A Tour de Force of the History of Psychiatry

June 29, 2015
Peter F. Buckley, MD

Volume 32, Issue 6

The author of this book tells the story of the evolution of psychiatry from a place of skepticism and distain to its more recent emergence as a modern neuroscience.

Jeffrey Leiberman, MD, Immediate Past President of the American Psychiatric Association, Chairman of Psychiatry at the Columbia University of College of Physicians and Surgeons, and preeminent schizophrenia researcher has hit a home run with the 2015 publication of his book, Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry.

Dr Lieberman tells the story of the evolution of psychiatry from a place of skepticism and distain to its more recent emergence as a modern neuroscience. His stories about the pervasive effect of stigma are compelling and remind us of the ever-present need to emphasize-where we can-the real progress in our understanding of the brain and of the mind. I particularly like the provocative titles and quotations of each chapter-for example, Mother’s Little Helper: Medicine at Last:

Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
There’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper

-Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Moreover, Dr Lieberman has skillfully managed to interweave the story of psychiatry with his own experiences, starting as a trainee, to his current leadership roles, and to do so in a self-effacing manner that personalizes the journey for us as readers.

At one level of course, the story is a damning one-societal responses to mental illness are variously characterized as fear, ignorance, condemnation and, at best, apathy. Dr Lieberman paints the picture that psychiatry gains credence and momentum as its science gains greater foothold-thus, the benefits of discovery in mental illness as well beyond the (mere) molecules and synapses and the availability of new information constitutes the most powerful antidote to societal inertia and stigma. In its own way, this book fittingly adds to this advocacy.

Disclosures:

Dr Buckley is Dean of the Medical College of Georgia of Georgia Regents University in Augusta.