jo's Reviews > A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac

A History of Psychiatry by Edward Shorter
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's review
Nov 30, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: psychic-pain, read-a-part, not-fiction
Read in November, 2008

i'm reading through it, wondering whether to use it for teaching, and feeling squeamish about its annoying whiggishness, its refusal to see how psychiatry is not exactly a science and the way it evolved is not driven solely by good intention and a pure drive towards genuine improvement.


this man has an irritatingly aggressive way of writing. he really, really doesn't like antipsychiatry, and he takes constructionism very literally. he lurvs hard-core biological psychiatry, and although i am not dumb enough to deny that something may be very, very wrong in the brain functioning of some "mentally ill" persons, i also think that the scene is a bit more... complex? yes? that there are many factors at play when we decide the someone is mentally ill (often against the person's own assessment of his or her mental illness) and needs to be treated (often against his or her seriously informed consent)? the we can and do construct hard-core reality all the time, by investing it with all sorts of values and valences and meanings? etc. etc. etc.?

why is it anyway that the proponents of psychiatry-as-science squirm away from discussing centuries of intolerable psychiatric cruelty? it's as if i couldn't believe in christianity unless i denied that a lot of people were badly damaged by people who acted in the name of the it. one can still believe that christiany is valid, good, and true in all sorts of ways while recognizing that people acting in the name of some version of it caused a lot of terrible suffering... yes?

it is amazing how much is at stake in holding this or that conception of mental illness and this or that conception of what it takes to make the mentally ill better. why do we get so angry about this?

what saddens me the most when i read books such as this is that the field of mental health is VERY RARELY seen as a field to which patients can contribute as well. it's as if patients had absolutely no say, ever, in what they need to get better. i find this one of the most shocking realities of mental health.
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