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From The CriticsReviewer: Brett C. Plyler, M.D.(Northwestern Memorial Hospital)
Description: This book discusses the liberation potential of psychiatry and how to cope with the social/cultural issues that patients encounter in modern society.
Purpose: The purpose is to examine the liberatory aspect of psychiatry — "free to" instead of "free from" — and new ideas that can help realize that potential.
Audience: It is intended for a wide audience, including mental health practitioners, social theorists, political scientists, and philosophers.
Features: The book covers a wide variety of sociopolitical theory and its application to modern psychiatry. The liberatory aspect refers to the "freedom to," i.e. helping patients achieve more for themselves, rather than just focusing on the "freedom from," i.e. treating the symptoms of mental illness only. The authors basically contend that modern psychiatry fails to adequately address the problems of alienation, domination, class, etc., with the primary emphasis on the fact that the medical model is an inappropriate way of treating patients in psychiatry. Each chapter then discusses the ramifications of this and how psychiatry should be changed. There is also the implication that modern psychiatry may actually be colluding with the powers that be by labeling civil discontent in the underprivileged as mental illness.
Assessment: This is a fascinating and provocative book. It challenges the idea of the medical model of psychiatry and raises some interesting questions about the practice of modern psychiatry. Although I think that the recent emphasis on the biopsychosocial model is beginning to address this, the authors make little mention of this. Primarily, they seem to focus on how inadequate psychiatry is and on the possibility that the field may actually be a tool of certain sociopolitical elements involved in keeping disadvantaged populations medicated instead of addressing the societal wrongs that are affecting them. Some of these theories are far fetched, but the book did challenge me to think about the history and modern practice of psychiatry and how it could be improved.