The inspiration for the PBS series Mysterious of Mental Illness, Shrinks brilliantly tells the "astonishing" story of psychiatry's origins, demise, and redemption (Siddhartha Mukherjee).
Psychiatry has come a long way since the days of chaining "lunatics" in cold cells and parading them as freakish marvels before a gaping public.
But, as Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, the former president of the American Psychiatric Association, reveals in his extraordinary and eye-opening book, the path to legitimacy for "the black sheep of medicine" has been anything but smooth.
In Shrinks, Dr. Lieberman traces the field from its birth as a mystic pseudo-science through its adolescence as a cult of "shrinks" to its late blooming maturity — beginning after World War II — as a science-driven profession that saves lives. With fascinating case studies and portraits of the luminaries of the field — from Sigmund Freud to Eric Kandel — Shrinks is a gripping and illuminating read, and an urgent call-to-arms to dispel the stigma of mental illnesses by treating them as diseases rather than unfortunate states of mind.
“A lucid popular history...At once skeptical and triumphalist. It shows just how far psychiatry has come.” —Julia M. Klein, Boston Globe
Lieberman (co-author of Essentials of Schizophrenia), former president of the American Psychiatric Association, does a stellar job of recounting the history of his profession, warts and all, in a way that is easily accessible to lay readers and full of surprising facts. While people are "more likely to need services from psychiatry than any other medical specialty," the stigma attached to mental illness means that most sufferers "consciously avoid the very treatments now proven to relieve their symptoms." But the path from defining a mental illness to finding a consistently effective treatment for it is far from linear, and Lieberman pulls no punches while demonstrating how many psychiatrists, including Freud, made serious missteps that harmed patients and discredited the field in the eyes of the general public. He ends on an upbeat note, however, convincingly arguing that the shame of admitting to mental illness may become a thing of the past, because sufferers can be "diagnosed and treated very effectively," although he notes that the public still needs to be educated about recent advances.
Fascinating introduction to the history of psychiatry - manages to cover a lot of ground and a lot of different perspectives. My only complaint is that I'd prefer it to be about twice as long!
People shouldn't practice psychiatry, much less write about it, unless they suffer mental illness. This book is illuminating, but depressing. It's like Nietzsche's assessment of Darwin: true, but dangerous. These "empiricists" may keep us alive at the cost of our dignity.