The Great Pretender

The Great Pretender

The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

Book - 2019
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For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness--how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people--sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society--went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever. But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?
Published: New York :, Grand Central Publishing,, 2019.
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9781538715284
Branch Call Number: 616.89 CAH
Characteristics: xiii, 382 pages ;,24 cm


From the critics

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Dec 28, 2020

Reads like a thriller at times - I finished it in 3 days. Some outstanding investigative journalism, and I was very thankful for the optimistic chapters at the end.

FPL_John Sep 05, 2020

I really enjoyed how thoroughly Suzannah researched this topic. Giving the reader a background in psychiatry, then discussing Dr. Rosenhan's work in that context was very interesting. It really gave me an appreciation for how the field has changed and where we are today. I think it's a excellent book, especially for anyone interested in psychology or societal issues.

Mar 29, 2020

It doesn't leave you with much faith in psychiatry.

JCLMeghanF Jan 31, 2020

I love investigative journalism and Susannah Cahalan's newest book does not disappoint. She digs deeper into a 1970s study by Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan that completely upended the field of psychiatry - and she finds that nothing about the study is exactly what it seems. An enthralling true story that reads like a detective novel, this book shines a light on the sometimes flawed practice of psychiatric diagnosis and the shifting ways that we as a society define mental illness.

Theoretical_Onesie Nov 27, 2019

This book is a mix between a collection of short biographies and lesser known history lessons on psychiatry. In essence, the science of trying to cure mental health issues is like trying to cure autism with a bleach enema. Some people will believe all the wrong people about things they don't really want to learn more about and then small pox comes back, what a world. Books like this need to be made to remind us to look at science continuously instead of taking it at face value and never questioning it again. Psychiatry took a huge hit after the seventies and we just have to come to terms that science isn't perfect. So let's all calm down, look at some meta-studies, and try not to kill each other with homeopathic medicine. I am serious about that bleach thing though, don't do it, that's really weird.

Nov 15, 2019

When Susannah Cahalan started looking into David Rosenhan's seminal paper, "On Being Sane in Insane Places", it was with an appreciation of the author's contribution to psychiatry. (This study is so famous that even my high schooler has read about it.) But as she starts to investigate, she slowly comes to realize that things don't seem to add up. It is hugely fascinating, and who knew what and the repercussions are also fascinating. My jaw was on the floor for most of this book. I kept stopping the audiobook so I could tell my husband about it. I highly recommend it.


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