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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

For more than 200 years, disturbances of reason, cognition and emotion—the sort of things that were once called 'madness'—have been described and treated by the medical profession. Mental illness, it is said, is an illness like any other—a disorder that can treated by doctors, whose suffering can be eased and from which patients can return. And yet serious mental illness remains a profound mystery that is in some ways no closer to being solved than it was at the start of the 20th century.

In this clear-sighted and provocative exploration of psychiatry, acclaimed sociologist Andrew Scull traces the history of its attempts to understand and mitigate mental illness: from the age of the asylum and unimaginable surgical and chemical interventions, through the rise and fall of Freud and the talking cure and on to our own time of drug companies and antidepressants. Through it all, Scull argues, the often vain and rash attempts to come to terms with the enigma of mental disorder have frequently resulted in dire consequences for the patient.

Deeply researched and lucidly conveyed, Desperate Remedies masterfully illustrates the assumptions and theory behind the therapy, providing a definitive new account of psychiatry's and society's battle with mental illness.

©2022 Andrew Scull (P)2022 Penguin Audio

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Horrible history of psychiatry

More history than sociology, this detailed account of the history of psychiatry in the US makes painful listening. Overconfident practitioners offer desperate treatments convinced of the effectiveness of their treatment only for it to be rejected by the next decade in place of something equally destructive. Removal of any part of the body which might be harbouring infection, very prolonged frequent doses of ECT or lobotomy (the youngest patient was four years old) are part of this recurring nightmare. Followed by a history of the rivalry between a more biological rather than psychoanalytical approach takes us into the era of psychopharmacology which he reveals does not have the objectivity which the phrase “evidence based medicine“ from double blind trials might suggest.
I am not anti-psychiatry (I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I’ve had three courses of ECT and take quite a lot of medication which I believe is helpful most of the time). But this book reveals how far is psychiatry has to go before it can really claim to be a branch of medicine based upon proper understanding of the causes of its pathology. As a UK listener I was grateful that I don’t live in the US where the care for people with severe mental health problems is obviously extremely poor. If you have any interest in mental health and psychiatry in particular I would strongly recommend this book. Having “enjoyed” this historical narrative I would have liked a bit more sociology in terms of trying to understand how that history has been possible.