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Agnes's Jacket

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  160 ratings  ·  25 reviews

In a Victorian-era German asylum, seamstress Agnes Richter painstakingly stitched a mysterious autobiographical text into every inch of the jacket she created from her institutional uniform. Despite every attempt to silence them, hundreds of other patients have managed to get their stories out, at least in disguised form. Today, in a vibrant underground net-work of “psychi

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Published March 3rd 2009 by Rodale Press, Incorporated (first published 2009)
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*** the review below was written some time ago. now that i have read the whole book i don't have a whole lot to add except the following. this book deserves to be read widely and carefully. it's a wonderful book and a delightful, riveting read. it's written as a story and it's packed with beauty, intelligence, wisdom. it is a clarion call for much-needed change. if we continue treating mental illness the way we are currently doing (especially in the US), we will create a larger and larger genera ...more
May 09, 2014 S'hi rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: women in history and politics; mental health professionals
Agnes’s Jacket is a perceptively nuanced balance between thorough research, sensitive probing & sharing and generous questioning and guidance. Gail Hornstein credits many for the insights they provided but her latent (seemingly one of her favourite words) ability to inquisitively listen has been given wings by fellow travellers who mutually inspire exact expression and further discovery. A remarkable work inspiring on a global scale for all who have any dealings with psychiatry and altered m ...more
A fascinating topic and a dull read. The book is about the success some psychiatric patients have using "talk" therapy highlighted here with examples from the self help groups HVN (hearing voices network). The author weakens her assertion of the superiority of talk therapy by not only discounting but vilifying biologic research in mental disorders. The research she uses to support this is sketchy at best and heavily anecdotal. The book is preachy and dull but useful in highlighting an alternativ ...more
Lynn Tolson
Sep 24, 2012 Lynn Tolson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: therapists, counselors, mental health interests, mental illness interests, doctors, psychologists
Shelves: psychology, sociology
Dr. Hornstein is a psychology professor at Mount Holyoke College. She states: “For as long as I can remember, madness has fascinated me… I had an intuitive sense that it must be possible to enter someone else’s experience and make sense of actions that from the outside might look inexplicable.” This empathic approach shows in the stories she weaves into Agnes’s Jacket. Agnes Richter was a hospitalized German woman who stitched messages on her jacket to express herself. Dr. Hornstein uses the jac ...more
I guess I thought this book was going to be more of Agnes's story. I found that viewing Agnes's jacket on display is what got the author inspired to write the book. The book is mostly about the author talking to people attending the Hearing Voices support groups in Britain. They consider themselves to be survivors of unsuccessful treatments for their mental illness (shock therapy, meds, psych wards) and are trying to find a way to learn to live with their "normal" selves, hearing voices, etc. Si ...more
This book needs to be read widely by anyone whose life has been affected by mental illness, who has known someone with a mental illness, or who is interested in the mental health system. It offers an alternative way of looking at mental illness - one that is not motivated by fear or profit, but rather by a genuine interest in the illness and the patient. My one criticism is the author's complete rejection of there ever being biological reasons for mental illness or that medication is ever approp ...more
Hornstein's examination of the "psychiatric survivor" movement is interesting, but reads more as a paean to psychotherapy and other alternative therapies than Kramer's Listening to Prozac was an apologia for Prozac. (Admittedly, it's been a long time since I read Kramer's work, but I remember being distinctly uneasy about Prozac after reading Kramer's work - not a reaction one would expect from Hornstein's description of the work.) Hornstein's analysis of outsider art is more balanced and certai ...more
tempted to give it four stars, because it's well-written, and deals at some length with Prinzhorn whom I've always respected / admired, but it doesn't offer any maverick, cranky philosophical asides which I (invariably) look for
A better review is forthcoming. In short, the author did herself a disservice by dismissing entirely opinions that disagreed with her thesis. The book would have been much much stronger if she wrote about the possibility that some people are helped by a biological understanding of mental disorders and by pharmaceutical treatments. There was also a lot of focus on mental hospitals in the 1960's and earlier without much discussion of how they have changed since then, leaving the sense that the aut ...more
Jennifer Boyce
Honestly, I didn't really like this book very much. While I did enjoy hearing stories about what some people were going through, I found the rest of the book to be rather dull. I understand that the information in this book is important (HVN does some amazing work), I just thought the author could have presented the information in more of a captivating way. I found the authors writing style dull to read, I had a hard time keeping my focus on what the author was saying because I was so bored with ...more
I thought this book would be much more interesting than it turned out to be, but it was still pretty good. Hornstein states her thesis at the beginning--that psychologists have lately swung too far in the direction of understanding mental illness according to a biological model and it's high time for the pendulum to swing back the other way. But the book doesn't go much farther than that. It has some interesting stories. And as someone who anticipates working occasionally with people who have se ...more
This book offered an excellent alternative perspective on mental health. I read it in hope to have a more open mind toward the treatment my brother is receiving.
Fascinating book, and I am sympathetic with much of the view point expressed. But it's very one-sided. The voices of patients who have felt helped by biological psychiatry, for example, are glossed over, not attended to. It's clear that Hornstein's interest in the voices of patients is in large part an interest in the ones who challenge psychiatry. That's ok, but we shouldn't pretend that's all there is.
Marisela Chavez
This book investigates the "underground network of psychiatric survivor groups all over the world" to support her claim that it's people, not pills and isolation that help the mentally ill find ways to cope and heal. The book's full of history and first person stories. Great bibliography, namely for resources and narratives of madness.
A very different and enlightening view from western psychiatry/mental health treatment. The mind is a truly amazing thing.
With the state of our economy in the US and the world, America could use more services and programs like Hearing Voices Network to support people in the ways they need and will benefit most from.
May FLower
Very interesting look at people who hear voices and the Voice Hearers Network in Britain. Comes to the revolutionary discovery that listening to people talk about the voices they hear may be more beneficial for people than locking them up and drugging them to mindlessness.
England appears to be way ahead of the US in terms of helping and accepting people with mental illness. Built into the health system is compassion and real help. Although this book focuses on voice hearers it does touch on other areas of mental health.
Written by a prof of psychology ally of the mad movement and my own org, the Freedom Center--she even has a chapter about us here.
You always feel remiss when you don't read your friends' books...
We'll see how it goes.

This is a really interesting book & worth reading if you are interested in understanding mental illnesses from other than mainstream perspectives.
Liz V.
Much information about mental illness and the internal debate on appropriate treatment.
Lisa Huston
Jul 23, 2010 Lisa Huston added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with mental illness
I learned a lot about the psychiatric survivor movement, and why it is necessary.
I loved this book so much I created a Facebook Group for it.

A must read for anyone in the field of psychology
A good follow up to Anatomy of an Epidemic..
Apr 06, 2011 Hazel marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended by jo.
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