Top positive review
counter-point from an expert
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 21, 2011
I am offended by the dishonest, biased review above. Psychiatrists like Sargant are not evil aliens trying to control people with brain implants, as scientologists believe (look it up). But people who write reviews like this are either scientologists or dilettantes who have little factual knowledge and no actual first hand experience with the suffering produced by severe mental illness. The facts are that in psychiatry, as in every other area of medicine, there are patients with extremely severe disorders, and in Sargant's day, again as in the rest of medicine, there were far fewer treatments. One out of every two hospital beds in 1955 was occupied by a psychiatric patient. Today, we have much better treatments, but many patients still suffer for decades, often dying of suicide or general debilitation. People who go into psychiatry are like physicians in other fields, who are struck by the magnitude of this suffering and see patients improve with treatment. People like Thomas Szaz or Peter Breggin talk about how bad somatic therapies are, making a comfortable living taking this position in the courtroom and media. I doubt that they treat any of the patients they are talking about or they would find that these patients have frequently had all of the love and psychotherapy in the world and they still have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other serious problems. The physicians who have the courage to devote their careers to trying to develop truly effective treatments for these conditions are all too frequently criticized by later generations, when better treatments have become available. I am a psychiatrist who has spent 25 years caring for the severely mentally ill and trying to develop more effective treatments for them. I imagine Sargant chose this career for the same reason I did - I saw the extreme pain of severe mental illness and the possibility of mitigating that pain.
Sargant had a lifetime of working with the severely mentally ill, and championed truly effective therapies at a time when the alternative was spending the rest of your life in a mental hospital. He developed and wrote about a theory based on his experience with treatment of traumatic war neurosis. Up until the Viet Nam war, this treatment, referred to as (narcoanalysis or abreaction) was one of the most commonly used and most effective treatments for this condition. A flashback was induced by drugs like ether and psychotherapy, which resulted in gradually increasing emotional excitement finally culminating in a loss of muscle tone, referred to as catalepsy. Patients would awaken from this procedure relaxed and free of the flashbacks and nightmares and other anxiety symptoms they had previously suffered from. He saw parallels between this phenomenon and the religious ecstasy produced in tent revivals, such as those described by John Wesley, which also result in a crescendo of emotional excitement and culminating in collapse, and in brain washing, which involves similar gradually developing emotional tension resulting in a change in long-held beliefs or conditioning. He tried to understand it by referring to Pavlov's work, which has documented a similar form of stress-induced catalepsy producing changes in conditioning in dogs. At the time he was doing this, soldiers were returning from the Korean war after brainwashing, so this was an issue of considerable concern. Patriotic pilots were signing statements to the effect that America was the aggressor in the war and communism was superior to democracy. So he did some military-funded research as well. I personally think the CIA is an organization that should be disbanded, and am deeply offended by a military culture that has embraced torture and still has Gitmo. So I am not trying to say that he was a saint. But I do think he did the best anyone could do at the time and have no doubt that most of the patients he treated were extremely lucky to have him as their doctor. As for the patient cited in the above review, asylums contained thousands of patients and were grossly underfunded by a society that still wants to sequester and not provide care for the seriously mentally ill. When a patient is having suicidal urges so strong that they are compelled to run the full length of the hall and dive headfirst into a wall (which I have seen), you have no choice but to keep them on one to one observation. In Sargant's day, he did not have the range of effective treatments I have, and patients would remain in this agitated state for years, sometimes dying of exhaustion.
Mental illness is a terrible and frightening thing to behold. People with a religious or other commitment to some form of belief that it can be easily cured have no credibility when it comes to understanding a book like this. And this attitude just worsens the stigma, misunderstanding, and lack of resources the seriously mentally ill face.