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In Continental Philosophy of Psychiatry: The Lure of Madness Alastair Morgan surveys the contributions of a loosely conceived school of psychiatrists, philosophers and social theorists to understanding and responding to madness during the years 1910–1980. Taking my cue from him, I highlight some of the contributors discussed in Morgan's book and reflect that although madness may be difficult or even impossible to articulate effectively in discourse it remains a ‘limit experience’ which demarcates and illuminates the contours of other thinking and being, including reason and activism. I discuss social and cultural factors that have dulled clinicians’ sensitivities to the sounds of madness in recent decades and advocate the need for a reappraisal of our expertise and for a new activism today. What may at first appear as a failed clinical-philosophical tradition remains of professional relevance in today's rapidly transforming circumstances of practice both as inspiration and as cautionary tale.
This commentary explores issues of professional identity, fairness and discovery in the history of psychiatry in the light of Walter Benjamin's (1892–1940) philosophy of history, especially his concept of Jetztzeit (now-time) and the profession's relationship with the founder and owners of Purdue Pharma LP.
There is increasing recognition of the importance of the humanities and arts in medical and psychiatric training. We explore the poetry of Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) and its evocations of depression through themes of mood, time and self-consciousness and discuss their relation to images of ‘spleen’, the ‘snuffling clock’ and the ‘sinister mirror’. Following the literary critical commentaries of Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) and Jean Starobinski (1920–2019) we identify some of their roots in the poet's experience of the rapid and alienating urbanisation of 19th-century Paris. Appreciation of the rich vocabulary of poetry and the images it generates adds depth to clinical practice by painting vivid pictures of subjective experience, including subjective experience of the ‘social’ as part of the biopsychosocial constellation.
This paper presents and responds to On the Heels of Ignorance, a sociological study which identifies five fundamental epistemological paradigm changes in American psychiatry in the service of its survival and details several tactics that have been employed to facilitate these professional reinventions. Issues raised in this presentation include the relationship between psychiatry, society and the state, and the nature and significance of psychiatric expertise. The dynamic of these relationships and the complexities of the required expertise create their own challenges for the advancement and professional accountability of the specialty. The conclusion suggests some future imperatives.
The fiftieth anniversary of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the publication of a detailed multidisciplinary social history of British psychiatry and mental health in recent decades have offered an opportunity to take a helicopter view and reflect on the relation between psychiatry and changing British society. We argue that the time has come to move on from the rhetoric of deinstitutionalisation and community mental healthcare to lead public debate and advocacy for the needs of the mentally ill in the new era of ‘meta-community psychiatry and mental healthcare’. We need to respond effectively to the increasing awareness of mental health problems across society, aiming for a pluralist, integrated and well-funded reform led by joint professional and patient interests which could be unstoppable if we all work together.
The size of the field in which psychiatry claims expertise has expanded dramatically since the nineteenth century when alienists only dealt with madness (renamed psychosis after the 1860s), epilepsy and some organic disorders. Social history possesses methodologies apt for the exploration both of the world of concepts and values and of the dark forest of economic interests. This book may be pointing to another useful way of doing history of psychiatry. Its findings should add to the periodic documentation required by British psychiatry. There is a need to explore how values and economic interests affect neuroscientific research as well.