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Famous Last Words: R. D. Laing

Famous Last Words: R. D. Laing

You’ve made an appointment? Wonderful! The doctor will see you now. Get comfortable on the couch because today’s ‘exclamation upon expiration’ comes from the controversial psychiatrist Dr. Ronald David Laing.

R. D. Laing is best known for his unorthodox style, his rejection of traditional therapies and his contention that clueless clinicians were harming their patients with outdated techniques.

Dr. Laing completed his medical training in 1951 and graduated into a world that still very much believed that ‘doctor knew best’. This was the era of the lobotomy, electro-convulsive therapy and routine use of the straightjacket. The youthful Laing found such aggressive treatments troubling. He argued that it was traditional psychotherapy, not the mental illness under treatment that was the root cause for the unrelenting misery he would see on the ward.

Laing’s experiences in traditional psychiatric practice ultimately lead him to reject its received wisdom and carve a new path in ‘anti-psychiatry’. He courted controversy by testing the therapeutic effects of LSD and mescaline on mental patients and shocked peers by suggesting that schizophrenia could develop as a reaction to emotional turmoil rather than as a result of broken brain biology. Though few modern psychiatrists would classify themselves as a ‘Laingian’, his view of the troubled mind as more than a faulty machine to be fettled by the crude tools of a glorified mechanic continues to influence modern therapeutic techniques.

R. D. Laing had his critics. His work was derided for a perceived arrogance, a convoluted wordiness (sound familiar?), methodological inconsistency and a propensity to lapse into flossy philosophy or (shudder) ‘pop psychology’.

The unorthodox academic met a decidedly unorthodox end for an academic. Paradigm-smashing scientists are stereotypically soft-bodied creatures, unfamiliar with and decidedly wary of physical activity – a little like doughy, chair-bound graphic designers! Laing died of a heart attack at the age of 61 after overexerting himself on the tennis court whilst on holiday in France. His last words were ace. After his collapse, concerned onlookers called out for a doctor’s assistance. Dr. Laing replied:

“I am a fucking doctor!”

The pieces below hopefully reflect a small part of Dr. Laing maverick genius. The font in use is Vista Sans. The colourful old codger is clearly in some sort of mental distress and could definitely benefit from some innovative Laingian therapy.


‘Fucking’ is a fantastic word to write in script. There’s something enjoyable about giving a coarse exclamation such graceful, flowing treatment.


Combining something profane with a stock tool of professional medical practice hopefully captures Dr. Laing’s rejection of traditional therapeutic techniques.


Acid-fried colour palettes and unusual, clashing colour pairings attempt to tap into Dr. Laing’s LSD experiments and unorthodox style.

Well, that was mentally draining. What have we learnt today? Perhaps that it’s always useful to question received wisdom and to push for change when tried and tested techniques don’t produce the results you need. You don’t have to be an expert on the human mind to appreciate that kind of thinking.

Thank you for reading this post. Don’t forget to add any comments, questions or suggestions for pre-expiration exclamations for the project in the section below.

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