Book Examines History, Difficulties Facing Psychiatry

the Psychiatry Advisor take:

A recently published book written by a professor at England’s Oxford University provides an interesting discussion of the discipline of psychiatry, including some of the controversies and difficulties the profession faces.

In his book, "Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry," Tom Burns, of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford, says that while “psychiatry is a major force for good,” the discipline also casts a “necessary shadow.” He argues this shadow "deals with illnesses that are a part of what we are, not things that just happen to us such as flu or a broken leg.”

Burns also writes about how pharmacotherapy increasingly dominates the field, and why this is not necessarily a good thing.

“Medicalizing all of life’s ordinary difficulties is our tendency today, and this concerns the author,” Donald Devine, a senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, writes in a book review for TheFederalist.com. “Why not, [Burns] rhetorically asks, Prozac all the time for everyone? It would calm us all down; but at what cost to our humanity?”

Devine also points out that the profession of psychiatry has expanded the number of mental illnesses from 106 in 1952 to 297 in 1994, which, he says, “undermines its own claim to be a scientific discipline.”

“Of course,” Burns writes, “this does not mean that there are really hundreds more disorders.” 

Q&A: Marc Avery, MD, of the Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions (AIMS) Center
Book Examines History, Difficulties Facing Psychiatry

Finally, we have a definitive discussion of the discipline of psychiatry, from an insider committed to the profession but who does not shy away from its profound difficulties. In "Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry," Tom Burns reveals all even while insisting that at bottom "psychiatry is a major force for good."

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