)--and I should like to point out that I use this book as a required text in a course I teach at American University each spring, and the students tell me their lives have changed as a result of reading this book--and In the Name of Mental Health: The Social Functions of Psychiatry (1969, New York: Science House)-- and more than fifty articles on a wide variety of psychiatric issues. He has lately turned his attention fully to the interplay between Buddhism and psychotherapy.

As Tom wrote in 1963, "Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State. This is perhaps the major implication of psychiatry as an institution of social control."

Ron, thank you for courageously defying the therapeutic state and for being a perpetual thorn in its side for so many years. You have been the target of vituperation for telling the truth about institutional psychiatry, yet you have never backed down from critics who attempted to discredit and belittle you. You have never compromised your values or integrity. You have helped many, many people in your private practice realize that their psychiatric problems were really existential problems in living, and you have helped them to become autonomous persons.

For all this, and more, we are deeply grateful. Thank you for your good work.

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