Ron Leifer’s Biography
Ron Leifer, MD, MA, is a psychiatrist with more than fifty years’ experience as a nonmedical, noncoercive psychotherapist. He received his psychiatric training at the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where his mentor was Professor Thomas Szasz, MD, author of the classic The Myth of Mental Illness. After publication of this book, the state commissioner of mental health and the chairman of the department tried to fire Szasz but failed because he had tenure. Leifer and his friend and colleague Ernest Becker — future Pulitzer Prize winner for The Denial of Death — defended Szasz and became outcasts in the department. In 1969, Dr. Leifer wrote In The Name of Mental Health: The Social Functions of Psychiatry, a critique of coercive-medical psychiatry.
While he was a resident, Leifer earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Syracuse University where his mentor was the Cambridge philosopher of language, A. R. L. Louch. At the same time, Leifer received his first meditation instruction from the Hindu monk Ahehananda Bharati, who was chairman of the department of anthropology. Noticing Leifer’s interest in Buddhism, Bharati suggested that he find a Tibetan lama teacher. Leifer in 1980 became a Buddhist practitioner and the student of Khenpo Khartar Rinpoche, abbot of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock, New York. He later became a full-time student at Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York, where he studied Buddhism in the Tibetan language.
His interest then turned to a synthesis of Western psychology and Buddhist psychology, the result of which was the publication of a triology of books on the subject: The Happiness Project (1996), Vinegar into Honey (2006), and Engagements With The World (2013).
In 2001, Ron Leifer was awarded the “Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties” (Professional Category) “For courage, outstanding contributions, and selfless devotion, over the past more than 30 years, as psychiatrist, teacher, and author, to the cause of protecting the dignity of human beings against the threats posed by institutional psychiatry and the therapeutic state.” During the introductory speech of the Szasz Award ceremony, Jeffrey Schaler, Ph.D, declared: “There are very few pure Szaszians in the world today: Ron is one of them.”