In the early 1960s, JFK declared that science would take us to the moon. He also declared that science would make the "remote reaches of the mind accessible" and cure psychiatric illness with breakthrough medications. We were walking on the moon within the decade. But today, psychiatric cures continue to elude us—as does the mind itself. Why is it that we still don't understand how the mind works? What is the difference between the mind and the brain? And given all that we still don't know, how can we make insightful, transformative choices about our psychiatric conditions?
A profound and powerful work of essential reporting ... He poses questions about the ethical challenges, complex social issues and other problems of modern biological psychiatry, and he makes a strong case that radical examination and change are urgently required ... It is with great skill that Bergner places Caroline’s story in context of the history of modern psychiatry. It’s hard to do justice to the sweep of the larger story he tells, but probably the most shocking part is the utter randomness that has characterized so much of the modern search for psycho-pharmaceuticals ... This is an interesting set of interviewees, all dedicated, hardworking, highly knowledgeable scientists, who frankly acknowledge how poor the efficacy of many drugs is, how much of a toll they can take on people who use them and how little we know about how the brain actually works ... In programs like Caroline’s, medication may be included, but the spirit of treatment is 'person-centered.' The phrase doesn’t do justice to the extraordinary, intimate and wise interactions that Bergner describes in these places.
Bergner discusses how mental illnesses are perceived, diagnosed, and treated, as well as how all of those elements have shifted over time. Glimpses into the history of psychiatric care are presented alongside the real-life stories of people who have been on the receiving end of that care—and often quite harmfully so. Bergner pushes readers to question our society’s demand to pathologize mental illness as the sole path towards destigmatizing it. Rather, he effectively argues for the need to view mental health through varied lenses, involving sociopolitical factors and centering the perspectives of those most impacted by these issues.
With an unsparing eye and novelist’s flair for storytelling...Bergner explores 'the chasm between physiology and consciousness... between what we’re made of and who we are' in the treatment of mental illness ... He sheds light on the long-running tension between biology-driven psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and lucidly examines alternative treatment options, such as therapeutic farms and peer support networks. It all amounts to a compassionate, genre-spanning narrative that calls for less fixing, and more appreciation of and accommodations for many kinds of minds. This will leave readers with much to ponder.