Using the story of an individual patient, a psychiatrist argues that schizophrenia is best treated not by drugs but by prolonged, intensive talk therapy that encourages development of the patient’s unique identity.
Dorman (Psychiatry/UCLA School of Medicine) was a resident in psychiatry in 1969 when he first met Catherine Penney, an anorexic, schizophrenic 19-year-old who heard voices telling her to kill herself. He managed to persuade UCLA to keep her in its psychiatric ward until he finished his residency and opened his own practice three years later, at which time she entered a private mental hospital and he continued as her therapist. More than a case study, Dorman’s dialogue-filled narrative begins two years before he met Penney and continues to her 50th birthday in 2000, decades after she ceased to be his patient. For eight years, however, they were in constant, sometimes daily, contact. Under Dorman’s persistent and gentle care, Penney gradually recovered. She began speaking, stopped hearing voices, gained weight, ventured into the world, learned to socialize, acquired an education, and became a psychiatric technician, then later a registered nurse working in psychiatric units. Presumably she continued to share the particulars of her private life with Dorman, for the many trials of her adult romances are revealed here, although the relevance of these details is unclear. Penney shares Dorman’s views on use of psychotropic drugs, and her refusal as a psychiatric nurse to administer drugs to mental patients has entangled her in job disputes, which Dorman chronicles with relish. He concludes his account with a chapter attacking the medical model of mental illness and describing the approach he used in different phases of his treatment of Penney.
Vivid and remarkable account of a psychotic young woman’s recovery from schizophrenia, but a persuasive argument for talk therapy requires more than one patient’s success story.