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Franco Basaglia (Template:IPA-it; 11 March 1924 – 29 August 1980) was an Italian psychiatrist[1][2] and neurologist[3]:32, professor[4]:123[5]:183 who proposed the dismantling of psychiatric hospitals, pioneer of the modern concept of mental health,[1][6] Italian psychiatry reformer,[7]:213 charismatic leader in Italian psychiatry,[8] figurehead and founder of Democratic Psychiatry[9]:165[10]:126 architect,[11]:8 and principal proponent of Law 180[12]:70 which abolished mental hospitals. He was the most influential Italian psychiatrist of the 20th century.[2]


Franco Basaglia was born on 11 March 1924 in Venice.[2] After obtaining his medical degree from University of Padova in 1949, he trained in the local school of psychiatry, where he acquainted himself with the philosophical ideas of Karl Jaspers, Ludwig Binswanger and Eugène Minkowski,[2] developed an interest in the study of phenomenological philosophers, such as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre, and then he analyzed the work of sociological and historical critics of psychiatric institutions, such as Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault.[8]


According to Renato Piccione, intellectual legacy of Franco Basaglia can be divided into three periods:[13]:90

  1. university period which initiated the process of criticizing psychiatry as "science" that must cure and liberate a person but in fact oppresses him;
  2. institutional negation which coincides with experience in Gorizia (1962—1968);
  3. deinstitutionalization which coincides with direction of experience in Trieste (1971—1979).

When Basaglia arrived at Gorizia, he was revolted by what he observed as the conventional regime of institutional ‘care’: looked doors and keys only partly successful in muffling the weeping and screams of the patients, many of them lying nude and powerless in their excrements.[14]:158 And Basaglia observed the institutional response to human suffering: physical abuse, strait jackets, ice packs, bed ties, ECT and insulin-coma shock therapies to ‘quiet’ the melancholy and the terrified, and to strike terror in the agitated and the difficult.[14]:158

In 1961, Franco Basaglia started refusing binding patients at their beds in the Lunatic Asylum of Gorizia. He also abolished any isolation method. From this initiative commenced a wide theoretical and practical debate all over Italy. Such a huge debate resulted in the endorsement of a national Reform bill in 1978. The bill provided the gradual but radical closure and dismantling of the mental hospitals in the whole country.[15]

Basaglia insisted that much in the inveterate stereotypes of madness was actually the consequence of institutional conditions, but not a real danger which the walls of a mental hospital bad been requited to contain.[16]:65 He considered psychiatric hospital as an oppressive, locked and total institution in which prison-like, punitive rules are applied, in order to gradually eliminate its own contents, and patients, doctors and nurses are all subjected (at different levels) to the same process of institutionalism.[17]

Basaglia recognized that many of the characteristics of his patients which were believed to be inherent in their mental illness, such as the word salad, the vacant stares, the perseverative gestures and movements, appeared to dissolve as they left the confines of the asylum.[14]:14 From these observations, Basaglia concluded that we would not know what mental illnesses were, or what limitations they would inherently put on persons suffering from them, until both staff and patients were freed from the beliefs, attitudes and culture of the asylum.[14]:14 Basaglia was concerned that, without the complete closing of asylums, mental health professionals would unknowingly reconstitute the asylum culture in community facilities.[14]:170. As long as confinement remained possible, professionals would continue to regard themselves as the ultimately responsible parties, and patients would continue to regard their agency and freedom as dependent on the doctor’s will.[14]:170

Basaglia considered mental illness as the consequence of the exclusion processes acting in the social institutions. He stated: ‘The mental illness is not reason and origin but the necessary and natural consequence of the power dynamics-related exclusion processes potentially and concretely acting in all the social institutions. It is not sufficient to liberate the ill to restore life, history to the persons who were deprived of their life, their history.’[18]:3

Basaglia and his followers deemed that psychiatry was used as the provider of scientific support for social control to the existing establishment.[12]:70 The ensuing standards of deviance and normality brought about repressive views of discrete social groups.[12]:70 This approach was nonmedical and pointed out the role of mental hospitals in the control and medicalization of deviant behaviors and social problems.[12]:70


A first considerable report by Franco Basaglia was titled The destruction of the Mental Hospital as a place of institutionalisation and presented by him on the First International Congress of Social Psychiatry held in London in 1964.[19] In this report Basaglia stated that 'the psychiatrist of today seems to have discovered, suddenly, that the first step towards the cure of the patient is his return to liberty of which, until now, the psychiatrist himself had deprived him’ and that ‘it is true that the discovery of liberty is the most obvious that Psychiatry could reach.’ In conclusion Basaglia tried to fix some points in an attempt to form a lever for discovering liberty:[19]

  1. Pression on the administration, on which the hospital depends, by the involved action of joint responsibility for the situation previously maintained.
  2. The awakening of conscience and of joint responsibility on the part of the doctors who have accepted and preserved this situation.
  3. The introduction of drugs by means of which, notwithstanding the institutionalised climate, the breaking of the "bond" of the patients was made possible.
  4. The attempt at re-education—theoretical and humane—of the nurses (this however is still far from having been reached).
  5. The keeping alive—as far as possible—of the ties of the patient with the world outside (family, friends, interests).
  6. The opening of the doors, and the beginning of life according to the open door system.
  7. The creation of presuppositions of the Day Hospital, soon to be opened, as a part-time service.

In 1968, L’istituzione negata[20] (‘The Institution Denied’), edited by Franco Basaglia, came out of press.[21]:337 Widely read all over Italy, this book not only documented and analyzed the changes at Gorizia but also carried anti-institutional debate into other areas: factories, universities and schools.[21]:337


While discussing the process of transformation of mental health care across the European Region, Matt Muijen argues that the influence of professionals has obviously been decisive, mostly psychiatrists who acted as advocates of change, such as Philippe Pinel in France in the 19th century and Franco Basaglia in Italy in the 20th. They offered conceptions of new models of effective and humane care, revolutionary for their times, replacing abusive and inadequate traditional services. Their real accomplishment was the ability to inspire politicians to advocate these conceptions and persuade colleagues to implement them, thereby enabling sustainable and real change.[22]

Giovanna Russo and Francesco Carelli state that back in 1978 the Basaglia reform perhaps could not be fully implemented because society was unprepared for such an avant-garde and innovative concept of mental heath.[1] Thirty years later, it has become more obvious that this reform reflects a concept of modern heath and social care for mental patients.[1] The Italian example originated samples of effective and innovative service models and paved the way for deinstitutionalisation of mental patients.[1]

Giovanni de Girolamo with coauthors argues that Basaglia’s contribution was crucial to move psychiatric practice into the realm of health care and give visibility to psychiatry.[8]

P. Fusar-Poli with coauthors argues that thanks to Basaglia law, psychiatry in Italy began to be integrated into the general health services and was no longer sidelined to a peripheral area of medicine.[2]

In the 2001 National Mental Health Conference, Italian neurologist and laureate of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Rita Levi-Montalcini expressed her admiration for Franco Basaglia by calling him the founder of the new conception of mental illness, magnificent scientist and fine human being who really lived the tragic problem of mental illness.[23]

British clinical psychologist Richard Bentall argues that after Franco Basaglia had persuaded the Italian government to pass Law 180, which made new hospitalizations to large mental hospitals illegal, the results were controversial.[24]:74 In the following decade many Italian doctors complained that the prisons had become depositories for the seriously mentally ill, and that they found themselves "in a state psychiatric-therapeutic impotence when faced with the uncontrollable paranoid schizophrenic, the agitated-meddlesome maniac, or the catatonic".[25]:101 These complaints were seized upon psychiatrists elsewhere, eager to exhibit the foolishness of abandoning conventional ways.[24]:74 However, an efficient network of smaller community mental health clinics gradually developed to replace the old system.[24]:74

The president of the World Phenomenology Institute Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka states that Basaglia managed to pull together substantial revolutionary and reformatory energies around his anti-institutional project and created the conditions which within a few years brought to the reform of mental health legislation in 1978.[26]:681 This reform was introduced amongst great enthusiasm and bitter criticism, hostility and perplexity, critical and sometimes unconditional support.[26]:681 Basaglia thereby managed to make salutary shock in Italian psychiatry which had lain in a torpid slumber before.[26]:681

American psychiatrist Loren Mosher called Basaglia the most innovative and influential European psychiatrist since Freud.[27]

Francine Saillant and Serge Genest assert that Basaglia’s reform of psychiatry in Italy, renewed vision on Italian society, and radical critique of public institutions made Franco Basaglia one of Italy’s greatest, most progressive intellectuals and a leading figure of the second half of the 20th century.[10]:125

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Russo G., Carelli F. (May 2009). Dismantling asylums: The Italian Job. London Journal of Primary Care.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Fusar-Poli P., Bruno D., Machado-de-Sousa J.P., Crippa J. (October 2009). Franco Basaglia (1924—1980): Three decades (1979—2009) as a bridge between the Italian and Brazilian mental health reform. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 57 (1): 100–103.
  3. (2010) The Cultural Identities of European Cities, 32, Peter Lang.
  4. Digilio, Girolamo (2005). Pratiche e politiche per la salute mentale: insieme contro lo stigma..., 123, Armando Editore.
  5. (2010) Il folle reato. Il rapporto tra la responsabilità dello psichiatra e la imputabilità del paziente, 183, FrancoAngeli.
  6. (Marzo 2011). Buon compleanno Italia. Il Bollettino Medico (3, anno V): 1.
  7. (2005) Psychiatric cultures compared: Psychiatry and mental health care in the twentieth century: Comparisons and approaches, 213, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 De Girolamo G., Barale F., Politi P., Fusar-Poli P. (August 2008). Franco Basaglia, 1924—1980. American Journal of Psychiatry 165 (8): 968.
  9. Crossley, Nick (2006). Contesting psychiatry: social movements in mental health, 165, London: Routledge.
  10. 10.0 10.1 (2007) Medical Anthropology: Regional Perspectives and Shared Concerns, 125–127, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  11. Benaim S. (January 1983). The Italian Experiment. Psychiatric Bulletin 7 (1): 7–10.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 (2006) Knowledge in Mental Health: Reclaiming the Social, 69–73, Hauppauge: Nova Publishers.
  13. Piccione, Renato (2004). Il futuro dei servizi di salute mentale in Italia, 90, FrancoAngeli.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 (2010) The Roots of the Recovery Movement in Psychiatry: Lessons Learned, 158, John Wiley and Sons.
  15. Toresini, Lorenzo (2007). Soteria – no restraint system in Italy. Neurologia Croatica 56 (Suppl 5): 120–121.
  16. Donnelly, Michael (1992). The Politics of Mental Health in Italy, 65, London: Routledge.
  17. Tansella M. (November 1986). Community psychiatry without mental hospitals--the Italian experience: a review. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 79 (11): 664–669.
  18. ’La malattia mentale non è ragione e origine, ma conseguenza necessaria e naturale dei processi di esclusione legati alla dinamica del potere, potenzialmente e concretamente attivi in tutte le istituzioni sociali. Non basta liberare i malati per ridare una vita, una storia, a persone che sono state ptivate della loro vita, della loro storia.’ See: Paladino, Giovanni (2008). Sensi di ragione. Quando Icaro volerà. Personaggi senza nome, 3, Editrice UNI Service.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Basaglia F. (1964). The destruction of the mental hospital as a place of institutionalisation: Thoughts caused by personal experience with the open door system and part time service. London: First international congress of social psychiatry. URL accessed on 9-05-2010.
  20. Basaglia, Franco (editor) (2010). L'istituzione negata. Rapporto da un ospedale psichiatrico, Baldini Castoldi Dalai.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Brown, Phil (editor) (1985). Mental health care and social policy, 337, Taylor & Francis.
  22. Muijen M. (June 2006). Challenges for psychiatry: delivering the Mental Health Declaration for Europe. World Psychiatry 5 (2): 113–117.
  23. See 7:45 from the start of the film fragment: Agapito E. I grandi della Scienza del Novecento: Franco Basaglia (in English, Part 3). URL accessed on 04-10-2010.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Bentall, Richard (2009). Doctoring the mind: is our current treatment of mental illness really any good?, 74, NYU Press.
  25. Bentall cites Palermo’s article: Palermo G.B. (February 1991). The 1978 Italian mental health law--a personal evaluation: a review. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 84 (2): 99–102.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa (2002). Phenomenology world-wide: foundations, expanding dynamisms, life-engagements: a guide for research and study, 681, Springer.
  27. Mosher L.R. (February 1991). Psychiatry Inside Out: Selected Writings of Franco Basaglia. Community Mental Health Journal 27 (1): 85–88.

Selected bibliography

Research papers

  • Basaglia F. (June 1952). Esposizione di alcuni casi di utile impiego del Test del disegno nei disturbi del linguaggio. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 76 (2): 300–305.
  • Basaglia F. (1953). Il mondo dell'"incomprensibile" schizofrenico attraverso la "Daseinsanalyse". Presentazione di un caso clinico. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 81 (3): 471–499.
  • Basaglia F. (1953). Sull'impiego del Test di associazione verbale secondo Rapaport in clinica psichiatrica. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 81 (4): 725–737.
  • Basaglia F. (May 1954). Contributo allo studio psicopatologico e clinico degli stati ossessivi. Rassegna di Studi Psichiatrici 43 (2): 269–310.
  • Basaglia F. (June 1954). Su alcuni aspetti della moderna psicoterapia: analisi fenomenologica dell'"incontro". Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 78 (2): 239–264.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (June 1954). A proposito della risposto "maschera" nel Test di Rorschach. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 78 (2): 433–436.
  • Basaglia F. (1955). In tema di "pensiero dereistico". Considerazioni sul concetto di "distacco dalla realtà". Archivio di Psicologia, Neurologia e Psichiatria 16 (1): 87–108.
  • Basaglia F. (1955). Sull'impiego del Plexonal (Sandoz) nel trattamento sedativo e nella narcoterapia. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 83 (3): 671–672.
  • Basaglia F., Pessina G. (March–April 1956). La "reazione immagine" del psiconevrotico ossessivo al Test di associazione verbale. Rassegna di Studi Psichiatrici 45 (2): 344–359.
  • Basaglia F., Pessina G. (1956). Il Test di associazione verbale e il Test Wechsler Bellevue in un gruppo di soggetti a sintomatologia isterica. Rassegna di Studi Psichiatrici 45 (3): 475–498.
  • Basaglia F. (June 1956). Il corpo nell'ipocondria e nella depersonalizzazione. La struttura psicopatologica dell'ipocondria. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 80 (1–2): 159–185.
  • Basaglia F. (August 1956). Il corpo nell'ipocondria e nella depersonalizzazione. La coscienza del corpo e il sentimento di esistenza corporea nella depersonalizzazione somatopsichica. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 80 (3): 453–490.
  • Basaglia F. (September 1957). L'azione della cloropromazina sull'esperienza delirante primaria. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 81 (3): 787–798.
  • Basaglia F. (July 1957). Delirio di negazione e ossessione della negazione. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 81 (2): 506–510.
  • Basaglia F. (July 1957). A proposito del "dreamy state" e della depersonalizzazione nevrotica. Comunicazione al XII Congresso nazionale della Società italiana di neurologia. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 81 (2): 371–378.
  • Basaglia F. (1957). Il sentimento di estraneità nella malinconia. Contributo psicopatologico e clinico. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 85 (3): 627–645.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (1957). La "sindrome organica di Rorschach" in un gruppo di parkinsoniani postencefalitici. Rassegna di Studi Psichiatrici 46 (2): 225–230.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (1957). A proposito della "sindrome paranoide nella concezione antropologica". Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 85 (3): 677–680.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (1957). Su alcuni aspetti del protocollo schizofrenico. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 85 (3): 671–675.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (1957). Il significato delle risposte chiaroscuro. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 85 (2): 391–399.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (January–February 1957). Il rifiuto alla V tavola di Rorschach. Archivio di Psicologia, Neurologia e Psichiatria 18 (1): 17–24.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (September 1957). Dolore psicotico ed ansia nevrotica nel protocollo Rorschach del depresso. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 81 (3): 640–653.
  • Basaglia F., Dalla Barba G. (September 1957). A proposito dell'"esaltazione" come modalità schizofrenica. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 81 (3): 565–580.
  • Basaglia F., Fontanari D. (October 1960). Il ruolo del sistema nervoso vegetativo nelle sindromi neuropsichiatriche menopausali. Rassegna di Neurologia Vegetativa 15: 131–151.
  • Basaglia F. (1964). Il silenzio nel dialogo con lo psicotico. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 92: 787–793.
  • Basaglia F. (June 1964). Ansia e malafede. La condizione umana del nevrotico. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 88: 392–404.
  • Basaglia F. (1965). Corps, regard et silence. L'énigme de la subjectivité en psychiatrie. L'Evolution Psychiatrique (Paris) 30: 11–26.
  • Basaglia F. (1965). Silence in the dialogue with the psychotic. Journal of Existentialism 6 (21): 99–102.
  • Basaglia F., Slavich A. (1966). A proposito delle dinamiche di gruppo in una comunità terapeutica. Il ruolo degli alcoolisti. Giornale di Psichiatrie e di Neuropatologia 94 (1): 93–106.
  • Basaglia F., Basaglia Ongaro F. (December 1966). Un problema di psichiatria istituzionale. L'esclusione come categoria socio-psichiatrica. Rivista Sperimentale di Freniatria e Medicina Legale delle Alienazioni Mentali 90 (6): 1484–1503.
  • Basaglia F. (May 1969). Appunti di psichiatria istituzionale. Recenti Progessi in Medicine 46 (5): 486–506.
  • Basaglia F. (1980). Problems of law and psychiatry: the Italian experience. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 3 (1): 17–37.
  • Basaglia F. (November 1980). Crisis intervention, treatment and rehabilitation. World Hospitals 16 (4): 26–27.

Books and reports

  • italiano:
Che cos'è la psichiatria?, 1967, Einaudi (some passages)
  • italiano:
L'istituzione negata, Turin, 1968, Einaudi (last edition: Basaglia, Franco et al (2010). L'istituzione negata. Rapporto da un ospedale psichiatrico, Baldini Castoldi Dalai.)
  • italiano:
Morire di classe (photo book).
  • italiano:
Il malato artificiale, Turin, 1969, Einaudi
  • italiano:
La maggioranza deviante (with Franca Ongaro), Turin, 1971, Einaudi
  • italiano:
Crimini di pace, (with Foucault, Goffman, Laing, Chomsky).
  • italiano:
Morire di classe, Edizioni Gruppo Abele
  • italiano:
Conferenze brasiliane, Raffaello Cortina
  • italiano:
Corso di aggiornamento per operatori psichiatrici, 1979
  • italiano:
La chiusura dell'ospedale psichiatrico, 1976
  • italiano:
Le contraddizioni della comunità terapeutica, 1970
  • italiano:
La distruzione dell'ospedale psichiatrico come luogo di istituzionalizzazione, 1964
  • italiano:
Scritti, vol. 1: 1953-1968: Dalla psichiatria fenomenologica all'esperienza di Gorizia, Einaudi, Turin, 1981
  • italiano:
Scritti vol. 2: 1968-1980. Dall'apertura del manicomio alla nuova legge sull'Assistenza psichiatrica, Einaudi, Torino
  • italiano:
La violenza (scritto con Franco Fornari), Vallecchi, Flowrence, 1978
  • italiano:
L'utopia della realtà Turin, Einaudi.

Further reading

Films on Franco Basaglia


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