Does Psychiatry Work? Review of ‘Desperate Remedies’ by Andrew Scull

This book review by Berties Bregman has been published in Commentary magazine. It begins:

“When I was a young medical student and it came time to pick a specialty, the landscape was alarmingly broad. At one extreme was psychiatry. The noble goal was to alleviate the deepest and most profound kind of human suffering, but it had the downside of being more talk than action. At the other extreme was surgery, which had plenty of action but not enough talk.

In the end, I split the difference and chose family medicine, a generalist field with plenty of both talk and action. The goal in family medicine is to see the patient and their illness in the full context of their life. And after more than 25 years of practice, I feel entitled to generalize: As good as we are at fixing the body, a lot of what’s broken lies in the mind. In other words, psychiatry matters. And that is why Desperate Remedies, Andrew Scull’s tour-de-force history of psychiatry from the birth of the asylum in the 1830s to today, is an essential book for our times …”

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