Friday, May 2, 2014

Tolson 4 TEARS* Reviews "Agnes's Jacket" 4 Mental Health

Review of Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search For the Meaning of Madness by Dr. Gail Hornstein

Dr. Hornstein is a psychology professor at Mount Holyoke College. She states: “For as long as I can remember, madness has fascinated me… I had an intuitive sense that it must be possible to enter someone else’s experience and make sense of actions that from the outside might look inexplicable.” This empathic approach shows in the stories she weaves into Agnes’s Jacket.

Agnes Richter was a hospitalized German woman who stitched messages on her jacket to express herself. Dr. Hornstein uses the jacket as a focal point representation of the trap of mental illness that found a narrative escape.

Dr. Hornstein sees value in the writings of patients who provide insight into the nature of “madness." A main theme of Agnes’s Jacket supposes that recovery from “madness” can be achieved through mutual support and self-help. Dr. Hornstein states that the patients themselves are “experts by experience” who can help their peers. This peer-support approach opposes the medical model espoused by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill which states that “mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders.” Dr. Hornstein writes: “In the United States, psychiatry is controlled by doctors, who have a different economic interest in siding with the drug companies and preventing patients from treating themselves.”

Dr. Hornstein travelled Europe in search of the meanings of madness, attending lectures, visiting groups, and exploring theories. She shares her immense research in a writerly way that makes the book read more like a mystery than a study in psychology. She uses true stories from patients’ experiences with mental health agencies.

According to Dr. Hornstein, in Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, social psychiatry proposes that: “Emotional distress is assumed to result from family crisis, racism, poverty, sexual abuse, war, or terrorism.” However, in the United States, psychiatrists fail to connect "madness" with previous life experiences.

Counselors and their clients may develop a greater understanding of mental illness by Dr. Rothstein’s interesting look into trauma and treatment. Patients are more than their apparent symptoms and resulting diagnosis; they are individuals with stories to tell. Society might listen to the stories to open lines of communication that will ultimately serve to enhance the mental health of its citizens.

Review completed by Lynn C. Tolson, author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor's Story
*Tolson 4 TEARS Telling Everyone About Rape & Suicide, so no shed tear is wasted

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