WISDOM, MADNESS & FOLLY: The Making of a Psychiatrist, 1927-1957 by R.D. Laing

WISDOM, MADNESS & FOLLY: The Making of a Psychiatrist, 1927-1957

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

It's all very simple, controversial British psychiatrist Laing seems to say in this brief, presumably first volume of his professional autobiography. You want to see how I came to question my profession? To ask whether mental illness was really worse than its cures? To doubt that the mental patient is, in fact, sicker than the doctor? lust read these little anecdotes from the first 30 years of my life. The stories are nice. Laing's mother insisted on washing his back during his daily bath until he was 15. The boy had perfect pitch, then he didn't--unsolved mystery. When his left wrist was broken, he read obsessively: Freud, Kirkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche. During his years as a young Army doctor, he impulsively took a psychiaatric patient home on leave with him, and on their return told the poor fellow to try to keep himself together just long enough to get discharged in a few weeks, or else he was sure to get ""treated"" with insulin coma, electric shock, or even lobotomy. (The man conformed and lived to have a career in the theater.) The young doctor began to ask himself whether, in any patient's place, he would want someone forcibly treating him in these ways; the answer was no. Under hypnosis, in a demonstration, Laing was persuaded that a foul-tasting concoction was good dry sherry--and the reality of his own senses fell into doubt. The near impossibility of distinguishing malingerers from real psychotics in the army increased his doubt about psychiatry's tools. A later experiment with civilized treatment of severely deranged women in a public mental hospital forced him to see that solidarity between the mentally ill and normal people is curative. The trouble was, neither life in the hospital nor outside it provided such companionship. He observed that the change in personality of a girl after a trauma to her brain was not mysterious but the product of how doctors and nurses treated her during her recovery. In this sense, he surmised, we all form each other. Treating an emotionally disturbed boy, he learned that his patients ""wanted to enact some sort of drama, with me there not interfering, not stopping them, or trying to change them by 'making interpretations'. . ."" Laing laments the ""psychiatrist-patient rift"" and the ""loss of human camaraderie"" in the profession. He speaks in a soft voice. He has learned to listen, even to himself. And to tell his stories in spare, telling details. He is not modest, but he is concise.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1985
Publisher: McGraw-Hill