Book Review: “Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs”

Jeffrey Lacasse, PhD
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Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (by Drs. Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen) is a wonderful book that will be of great interest to readers of Mad in America.  It is quite readable for a scholarly work, and even those without mental health experience will be able to follow it. This book is deeply thoughtful and nuanced. When the authors present a point to which a counterpoint or counterargument comes to mind (e.g., “But what about X?”), inevitably, within a few words or sentences, such points are addressed. These scholars know the data, and present it accurately. When there’s a lack of good data, the authors report this. When they speculate based on imperfect data, they do so transparently. This scholarly rigor makes it a very persuasive, enjoyable read, perhaps reminiscent of Boyle’s classic book, “Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion?

Over the past decade, there have been dozens of “critical mental health” books published. As a mental health researcher, I read most of these. Some of these books have been ground-breaking (e.g., Blaming the Brain, Mad in America, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Pharmageddon), but many are fairly derivative of previous scholarship. The field is now almost crowded with such work.

Importantly, Mad Science is not ‘just another critical mental health book’ – the authors are not simply telling the same-old-story. Instead, it is innovative, creative, and thought-provoking. All of us hold fundamental assumptions about mental health diagnosis, coercion, and drugs. Mad Science guides the reader through identifying these assumptions, and then rigorously evaluates the underlying scientific evidence. The book covers: The definition of ‘mental illness’, biological psychiatry, psychiatric coercion, Assertive Community Treatment, Evidence-Based Medicine, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (including DSM-5), psychiatric medications, and much more. I am quite familiar with these topics, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, again and again, I was seeing things in a new way. I immediately began integrating material from this book into my graduate-level DSM class.

mad science

 One common critique of critical mental health books is that they put the problems with our mental health system on display without providing any answers. On this issue, this book also shines. The last chapter of Mad Science contains a great description of how we could move the field of mental health forward in a positive direction through problem-solving.

I gave MSW students in my DSM class the option of choosing this book for their book review assignment, and several students read the book. They universally enjoyed Mad Science and reported that they learned a great deal. A typical comment: “This book blew my mind.” I have also encouraged colleagues to read this book, and one just emailed me a comment about it: “It’s seriously exquisite. Every word is so careful. I am very inspired by their rigor…”.

The audience for this book includes clients, family members of those diagnosed with mental health problems, researchers, clinicians, students, policymakers, administrators – or anyone interested in mental health. The rigorous application of critical thinking to the mental health field would also make it a useful book for any class or reading group interested in critical thinking in general.

I highly recommend Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Over the past decade, there have been dozens of “critical mental health” books published. As a mental health researcher, I read most of these. Some of these books have been ground-breaking (e.g., Blaming the Brain, Mad in America, Anatomy of an Epidemic, Pharmageddon), but many are fairly derivative of previous scholarship. The field is now almost crowded with such work.

    And yet, just like climate change, there seems to be an innate need to ignore, inconvenient truths? Like the knee jerk reaction we get, when we tell people in mainstream medication compliance groups, that we’ve recovered from so-called mental illness, and no longer require the medications and other treatments, to be normal.

    “Well, simple, you never had a mental illness,” is so often the reaction and IMO because we don’t function with reason, but simply rationalize our reactions, on issues pertaining to being human. IMO that’s what’s at stake in the mental health debate, “just what does it mean to be human?” Hence, even great books like “Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs,” will continue to be ignored by our consensus reality, because real truths are inconvenient, to our sense of normality.

    IMO the continuing focus on medications and treatment, is part of our mechanism of denial, as we scapegoat any sense of “otherness,” in the way humans have for millennia, its a ruse to prevent us from being truly self-aware until we are ready to face the final curtain, and take responsibility for what we are?

    The Cosmos, perceiving and acting upon itself.
    We are IMO, the very mechanism of Eternity.
    But I am, a certified Psychotic!

    Best wishes to all,

    David Bates.

  2. Thank you for the review, it does sound good. And by the way, thank you for your post on publication bias, which was excellent.

    I had been thinking lately that it would be a great thing if MIA was to start a regular book review section. Speaking of which, I’ve just heard some good things about this book:

    “Is Science Compatible with Free Will?” Edited by Antoine Suarez and Peter Adams

    http://www.amazon.com/Science-Compatible-Free-Will-Consciousness/dp/1461452112/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363960961&sr=1-1&keywords=is+science+compatible+with+free+will#reader_1461452112

    As far as I know it does not touch directly on psychiatry but it deals with fundamental questions which are key to neurological research into mental processes. It is not however a cheap book, so I invite anyone out there who can buy it using someone else’s money to get it and post a review here in MIA.

  3. Jeffrey,

    Thanks so much for your insightful review and highly deserved recommendation for this very important book by long term experts debunking the DSM and the so called medical model of biopsychiatry. I am very grateful for your promoting this book and your posting at MIA.

    Here is one of the authors, Dr. Tomi Gomory, giving a brief summary of MAD SICENCE:

    DR. GOMORY: “The book essentially takes a critical look at the entire field of psychiatry, from its inception as a formal medical specialty assumed to have special competence over madness and argues using the latest rigorous research available that its fundamental character is unscientific and it is a pseudo-medical profession. We found for example that its use of coercion is the only long-term consistent treatment that it has employed, the other “treatments” used dependent on the latest theoretical fashions or fads include confinement in locked facilities, physical restraint, lobotomy, electroshock, stupefying and energizing psychoactive drugs and talking therapy.. Our analysis of the DSM’s diagnostic approach, demonstrates that it uses arbitrary conceptual diagnostic labels that have no reliability and as a result no real world validity, an analysis now recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health on its website along with most scientific experts interested in the topic. And finally, we look at psychotropic medication. These really are a subset of a wide array of psychoactive chemicals that turn out not to target any specific illnesses but are generic and general behavioral change agents that anyone taking them, diagnosed or “normal” (assuming equal dosages) react to identically. Their behavior and mood states will become hyperactive/elevated or suppressed/depressed.”

    In light of such authors exposing the total fraud behind the DSM from its inception like MAKING US CRAZY, THE SELLING OF THE DSM and others like Dr. Paula Caplan’s THEY SAY YOU’RE CRAZY, how do you actually go about teaching the DSM? Do you expose the truth and controversy or do you have to present this as the “company line” so to speak to maintain your position? I noted that your review of the book was very positive, but you seemed rather neutral about the fact that this book is a damning critique of biopsychiatry, its life destroying stigmas, toxic drugs and coercive practices in the guise of help.

    I don’t say this as a criticism, but rather, if your current position puts you in a bind or you simply assumed the subject of the book was obvious. I realize you cited an Amazon link for the book. I guess I’d like to hear more about YOUR opinions on the topics addressed in the book.

    Here’s the full link to Dr. Tommi Gomory, one of the three authors announcing this great book that couldn’t have come at a better time:

    http://csw.fsu.edu/articles/mad-science-psychiatric-coercion-diagnosis-and-drugs-book-launch/

  4. THanks so much for the review! My MSW students have been required to read Anatomy of an Epidemic for the past 3-4 years and they also read “Clinical Social Work and the Biomedical Industrial Complex” – an article written by Gomory, Wong, Cohen and Lacasse (2011). I am astounded with the number of social workers who so readily buy into the ‘medical model’ of ‘mental illness’.