The best books about psychosis from a schizophrenia diagnosis survivor

Why am I passionate about this?

I was an imaginative and sensitive kid – growing up in the confusing oppressions of the US south and raised by parents who are themselves trauma survivors. When I started to go into altered states, hear voices, withdraw in frightened isolation and drift towards strange beliefs, I was forcibly locked up at Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital in San Francisco. I was drugged, put in restraints and solitary confinement, and told I was schizophrenic and would never live a normal life. Today I don’t take medication, work as a therapist teacher, and advocate, and have joined the international patients’ movement working to change an abusive and misguided mental health system. I am not anti-medication, but I see psychiatric meds for what they are – tranquilizers, not treatments, tools not solutions. We need compassionate approaches and caring communities for individuals suffering from a psychotic crisis like I was. I am also the author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs.

I wrote...

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

What is my book about?

We need to realize that it is our world that is crazy, and those of us who lose our minds might just be having a sane reaction to an insane situation. We need to listen to the voices of people diagnosed with mental illness, not push us into the shadows. Today I’m deeply inspired to see more and more people questioning what it means to be called crazy in a crazy world, and believe we can push past the failed treatments of pharma and psychiatry and bring in a new way to respond to “madness.”

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness reveals the human side of mental illness. In this remarkable collection of interviews and essays, therapist, Madness Radio host, and schizophrenia survivor Will Hall asks, "What does it mean to be called crazy in a crazy world?" More than 60 voices of psychiatric patients, scientists, journalists, doctors, activists, and artists create a vital new conversation about empowering the human spirit by transforming society.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

Will Hall Why did I love this book?

Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing is considered a heretic by mainstream mental health – and today it is widely recognized that our mental health system routinely fails to help people. And so Laing’s ideas are now more relevant than ever. Laing’s compassionate approach was to understand psychosis and schizophrenia from the inside, and make the strange, bizarre and frightening world of madness understandable as a reaction to an impossible situation. This book serves as a rich reminder that people labeled “crazy” are humans like you and me – and need listening and care, not forced hospitalization, stultifying tranquilizers, and banishment from society.

By R.D. Laing,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Divided Self as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Presenting case studies of schizophrenic patients, Laing aims to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible. He also offers an existential analysis of personal alienation.

Book cover of Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Will Hall Why did I love this book?

Like William James before him, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was prescient in his caution about reducing human suffering to the chemical interactions of the brain. This “medical materialism” and “psychology without the psyche” sees people as mere neurological machines prone to breakdown. Instead, Jung’s enduring ideas view humans as living, growing processes, actively creating symbols and meanings in the push towards greater wholeness and creative expression.

 Jung worked in acute psychiatric wards, and he knew firsthand that the madness of psychosis, mania, and schizophrenia needed to be met with listening and deep curiosity. The mind goes mad to find a way forward when other ways are blocked. Refusing to be part of “normal” society may be a way to go on a kind of soul strike – a desperate change needed, without clear ways to communicate, so the strange symptoms and deteriorations of madness come to the fore. Jung’s autobiography conveys his deep respect for the mysteries of the human mind and the urgent need for deep listening, connection, and patience – not the clinical neuroscience agenda of control and suppression.

By C.G. Jung, Aniela Jaffe (editor), Clara Winston (translator) , Richard Winston (translator)

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Memories, Dreams, Reflections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I can understand myself only in the light of inner happenings. It is these that make up the singularity of my life, and with these my autobiography deals' Carl Jung

An eye-opening biography of one of the most influential psychiatrists of the modern age, drawing from his lectures, conversations, and own writings.

In the spring of 1957, when he was eighty-one years old, Carl Gustav Jung undertook the telling of his life story. Memories, Dreams, Reflections is that book, composed of conversations with his colleague and friend Aniela Jaffe, as well as chapters written in his own hand, and other…

Book cover of Woman on the Edge of Time

Will Hall Why did I love this book?

Psychiatry has historically – and today – been allied with systems of oppression. Abuse survivors, people pushed to the margins by poverty, women weighed down by male dominance, people of color facing racism, LGBT people, colonized indigenous people – all have had their calls for change met as signs of illness, and all have faced the coercions of institutional mental health care.

Piercy’s science-fiction masterpiece dramatizes the power relations of psychiatry and an oppressive capitalist society in the story of a psychiatric inmate struggling across time travel to find freedom in a distant utopian future. Percy was a revolutionary feminist deeply involved in the social uprisings of the 60s and 70s, and her use of science fiction parable forces us to face how her protagonist’s choices, like ours today, determine what kind of world we want to live in.

By Marge Piercy,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Woman on the Edge of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of those rare novels that leave us different people at the end than we were at the beginning.' GLORIA STEINEM

'She is a serious writer who deserves the sort of considered attention which, too often, she does not get...' MARGARET ATWOOD

Often compared to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Naomi Alderman's The Power - Woman on the Edge of Time has been hailed as a classic of speculative science fiction. Disturbing and forward thinking, Marge Piercy's remarkable novel will speak to a new generation of readers.

Connie Ramos has been unjustly incarcerated in a mental institution with…

Book cover of Soteria

Will Hall Why did I love this book?

What would happen if instead of throwing people into jail-like mental wards and hammering them with tranquilizing drugs, we instead welcomed them into home-like settings and spent time listening and caring, patiently giving them time and space to explore the emotional roots of their crisis? Psychiatrist Loren Mosher did just that in the Soteria House research project in the 1970s and 80s, and the results were clear: people do better without medications and with listening and caring in a safe environment instead.

Mosher was the first chief of the Center for Studies of Schizophrenia of the National Institutes of Mental Health but you’ve probably never heard of him – his innovative project proved that psychosis can be healed more effectively without medication and outside of  hospitals, but came at a time when biological and pharmaceutical solutions – and the profits they generate – came to dominate psychiatry, so he was pushed out. This intimate account of life at Soteria gives us a glimpse of what a truly caring response to psychosis, schizophrenia, and manic crisis would look like. And it gives us a blueprint for changing our current mental health system – if we can gather a movement to achieve it.

By Loren R. Mosher, Voyce Hendrix Fort,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soteria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a special time, space, and place where young people diagnosed as

Book cover of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity

Will Hall Why did I love this book?

Hearing voices is considered a symptom of schizophrenia and can quickly lead to hospital lockup, medication, and being shunned by society as “mentally ill.” In this fascinating account, Smith reveals the truth about this experience we call “madness” – hearing voices is actually a normal human experience across history and culture. Poets, religious visionaries, people spending time alone or grieving – even Freud, Gandhi, actor Anthony Hopkins, singer Lady Gaga -- all heard voices, and anyone under the right kind of stress can hear voices. The problem only arises when people hear distressing voices and have nowhere to go for help other than being treated as ill by a doctor.

Psychiatry made the catastrophic mistake of calling homosexuality a mental disease, and for many decades LGBT people were abducted, confined in hospitals, drugged, tortured, and killed for the mental crime of being different. Today people who hear voices are also oppressed, and even though voices that cause them mental pain may come from traumatic experiences that need compassion and healing, they are told they have schizophrenia and will never recover. Smith’s book is a rallying cry for patients’ activism such as the Hearing Voice Movement, where voice-hearers are coming together in self-help groups to find peer support and demand a new understanding of this unreasonably feared and pathologized human experience.

By Daniel B. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Muses, Madmen, and Prophets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An inquiry into hearing voices-one of humanity's most profound phenomena

Auditory hallucination is one of the most awe-inspiring, terrifying, and ill- understood tricks of which the human psyche is capable. In the age of modern medical science, we have relegated this experience to nothing more than a biological glitch. Yet as Daniel B. Smith puts forth in Muses, Madmen, and Prophets, some of the greatest thinkers, leaders, and prophets in history heard, listened to, and had dialogues with voices inside their heads. In a fascinating quest for understanding, Smith examines the history of this powerful phenomenon, and delivers a ringing…

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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…

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