The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan
For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness–how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people–sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society–went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry’s labels. Forced to remain inside until they’d “proven” themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan’s watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever.
But, as Cahalan’s explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?
November 5th, 2019
Non-Fiction/Mental Health/Medical History
The Great Pretender was initially intriguing to me as mental health diagnoses and treatment is a topic I am very passionate about and has also been a part of my life personally. Author Susannah Cahalan shares an in-depth look at a study from the 1970s that I had previously never heard of before but still affects the diagnosis process to this day. It was an eye-opening experience to see how mental health has been treated both historically and some practices that still continue today.
Cahalan’s first book, Brain on Fire, was a personal look at her own experiences and I loved that this book was a wonderful follow up to this important and timely topic as a whole. While we have come so far, we still have a way to go when dealing with mental health stigmas and treatment.
Non-fiction books like this are such a powerful and important conversation starter. While this novel was insightful and thought-provoking it wasn’t an easy read at times. With that said, sometimes discomfort is what can fuel the fire for change and I am so glad I gave this once a chance.
Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for an advanced copy. All opinions are my own.
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