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Defining coercion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Thomas Szasz*
State University of New York Upstate Medical University, USA, email:
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2010

To define coercion as a subjective response to a particular intervention that is an unfortunate but necessary part of the care of people with psychiatric illness is astonishing! Reference Newton-Howes1 This Orwellian definition cannot go unchallenged.

Dictionaries define coercion as: ‘the act of compelling by force of authority; compulsion’; ‘the act, process, or power of coercing… arm-twisting, force, compulsion, constraint, duress, pressure’; ‘power based on the threat or use of force’; and so forth.

‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong’, declared Abraham Lincoln. Slavery is depriving a person of liberty because of who he is, not because of what he does or has done. If psychiatric slavery - involuntary mental hospitalisation - is not wrong, nothing is wrong. Reference Szasz2


1 Newton-Howes, G. Coercion in psychiatric care: where are we now, what do we know, where do we go? Psychiatrist 2010; 34: 217–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
2 Szasz, T. Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry. Transaction Publishers, 2007.Google Scholar
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