Sanity, Madness and the Family Revisited

I spent last Sunday at a seminar revisiting one of the Laing and Esterson cases, the Danzig’s, from : Sanity, Madness and the Family. It is always valuable to go over a case history. But, a question that I have always puzzled about this work is; to what extent did Laing and Esterson use their insights to bring clarity to the Danzig family?

To take an example, did Laing and Esterson share or interpret their observations upon the way the family deceived Sarah, with Sarah and her family? In Sanity, Madness and the Family (paperback p11, penultimate paragraph) it is reported that Sarah fears abandonment, and the parents and brother reassure her “…that they had telephoned everyday, and had left messages for her. This was not in fact so.” Again, there is a reference to the Danzig family not having called Sarah, and the subject of deception, in The Leaves of Spring, Esterson’s full book devoted to the Danzig case, (paperback P261, para 2). It would appear that Laing and Esterson know that the family are not telling Sarah the truth when they tell her they have called everyday. But what did Laing and Esterson do with this information?

In the book, Laing and Esterson go to lengths to explain Sartre’s use of praxis (praxis refers to events that are the deeds of doers), and process (process refers to events of which no doer is the author). My sense is that identifying a point at which the family can be seen to be deceiving Sarah is a key piece of praxis, but I am left wondering why they would identify it and not explain it back to the family. Anyone who has been through a difficult family therapy knows how valuable it would be if someone could provide proof of behaviours rather than leaving the scapegoated ‘ill’ individual to live with the paradoxes and contradictions alone. To my reading Laing and Esterson seem to have had it within their grasp to provide such clarity; the family did not ring Sarah everyday as they said they did, so why did Laing and Esterson not make this known to the Danzigs?