May 2007, p 40

Review of Critical psychiatry: The limits of madness

Critical psychiatry isn’t ‘anti-psychiatry’: it’s about psychiatrists taking a critical (as in ‘careful, exact evaluation and judgement’) look at psychiatry – and coming up with some very illuminating perspectives. Having clarified this, Double here presents a visionary glimpse of what mental health practice might look like if it was no longer dominated by the biomedical model.

Little of the contents will be new to those who have followed the work of the Critical Psychiatry Network. But to have the key critics of the psychiatric orthodoxy concentrated in one volume is a bonus. David Ingleby on transcultural mental health care is insightful with his critique of the ‘cook-book’ approach to cultural sensitivity: check the client’s culture and then look up the relevant responses, ignoring the individual. Lucy Johnstone’s views on the limitations and lack of evidence for biomedical models of distress are as incisive as ever, as is Joanna Moncrieff’s dissection of the biochemical guesswork and scientifically flawed studies that are paraded by the pharmaceutical industry as evidence of effectiveness. Pat Bracken and Phil Thomas describe their vision of a postpsychiatric world where the individual is understood as a creature of their context, history and environments. We will destigmatise mental illness only if we demedicalise it, they argue.

This is a classic work that everyone working in mental health should read. Even if you don’t agree with what the authors say, it will encourage you to think – critically.

Catherine Jackson