The best psychiatry books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about psychiatry and why they recommend each book.

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Outside Mental Health

By Will Hall,

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

“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.


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.

Madhouse

By Andrew Scull,

Book cover of Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine

Although Madhouse reads like a Stephen King novel, everything it recounts is actually true. At the turn of the twentieth century, Henry Cotton, a psychiatrist and the medical director of the New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton, thought he had found the solution to mental illness. His unconventional approach to treatment, however, left more people dead and disfigured than effectively cured. Andrew Scull’s deeply-researched narrative of Cotton’s medical interventions is a horrifying, yet entirely gripping, account of the lengths people have gone in the name of psychiatric treatment.

Who am I?

I’ve spent the last decade researching and writing about mental illness and how it manifests in different cultures. My research has led me to archives in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, where I’ve uncovered documents from the earliest Chinese-managed asylums and psychopathic hospitals – documents that give rare glimpses into what it was like to have been mentally ill in China at the turn of the twentieth century. My book, The Invention of Madness, is the first monographic study of mental illness in China in the modern period.


I wrote...

The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China

By Emily Baum,

Book cover of The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China

What is my book about?

Prior to the twentieth century, madness wasn’t considered a discrete condition in China, and specialized institutions like asylums did not exist. Western missionaries and physicians tried to change that. This book traces the evolution of “madness” in modern China, showing how it was eventually transformed in the Chinese imagination into “mental illness”.

Examining how different social actors, including the police, Chinese medicine doctors, and government bureaucrats, tackled the problem of insanity throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, The Invention of Madness grapples with what it meant to be mad in a China undergoing rapid social change and political upheaval.

Mad Science

By Stuart A. Kirk, Tomi Gomory, David Cohen

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

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). 


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.

Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry

By Peter Stastny, Peter Lehmann,

Book cover of Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry

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.


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.

Anatomy of an Epidemic

By Robert Whitaker,

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

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.


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 Discovery of the Unconscious

By Henri F. Ellenberger,

Book cover of The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry

The epic 900-page Discovery of the Unconscious is a phenomenally detailed and well-researched book that still challenges many of today’s psychological ‘truths.’ Ellenberger takes as his starting point models of the unconscious developed by Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung, which still influence many contemporary therapeutic treatments. He then skilfully links these models of the unconscious mind back to exorcism, magnetism, and hypnotism. Ellenberger’s detailed account of the use of magnetism and hypnosis by Jean Martin Charcot and others is fascinating because he explains exactly how Charcot's approaches premised new “uncovering” models devised by Nietzsche and the neo-Romantic movement. He also explains how Charcot’s work related to the growing interest in instincts and sexuality inspired by Darwin that culminated in the Freudian unconscious. In doing so, Ellenberger exposes what was genuinely new in the modern unconscious, and which parts of it have a much longer history. The…


Who am I?

My interest in this topic began after my father died when I was a young teenager and I was left looking for answers, explanations, and meanings. My dad was an architect and had written a book on Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican and prison architecture published before the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s famous Discipline and Punish. A small collection of Foucault’s books stood prominently on my father’s bookshelves and I really wanted to understand them. At university I studied all of Foucault’s works and many authors inspired by him. These are the best books that explain how we have developed philosophical and psychological theories to understand ourselves in the contemporary world.


I wrote...

The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain

By Bonnie Evans,

Book cover of The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain

What is my book about?

My book explores the background to contemporary theories of child development, and the neurodiversity movement, by explaining the rapid increase in diagnoses of autism in children that occurred at the turn of the 21st Century. I argue that the way we understand children’s thoughts, motivations, and actions is directly influenced by the legal models that have been established to protect them as individual subjects with unique social rights. Drawing from a large array of government and scientific archives, I explain how the closure of state institutions and the growth of special education was accompanied by a complete metamorphosis in the meaning of autism in the 1960s and 1970s that had a knock-on effect on everyday diagnoses in educational, psychological, and other settings. 

History of Madness

By Michel Foucault, Jonathan Murphy (translator),

Book cover of History of Madness

Foucault’s classic 1961 book, History of Madness, was republished in 2006 in its entirety, exposing the serious omissions of the earlier English translation. In its full form, it stands the test of time as a groundbreaking book that exposed the origins of the modern rational self as the product of repeated attempts to understand, exclude, contain, eliminate, and treat ‘madness’. Foucault’s main argument was that since the Renaissance, our understanding of madness shifted from a philosophical phenomenon into an objective medical science. In the Renaissance, madness could still provide wisdom and insight. Yet, during the 17th and early 18th Centuries, numerous institutions of confinement, such as asylums and poor houses, were established to contain both madness and economic redundancy.’

Foucault characterises the modern experience of madness as defined purely by medical science. He claims this perspective is limiting and definitely not a move towards the ‘truth’ of madness. His…


Who am I?

My interest in this topic began after my father died when I was a young teenager and I was left looking for answers, explanations, and meanings. My dad was an architect and had written a book on Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican and prison architecture published before the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s famous Discipline and Punish. A small collection of Foucault’s books stood prominently on my father’s bookshelves and I really wanted to understand them. At university I studied all of Foucault’s works and many authors inspired by him. These are the best books that explain how we have developed philosophical and psychological theories to understand ourselves in the contemporary world.


I wrote...

The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain

By Bonnie Evans,

Book cover of The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain

What is my book about?

My book explores the background to contemporary theories of child development, and the neurodiversity movement, by explaining the rapid increase in diagnoses of autism in children that occurred at the turn of the 21st Century. I argue that the way we understand children’s thoughts, motivations, and actions is directly influenced by the legal models that have been established to protect them as individual subjects with unique social rights. Drawing from a large array of government and scientific archives, I explain how the closure of state institutions and the growth of special education was accompanied by a complete metamorphosis in the meaning of autism in the 1960s and 1970s that had a knock-on effect on everyday diagnoses in educational, psychological, and other settings. 

Diary of a Baby

By Daniel N. Stern,

Book cover of Diary of a Baby: What Your Child Sees, Feels, and Experiences

I love this book because it takes the observations and research of Daniel Stern’s The Interpersonal World of the Infant and puts it into readable and understandable language. This book helps parents to empathize with their young children, to understand how they are feeling and what they are thinking and to make attachment theory more real.


Who am I?

Erica Komisar is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and parent guidance expert who has been in private practice in New York City for over 30 years. A graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Universities and The New York Freudian Society, Ms. Komisar is a psychological consultant bringing parenting and work/life workshops to clinics, schools, corporations, and childcare settings. She is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Daily News. She is a Contributing Editor to The Institute For Family Studies and appears regularly on Fox and Friends and Fox 5 News


I wrote...

Chicken Little the Sky Isn't Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety

By Erica Komisar,

Book cover of Chicken Little the Sky Isn't Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety

What is my book about?

This is a guide for parents who want to raise emotionally healthy and resilient adolescents in a time of great stress where anxiety and mental health disorders are epidemic.

In these times of great stress for our kids, resilience is not a given. The epidemic of mental health disorders in adolescents has made parenting even more challenging, but parents can still have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of their child. This book offers parents the tools they need to navigate this tumultuous time of change and create a continuous deep connection with their child. With covered topics such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioral issues, and addiction, parents will learn how they can recognize mental health disorders as well as obtain compassionate and practical advice on how to address these issues if they occur

Inside the Mental

By Kay Parley,

Book cover of Inside the Mental: Silence, Stigma, Psychiatry, and LSD

Kay Parley is a remarkable woman. Her book takes readers through her amazing life and the diverse experiences she encountered in an effort to make sense of her family history of psychiatric illness, her own institutionalization, and later her role as a psychiatric nurse and psychedelic guide. Against contemporary medical advice, Parley took LSD in Saskatchewan with Frances Huxley (Aldous’ nephew), and in this book, she explains how it gave her insights into her own excursions into madness and how to be a gentle guiding force for others who experienced disorientation, whether through illness or through mind-altering drugs.


Who am I?

I have been researching and writing about the history of psychedelics for two decades. I am a professor of History and Canada Research Chair in the History of Health and Social Justice at the University of Saskatchewan. I became utterly inspired by the many different psychedelic projects that fascinated researchers across disciplines, regions, and world views. These psychoactive substances have been fodder for deep studies of consciousness, dying, mysticism, rituals, birthing practices, drug policy, Indigenous rites, mental illness, nursing, how to measure and give meaning to experience… the list goes on. To study psychedelics is to surrender yourself to endless curiosity about why things are the way they seem to be. The books on this list are just the tip of the iceberg in a diverse conversation that is erupting on this topic. 


I wrote...

Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD from Clinic to Campus

By Erika Dyck,

Book cover of Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD from Clinic to Campus

What is my book about?

LSD's short but colorful history in North America carries with it the distinct cachet of counterculture and government experimentation. The truth about this mind-altering chemical cocktail is far more complex—and less controversial—than generally believed.

Psychedelic Psychiatry is the tale of medical researchers working to understand LSD’s therapeutic properties just as escalating anxieties about drug abuse in modern society laid the groundwork for the end of experimentation at the edge of psychopharmacology. Historian Erika Dyck deftly recasts our understanding of LSD to show it as an experimental substance, a medical treatment, and a tool for exploring psychotic perspectives—as well as a recreational drug. 

The Dream Master

By Roger Zelazny,

Book cover of The Dream Master

The Dream Master was originally published in Amazing (Jan/Feb 1965) titled, He Who Shapes. The novella won Roger Zelazny a Nebula Award in 1966. I have re-read this novel several times over the years, and subconsciously I think it influenced the premise for Dream Phaze. Some of the tech is a little outdated by today’s terms, but the overall idea is still fresh.

Who am I?

Everyone dreams, even if you don’t remember them, you dream. I have researched dreams and stories concerning dreams for decades. There are more than a handful of dream fiction books I admire and would recommend, but here are five that I think should be singled out. I am a member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams to try to keep my finger on the pulse of peer-reviewed papers concerning the ‘yet-to-be-explained’ purpose of dreaming. I wrote this story because I can see a future where dreams become mainstream entertainment, it is just a matter of time and technology.


I wrote...

Dream Phaze - Germination

By Matt Watters,

Book cover of Dream Phaze - Germination

What is my book about?

Everyone dreams. All Saxon Zynn wanted to do was dream, not for himself, but for everyone. Back in 2037, Saxon stated, "Dreaming is a reality to be experienced." A decade of research later and his Dream Immersion technology is poised to become the major entertainment medium of the 21st century, but will unforeseen obstacles prevent him from achieving his purpose?

Dream Phaze is about the inception of engineered dreams and the evolution of indulgence. Set at the crossroads of alternative realities in the near future, it plunges into a world where every human desire, no matter how heroic or evil, can be fulfilled. Dream Phaze – Germination is a “Global Ebook Award” winner - Bronze 2021 Sci-fi category.

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