Agnes’s Jacket

Gail A. Hornstein, Author . Rodale $25.95 (310p) ISBN 978-1-59486-544-2

Hornstein, a professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke, investigates personal testimonies of madness for what they can teach us about mental illness and its treatment. The author spent several years attending meetings of “survivors’ ” groups, such as the Hearing Voices Network in the U.K., whose members hear voices but reject the notion that they are mentally ill. In addition to these stories, Hornstein presents many forms of personal expression by those suffering from mental illnesses, including archived video recordings, writings through history and the artwork of the Prinzhorn collection (of which the eponymous jacket is an example), the basis for the modern understanding of “outsider art.” Hornstein concludes that mental illness is primarily based in trauma, as opposed to the dominant view of biological and hereditary origins. Behind the psychiatric profession’s attachment to such views she sees, as do other psychiatric dissidents, the profiteering influence of prescription drug companies. A wealth of compelling characters includes the eccentric and the heartbreakingly resilient. Despite some repetition of narrative detail, the fascinating avenues Hornstein pursues and the humanity and thoroughness of this exploration make a serious contribution to critiques of contemporary psychiatry. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/16/2009
Release date: 03/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 335 pages - 978-1-906254-45-2
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