The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan


$25.20 $28.00 Save 10% Current price is $25.2, Original price is $28. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, December 11


"One of America's most courageous young journalists" and the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Brain on Fire investigates the shocking mystery behind the dramatic experiment that revolutionized modern medicine (NPR).

Doctors have struggled for centuries to define insanity--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, healthy, 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 in this real-life detective story, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781538715284
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 10,786
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Susannah Cahalan is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, a memoir about her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease of the brain. She writes for the New York Post. Her work has also been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American Magazine, Glamour, Psychology Today, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Stream Title 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
diane92345 3 months ago
The author was initially misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. Instead, she had autoimmune encephalitis, an organic brain disorder often called The Great Pretender for its ability to mimic the signs of psychiatric disease. Even though she was labeled as a mental patient for only a week, wondering what would have happened if the initial diagnosis wasn’t overturned compels her to investigate the US mental health care system. In fact, she finds someone who spent years in the mental health system before being correctly diagnosed with the author’s disease with unfortunate consequences. “The brain is a physical organ and physical disease occurs within the brain. Why does that make it a ‘ psychiatric condition’ instead of a physical ‘ disease’?”—from a father of a son diagnosed with psychosis quoted in the book The Great Pretender makes an excellent case that psychiatry is the study of neurological disease for which we have no cause or cure...yet. Both autoimmune encephalitis and syphilis were originally diagnosed as mental disorders. Once a cause and cure were found, they were moved to neurology. Originally all mental diseases were thought to be caused by the devil. Next, medical science thought it was a weakness in the person’s character, which could be solved by drastic measures like lobotomy and shock therapy. Now, a person’s history is blamed with talk therapy and strong drugs as cures. Who is to say that that is the final solution to psychiatric disease. The heart of the book concerns the landmark study in 1973 by Stanford professor David Rosenhan, On Being Sane in Insane Places. He and seven of his students and colleagues self-reported symptoms of psychosis to get placed in one of the facilities. Once there, they acted normally until someone released them. The average time to get out was fifteen days. The study’s conclusion was that psychiatry had no clear way to diagnose or cure mental illness. It was unable to separate the sane from the insane. The author finds additional notes from the study’s now-deceased author. She finds one of the living pseudopatients and interviews him. The author also finds a ninth pseudopatient who is mentioned only in a footnote within the study. His story is told in the book. Currently, four percent of the US have serious mental illnesses. Many will have their lives shortened by ten to twenty years because of their condition. If you, or someone in your life, have one of these issues, you must read this book for a different perspective. Even if you are just interested in psychology, like me, The Great Pretender is highly recommended. 5 stars! Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
jnmegan 17 days ago
Susannah Calahan is the author of the bestselling memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, in which she describes an amazing ordeal in which she was misdiagnosed with a mental illness that was actually autoimmune encephalitis that caused extreme psychotic symptoms. This experience sparked a curiosity about psychiatric assumptions and the validity of the studies upon which they are based. The Great Pretender is the result of her obsession with a famous study conducted by David Rosenhan in the 1970s. Rosenhan and other individuals went “undercover” as pseudopatients in mental hospitals, ostensibly to test out their diagnostic systems and evaluate their treatment methodologies. The results and conclusions of this study, published in Science in 1973, had a profound impact on the practice of psychiatry and called into question many of its essential tenets. The study remains very controversial: the subjects were kept secret and their notes undisclosed; there are doubts about the tactics used to gather the data, and the conclusions drawn are regarded by many to be faulty. Calahan explains how her own attempts to clarify what Rosenhan and his other subjects experienced in the institutions only resulted in more ambiguity. It became apparent to the author that there could be some serious issues about Rosenhan’s ethics and motives. The Great Pretender also describes the development of psychiatry as a specialty that had branched off from other biologically-based medicine after Freud, only to be re-integrated recently with the advent of psychopharmacology and advances in brain research. Calahan additionally provides a re-examination of other pivotal psychological research studies and evaluates their extensive influence within a branch of medicine that has been traditionally judged as more palliative than curative. Calahan understandably approaches this subject with a good degree of skepticism about the fallibility of psychiatry and its practices given her own personal experience. As a result, this book remains very personal as she struggles with frustration in her search for underlying information about Rosenhan’s work and her questions about his integrity as a scientist. Fascinating as both an historical overview and a critique of psychological research, The Great Pretender can be viewed both an educational text and a compelling mystery as well. Thanks to the author and Grand Central Publishing for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Read_With_Kimmy 3 months ago
Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to get an advanced copy of this book. This book is certainly a heavy nonfiction book, filled with the history of psychology, abnormal psychology, and Susannah’s own research journey as to how one 1970’s psychologist may have significantly impacted the way we understand mental illness nearly a half century later. While at times, I struggled to get through this book as it is laden with some technical but much needed references - it really made me think and question concepts I thought I understood. As someone who has degrees in psychology, this book certainly piqued my interest but you certainly don't have to have prior exposure to the studies that influenced today's practices. Anyone interested in mental health, psychology, and how physical diagnoses can often be interpreted as psychological diagnoses will want to pick this book up. I do have to say this may be a book you want to nurse, it definitely heavy and technical, but also very insightful and may be better read over a period of time to truly appreciate and understand where the field of clinical psychology, mental health, and medicine has come over a few short decades.
LoveLiBooks 3 months ago
As a follow up to her successful memoir, Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan explores the world of mental illness. In The Great Pretender, she explores the study done by Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan where he and seven volunteers enter mental hospitals to understand what goes on behind close doors. The only way out is to convince the staff that they are actually sane. I loved Brain on Fire. I love when nonfiction books read like fiction books and I will have to say that this one was not as easy to read. It's definitely packed with research (as you can tell from the 70 pages of citations in the back of the book) and clinical terms on mental illness. I think Cahalan is an amazing journalist. Based on the title, I expected this book to be about the experiences of the volunteers in the facilities, but it was really an expose on David Rosenhan and his famous study. It's still worth a read to gain a better understanding of the evolution of how we understand and treat mental illness today.
BarkingAboutBooks02 3 months ago
Let me start by saying I typically tend to enjoy an non-fiction reads. I love learning and the plot of this book was so interesting to me. I mean it claims to be the real story of eight people who went undercover as psych patients into asylums in the 1970s. It sounds so exciting and enlighting. Well the most exciting part was the summary on the back cover. The writing style of this book is awful. It’s like a drunk aunt or a wild college professor who was telling me a story and continually forgetting the point. It’s full of wild tangents and unnecessary author bias. Don’t get me wrong Susannah Cahalan’s story where her actual illness was diagnosed as a mental disorder. But she wrote a Memoir called Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. Did she really need to rehash that story in this book as well? Parts of this book were really interesting but they got lost in the rest of the book. This book could have been shorter and better organized and I think this could have been a really powerful piece. The plot is really intriguing but it falls flat. The Bottom Line: There are so many good books in the world, don’t waste your time with this one. I received a review copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing and Shelf Awareness in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for allowing me to review this book.