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Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness

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1594865442 Very good condition, with no marking in the text of the book. Some of our very good condition books may have gift inscriptions or a name in the inside cover. Book ... covers may have sales stickers from Roundabout Books or previous booksellers. Dust jacket included if the book was issued with one. We ship in recyclable American-made mailers. 100% money-back guarantee on all orders. Read more Show Less

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New York, NY 2009 Hard cover Fair. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 310 p.

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Overview

In a Victorian-era German asylum, seamstress Agnes Richter painstakingly stitched a mysterious autobiographical text into every inch of the jacket she created from her institutional uniform. Despite every attempt to silence them, hundreds of other patients have managed to get their stories out, at least in disguised form. Today, in a vibrant underground net-work of “psychiatric survivor groups” all over the world, patients work together to unravel the mysteries of madness and help one another re-cover. Optimistic, courageous, and surprising, Agnes’s Jacket takes us from a code-cracking bunker during World War II to the church basements and treatment centers where a whole new way of understanding the mind has begun to take form.

A vast gulf exists between the way medicine explains psychiatric illness and the experiences of those who suffer. Hornstein’s luminous work helps us bridge that gulf, guiding us through the inner lives of those diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, depression, and paranoia and emerging with nothing less than a new model for understanding one another and ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Agnes’s Jacket is an amazing psychological adventure story. Hornstein, an academic psychologist with the skills of a first-rate journalist, enters the world of the truly "mad" and comes out with profound lessons about her profession and herself. In a revolutionary break with therapeutic tradition, she says we need to listen to the voices these disturbed patients hear. But first we need to listen to her!" Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America

"Riveting, revolutionary, and important—not to mention exquisitely written—Agnes’s Jacket tells us what we should have been doing all along." Joanne Greenberg, best-selling author of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

"Agnes’s Jacket is compelling and beautifully done and will, thank goodness, open people’s eyes." Susie Orbach, author of The Impossibility of Sex: Stories of the Intimate Relationship between Therapist and Patient

"Agnes’s Jacket is a useful, passionate, and well-informed book about the many meanings of madness, distinguished by its understanding of what madness is and feels like to those who experience it." Jay Neugeboren, author of Imagining Robert and Transforming Madness

"Gail Hornstein attacks the stigma attached to mental illness with enormous originality and imagination. The madness narratives she has discovered document with startling clarity the experience of those who've suffered at the hands of orthodox psychiatry. She has brought into the light a true literature of protest." Patrick McGrath, author of Spider and Trauma

Publishers Weekly

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'A " 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.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Compelling narratives of the experience of mental illness marred by a self-centered narrator..In psychology's ongoing struggle to define itself—it's still a relatively new field, after all—one tediously recurring battle pits biological against environmental explanations for mental illness. As in most ideological struggles, extremists on either side exert the most energy, grab the most attention and make the most exaggerated claims. Hornstein (Psychology/Mount Holyoke Coll.; To Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, 2000) takes an extreme anti-biology stance, portraying herself as a courageous, solitary holdout in a world of therapists so preoccupied by genetic explanations that they are often unwilling to listen to what patients tell them. While it is true that the advances in the understanding of the biological bases of mental illness have been overstated and cannot alone explain the many forms that emotions, experiences and life histories take, it is just as extreme and misleading to say that biology plays no part in people's experiences in the world. This is essentially the author's position, and it intrudes repeatedly, detracting from the pleasure of her meticulous research and the striking narratives she collects from people who have passed with varying degrees of success through the mental health-care system. Hornstein opens with the strange story of the seamstress Agnes Richter, a 19th-century mental patient who painstakingly embroidered story after story onto her jacket, using it as an example of how countless patients' stories have been lost through the years. The author then introduces successful individuals and groups—like thefascinating Hearing Voices Network—that have carved out paths to wellness, or at least some degree of acceptance, outside the medical and psychiatric mainstream. Yet these informative descriptions are too often derailed by the author's scientific prejudices..Despite Hornstein's assurance that she wants "real debates about mental illness, not just ideological grandstanding," the latter is precisely what we get.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594865442
  • Publisher: Rodale Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 4.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gail A. Hornstein is a professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College and author of To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World, the widely praised biography of pioneering psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. She divides her time between Holyoke, Massachusetts, and London.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating Study of Mental Illness

    Dr. Hornstein is a psychology professor at Mount Holyoke College. She states: “For as long as I can remember, madness has fascinated me… I had an intuitive sense that it must be possible to enter someone else’s experience and make sense of actions that from the outside might look inexplicable.” This empathic approach shows in the stories she weaves into Agnes’s Jacket. Agnes Richter was a hospitalized German woman who stitched messages on her jacket to express herself. Dr. Hornstein uses the jacket as a focal point representation of the trap of mental illness that found a narrative escape. Dr. Hornstein sees value in the writings of patients who provide insight into the nature of “madness." A main theme of Agnes’s Jacket supposes that recovery from “madness” can be achieved through mutual support and self-help. Dr. Hornstein states that the patients themselves are “experts by experience” who can help their peers. This peer-support approach opposes the medical model espoused by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill which states that “mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders.” Dr. Hornstein writes: “In the United States, psychiatry is controlled by doctors, who have a different economic interest in siding with the drug companies and preventing patients from treating themselves.” Dr. Hornstein travelled Europe in search of the meanings of madness, attending lectures, visiting groups, and exploring theories. She shares her immense research in a writerly way that makes the book read more like a mystery than a study in psychology. She uses true stories from patients’ experiences with mental health agencies. According to Dr. Hornstein, in Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, social psychiatry proposes that: “Emotional distress is assumed to result from family crisis, racism, poverty, sexual abuse, war, or terrorism.” However, in the United States, psychiatrists fail to connect "madness" with previous life experiences. Counselors and their clients may develop a greater understanding of mental illness by Dr. Rothstein’s interesting look into trauma and treatment. Patients are more than their apparent symptoms and resulting diagnosis; they are individuals with stories to tell. Society might listen to the stories to open lines of communication that will ultimately serve to enhance the mental health of its citizens.

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