R. D. Laing wore many robes in his career, including psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, social critic, author, poet, and mystic, and at the peak of his fame and popularity in the 1970s he was the most widely-read psychiatrist in the world.

Arguably the most controversial psychoanalyst since Freud, Laing’s meteoric rise in the 1960s was the result of his rare ability to make complex ideas accessible with such best-selling classics as The Divided Self (1960), Sanity, Madness and Family (1964), The Politics of Experience (1967), and Knots (1970). Laing’s impassioned plea for a more humane treatment of those in society who are most vulnerable catapulted him into the vanguard of intellectual and cultural debate about the nature of sanity and madness, and inspired a generation of psychology students, intellectuals, and artists to turn this disarming Scotsman into a social icon.

Now, in the second edition of this newly inaugurated annual event, Laing’s former students and colleagues from around the world, including Fritjof Capra, Michael Guy Thompson, Douglas Kirsner, Steve Gans, Nita Gage, Edie Irwin and others, will meet for five days at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, to continue our critique of Laing’s contemporary legacy. Last year we explored one of Laing’s most fervent questions: What is Sanity? What Is Madness? from a variety of perspectives.

This year we will continue our conversation by asking, What Is Therapeutic? in all its clinical, philosophical, and political permutations. Joining us again will be some of the leading lights in the burgeoning Alternative to Psychiatry Movement, including Will Hall, Michael Cornwall, Chuck Knapp, Nick Putman, Yana Jacobs and others, to help us share alternatives to the contemporary, often abusive psychiatric treatment for those in extreme mental and emotional distress.

Among the questions we will explore:

1. What may the term “therapeutic” mean if decisively severed from the medical model from where it originated?

2. What is the fundamental purpose of therapy, if not to “treat” a pathological condition, and who should engage in such practices?

3. How are we to re-conceptualize the so-called “treatment” of severe mental and emotional distress, once we abandon the outdated concept of mental illness?

4. How might revisioning conventional notions of what is genuinely therapeutic help our society embrace alternatives to psychiatric drug treatments, and lead to more humane interventions?

5. What is the relationship between the therapeutic and the spiritual, and how might traditional spiritual practices inform our conception of therapy and its goals?

Join us for five days at breathtaking Esalen Institute on the Pacific Coast to explore how we can promote more humane and effective ways of helping those suffering from extreme states.