The best books for freethinkers about psychiatry

Who am I?

I am a practicing clinical psychologist, often at odds with the mainstream of my mental health profession. I have a strong interest in how society, culture, politics, philosophy, and psychology intersect, and my previous books about depression, activism, and anti-authoritarianism reflect that. The late historian Howard Zinn described me this way: “It is always refreshing to find someone who stands at the edge of his profession and dissects its failures with a critical eye, refusing to be deceived by its pretensions. Bruce Levine condemns the cold, technological approach to mental health and, to our benefit, looks for deeper solutions.”


I wrote...

A Profession Without Reason: The Crisis of Contemporary Psychiatry―Untangled and Solved by Spinoza, Freethinking, and Radical Enlightenment

By Bruce E. Levine,

Book cover of A Profession Without Reason: The Crisis of Contemporary Psychiatry―Untangled and Solved by Spinoza, Freethinking, and Radical Enlightenment

What is my book about?

The field of psychiatry is in crisis and requires a fresh look. The former director of the National Institute of Mental Health has said: “Whatever we’ve been doing for five decades, it ain’t working,” and he and other prominent psychiatrists have now discarded psychiatry’s chemical imbalance theory of mental illness and declared psychiatry’s DSM diagnostic manual to be invalid.

My goal was to interest freethinkers and critical thinkers of science, philosophy, politics, and history who would not ordinarily read a book about psychiatry. I believe that readers unfamiliar with the radical Enlightenment thinker Baruch Spinoza will be intrigued by his life and the modern relevance of his ideas. With Spinoza’s help, A Profession Without Reason untangles the crisis of contemporary psychiatry—and helps solve it.

The books I picked & why

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Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

By Robert Whitaker,

Book cover of Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America

Why this book?

I have talked to many individuals who have told me that Anatomy of an Epidemic literally saved their lives. Medical and science reporter Robert Whitaker—whose co-written series for the Boston Globe on the abuse of mental patients in research settings was named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—is also the author of Mad in America, a history of the failure of mental health treatment. In Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker makes a compelling case that the dramatic increases in serious mental illness in the United States are in large part due to the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs, which can transform episodic conditions into chronic ones.


Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis

By Paris Williams,

Book cover of Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis

Why this book?

I found Rethinking Madness to be a highly original book. Clinical psychologist Paris Williams interviewed individuals who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses, and he integrated this research with prominent alternative explanations for madness. In contrast to the gloomy picture painted by establishment psychiatry, Williams describes how full recovery from schizophrenia and other related psychotic disorders is not only possible but is surprisingly common, and that many people who recover from these psychotic disorders do not merely return to their pre-psychotic condition, but often undergo a profound positive transformation with far more lasting benefits than harms.


Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs

By Stuart A. Kirk, Tomi Gomory, David Cohen

Book cover of Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs

Why this book?

Mad Science is a comprehensive, engaging, and readable scientific and social critique of current mental health practices. It effectively argues that the fundamental claims of modern American psychiatry are based on misconceived, flawed, and distorted science, and it details psychiatry’s scientifically invalid disorders, unreliable diagnostic methods, ineffective drugs, and damaging use of coercion. The authors are scholars, researchers, and clinicians (Kirk, a professor emeritus of social welfare at UCLA; Gomory, an associate professor of social work at Florida State University; and Cohen, a professor in social welfare at UCLA). 


Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

By Will Hall,

Book cover of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

Why this book?

“What does it mean to be called crazy in a crazy world?” asks Will Hall, the host of Madness Radio. Hall is one of the most gifted media hosts whom I have ever been interviewed by, as he is especially talented in drawing out his subjects. Hall is unique in that he is also a therapist who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia. Outside Mental Health is a collection of his interviews with more than 60 scientists, journalists, doctors, activist ex-psychiatric patients, and artists who provide alternative visions to psychiatry’s medical model—a paradigm that has been nonproductive and counterproductive for many people.


Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry

By Peter Stastny, Peter Lehmann,

Book cover of Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry

Why this book?

I found Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry to be an extremely helpful collection of reports and alternative approaches from an international cast of mental health professionals, ex-patients, lawyers, and social scientists. Peter Stastny is a psychiatrist, documentary filmmaker, and a founder of the International Network Towards Alternatives and Rights-Based Supports; and Peter Lehmann is the founder of Peter Lehmann Publishing and co-founder of the Association for Protection against Psychiatric Violence. Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry includes exciting alternative visions along with concrete self-help and approaches for professionals.


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