I was a psychologist for forty years (actually, I’m still a psychologist, but I don’t practice much) during which time I worked in numerous institutions (including a maximum security prison psychiatric unit) and treated every conceivable type of mental patient. I dedicated my life to helping these people and worked very hard to improve my skills. But one day I walked into the office and had a panic attack and realized that my life as a practicing psychotherapist was over. I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. I would have to do something else. I became a writer.
I wrote fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and had some limited success getting my work accepted by print and online magazines (see publications), but the really important creation from my perspective was an account of the first twenty years I spent treating people with a multitude of problems. This, I felt was relevant. It required years to produce the 60,000 word memoir shown above and entitled I Never Met a Paranoid Schizophrenic I Didn’t Like, but I found no literary agent or publisher was interested in it. As I have said before, I don’t understand WHAT these people want, but here it is: self-published. A prize-winning poet once remarked to me, “God, you’ve lived an interesting life!” Well, yes, but he’s the one getting awards; I can’t even get a literary agent. Notwithstanding, here is the book. A description and an excerpt will soon be found on this website.
This book describes the life of a young psychologist as he learns his craft. (You don’t know diddley-squat when you emerge from graduate school. You just think you do.). I have tried to make it interesting and readable. A plethora of books on mental illness have been written over the years, some engrossing and some boring, and I’m going to present my favorites. The first one that immediately comes to mind is The Three Faces of Eve, by Thigpen and Cleckley. (I had a psychiatrist-friend once who knew Cleckley and said he was absolutely brilliant. Cleckley is really famous for his seminal work on the sociopath entitled The Mask of Sanity–another book I highly recommend.).
But I digress. The Three Faces of Eve is about a woman with three personalities and how she and her therapist discover the source of her illness. It’s a fun read, and the patient is supposedly better in the end, although there is controversy about this because the patient died arguing that she was misrepresented. The movie is perhaps better, and starred Joanne Woodward before she actually became a star (and married Paul Newman). She won the Academy Award for best actress. Controversy notwithstanding, I recommend the book and the movie. Perhaps more famous nowadays is Sybil, by Flora Schrieber, also about a woman with multiple personality disorder, also made into a movie. The book and movie are more dramatic and the symptoms more florid and complex; however, there have been serious questions raised over the years concerning whether this woman ever really suffered from multiple personality disorder to begin with (now called, by the way, dissociative identity disorder).
It was believed by Herbert Spiegel, famous hypnotherapist and inventor of the Spiegel Eye Roll (I took a course on the Eye Roll under Spiegel himself before he died), and also a colleague of the patient’s therapist, Cornelia Wilbur, that Wilbur instilled the whole idea of multiple personality in her patient, who simply had a hysterical disorder. The issue has never been resolved, but I must say, if a terrific and highly respected therapist like Spiegel had reservations about all this, I would be willing to accept them. This should not, however dissuade the reader from reading the book or seeing the movie since there are things to be learned in them nonetheless.
An older book is The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward. This poor lady got her material when she was hospitalized for what they thought was schizophrenia. One reads it and recognizes the horror of losing your mind and being surrounded by turmoil, making you feel more lost and confused than ever. I used to teach a course in college entitled “Special Problems in Psychology,” which meant I could teach whatever I wanted. I had a list of psychological “thrillers” in those days for the students to read and this book was always rated near the top by the students as their favorite book. (The favorite? Flowers for Algernon by Keyes–a wonderful and touching book to read.) The Snake Pit later was turned into a movie starring Olivia de Havilland. It’s a pretty good movie and Olivia does a pretty good job of grabbing that sense of unreality that a patient often feels.
(Here’s a picture of an old mental hospital to get the reader in the mood. Imagine being mentally disturbed and then finding yourself being transported to this place. It’s better than being burned at the stake as they had done a few years back, but . . .). And my final recommendation is A Mind that Found Itself, by Clifford Beers, the autobiography of a man’s struggle with his own mental illness and the inhumane treatment he receives at the hands of the authorities in a mental hospital.
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