Aaron's Reviews > The History and Politics of Community Mental Health

The History and Politics of Community Mental Health by Murray Levine
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's review
Feb 17, 14

bookshelves: social-science, history, government, mental-illness, social-studies, human-services
Read from May 21 to July 28, 2012

I'll second the endorsements quoted in the goodreads summary: I recommend this to anyone professionally involved in social services. This book was written in 1981, so of course there's no material about the decades since. It's up to someone else to fill in the details for the last few years, but it will take someone of Levine's experience, insight and integrity to do it right.

The book is not a particularly easy read for someone outside of the field, so I would really only recommend this to professionals who have struggled with these issues firsthand and perhaps to students who are specializing in this topic (but I'll caution that without firsthand experience as guidance, it's very easy to dismiss some of the uglier or unpleasant material discussed). Levine's aim is to provide an objective and thorough account of the history and politics of social services in the United States and the social structures in effect. I think he did a commendable job by digging into the history in earnest without finger pointing or trying to push his own political agenda. While so many of us in the field like to see ourselves as "the good guys," (always heroes, sometimes martyrs), the simple fact is that the story is far more complex than any one of can sum up or easily address, and that there are major questions without easy answers.

Social Services employs many thousands of workers, so this field is a major economic sector with its own interest. Like it or not it is a reality, and social service labor unions are well aware of it. Small towns and large cities both have an interest in it, as they have a responsibility to care for those in need, but also they have real constraints from limited resources (tax money, property, and political capital; there's no easy answer to how much burden citizens are willing to shoulder before they decide to "pull the plug" and push the responsibility on another locality or just put someone into office who asks for less). This is just one of the many issues covered, but it's a fair example of what this book covers.

The book was a challenge to read, and maybe it could have been made a little easier, a little more accessible to reach a wider audience. But that's my only real reservation about it. Overall, Levine took on the task of telling the story behind what you do as social service professionals (or perhaps, talking about the elephant in the room?), and he did it compellingly. I've yet to find a comparable effort by another writer and I hope someone else steps up in a next few years.

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