The Virtuous Psychiatrist: Character Ethics in Psychiatric Practice

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The context for this interdisciplinary work by a philosopher and a clinician is the psychiatric care provided to those with severe mental disorders. Such a setting makes distinctive moral demands on the very character of the practitioner, it is shown, calling for special virtues and greater virtue than many other practice settings. In a practice so attentive to the patient's self identity, the authors promote a heightened awareness of cultural and particularly gender issues. By elucidating the nature of the moral psychology and character of the good psychiatrist, this work provides a sustained application of virtue theory to clinical practice. With its roots in Aristotelian writing, The Virtuous Psychiatrist presents virtue traits as habits, able to be cultivated and enhanced through training. The book describes these traits, and how they can be habituated in clinical training. A turn towards virtue theory within philosophy during the last several decades has resulted in important research on professional ethics. By approaching the ethics of psychiatric professionals in these virtue terms, Radden and Sadler's work provides an original application of this theorizing to practice. Of interest to both theorists and practitioners, the book explores the tension between the model of enduring character implicit in virtue theory and the segmented personae of role-specific moral responses. Clinical examples are provided, based upon dramaturgical vignettes (caseplays) which illustrate both the interactions of the case participants as well as the inner monologue of the clinician protagonist.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Brett C. Plyler, M.D.(Northwestern Memorial Hospital)
Description: This book explores the distinctive morality and character that a psychiatrist treating patients with severe mental illness must have and contends that psychiatrists would be best served by a virtue theory-based ethical standard.
Purpose: The purpose is to demonstrate why a psychiatrist has a different set of ethical standards in comparison to other physicians, and then defines what these ethical standards/virtue traits are and how to achieve them.
Audience: Psychiatrists are the audience.
Features: The book begins with an exploration of the history of psychiatric ethics, and the authors' contention that psychiatry has its own particular ethical standards distinct from the rest of the medical field. It then explores a more in-depth explanation of the need for distinctive psychiatric morals with regard to boundaries, patient vulnerability, and the social stigma of mental illness. Virtue theory and ethics are introduced as suited to the character demands placed upon psychiatrists. This section is followed by a discussion of gender identity and issues as they relate to the practice of psychiatry. The book concludes with vignettes demonstrating the virtues in action and the difficulties associated with adopting a virtue-based ethical framework.
Assessment: This is a worthwhile and interesting book. I readily identified with the virtue theory and its application to the practice of psychiatry. The exploration of the problems unique to psychiatry versus other medical specialties is handled quite well. The chapter on gender issues is both thoughtful and insightful. This is a very useful and important contribution to the ethics of psychiatry.
From the Publisher
"This is a worthwhile and interesting book...The exploration of the problems unique to psychiatry versus other medical specialists is handled quite well. The chapter on gender issues is both thoughtful and insightful. This is a very useful and important contribution to the ethics of psychiatry."—Doody's

"...Jennifer Radden and John Sadler have written a great book that is especially recommended to all working in the healthcare system and in the psychiatric field in particular. Beside its inspiring potential for practitioners, the Virtuous Psychiatrist is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of psychiatry as a field that needs its own ethical standards. It not only inspires the debate on norms and values in other areas of the profession, but once more reveals the need for putting the issue of psychiatric practice right into the centre of deep philosophical reflection." —Metapsychology

"The authors are talented writers who can inspire virtue in its many manifestations...this is an ambitious and provocative text whose thesis deserves the consideration of our field." —American Journal Psychiatry

"(The author's) discussion of these complex issues is thoughtful and scholarly yet readable and accessible. The book is a timely antidote to an excessively technological psychiatry and one might hope that journal clubs could find some time for it in addition to the usual diet of evidence-based medicine." — The British Journal of Psychiatry

"It is an exceptional volume that should have a place in the library of all reflective and morally serious mental health professionals. One of the book's many strengths is that it is a collaboration between a philosphy of psychiatric practice, ethics and policy, Jennifer Radden, and a philosophically oriented psychiatrist who has done extensive work at the intersection of values theory, psychiatric diagnostic classification and ethics, John Sadler. The product of their collaboration is a beautiful study of the place and power of virtue or character ethics, which emphasizes the virtues and ideals of moral excellence in psychiatric practice." — Psychological Medicine

"The Virtuous Psychiatrist is an interesting read. It does an excellent job in advancing the existing conversation and debate about such topics as: the fundamentally interpersonal nature of psychiatric practice and training, the social-cultural construction of mental illnesses and their diagnoses, the benefits and burdens of the consumer and biomedical models of psychiatry, and the affective/emotional components of virtues." — Jeffrey Kirby, MD, MA, Associate Professor & Ethics Consultant, Department of Bioethics; Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

"In sum, The Virtuous Psychiatrist is an excellent and thorough extension of a virtue ethics framework to the practice of mental healthcare. Radden and Sadler's work was both well-researched and well-practiced. As a result, this piece is an inspiring read for those in mental health care and provides multiple applications for those in bioethics, psychiatry, counseling, empirical moral psychology, philosophical practice, and disability studies." — Philosophical Practice

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Jennifer Radden is Professor of Philosophy, U Mass Boston, and editor of The Nature of Melancholy, The Philosophy of Psychiatry, and Moody Minds Distempered (all OUP).

John Sadler is Daniel W. Foster Professor of Medical Ethics, UT Southwestern Medical School

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Psychiatric Ethics as Professional and Biomedical Ethics

Chapter 2: The Distinctiveness of the Psychiatric Setting

Chapter 3: Psychiatric Ethics as Virtue Ethics

Chapter 4: Elements of a Gender-Sensitive Ethics for Psychiatry

Chapter 5: Some Virtues for Psychiatrists

Chapter 6: Character and Social Role

Chapter 7: Case Studies in Psychiatric Virtues


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