Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Mind Fixers (Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness)

By: Anne Harrington

Narrated by: Joyce Bean

Anne Harrington (Author, historian, Ph.D. in the History of Science from Oxford.)

Anne Harrington’s history is a reminder of the particular importance of psychiatry. Harrington explains how psychiatry evolved from quackery to a respectable treatment, if not cure, for mental dysfunction. Like treatment for cancer, the history of psychiatry ranges from brutality to rehabilitative treatment for damaged lives.

The initial interpretation of aberrant human behavior is noted as a neurological disorder, a diagnosis of disordered nerves.

Harrington notes a neurological explanation of psychiatry changes in the early 19th century. In the 1800s, it seems treatment for people who were tetched were generally isolated in asylums or cared for by immediate family members who dealt with patient aberrant behavior by isolation and/or restraint.  The idea of treatment and cure is limited, if not non-existent in that century.

In the 20th century, neurological interpretation of psychiatric disorder is expanded. Sigmund Freud becomes famous by treating patients who exhibit abnormal social behavior by delving into their family histories.

Freud develops theories of psycho-sexual development from detailed interpretation of patient interviews about their lives. Psychoanalysis becomes an integral part of psychiatry as defined by neurologists, though each suspects the other as less effective in treating psychological imbalance.     

The third stage of development in psychiatry is drug treatment. New drugs are expensive to develop, but once an effective drug is found, its value is immense.

The big drug treatment breakthrough is in the 1950s with Chlorpromazine (aka Thorazine) that treats psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Its limitations were found in its application when the patient becomes anesthetized, uncaring about life and living.

As time and experience accumulates psychoanalysis and neurological disciplines are married to drug treatments prescribed by practices of the newly combined disciplines. It is not a smooth transition. Each discipline makes mistakes, patients become victims of improperly supervised treatments, misdiagnoses, implanted false memories, shock therapy, lobotomy surgery, and drug therapy damage. As is true of science and medical advances, the victims and beneficiaries of medical breakthroughs are patients who trust their physicians.

A part of Harrington’s story is about other disciplines that deny scientific discovery and believe Christian Scientists, Scientologists, or faith in God as the best therapy for psychiatric maladies.

WWI, WWII, and surprisingly post Covid19 are wake-up calls for psychiatry. Though recovery from war is not the same as recovery from a pandemic, social reintegration is similar for both returning war veterans and pandemic survivors. Americans who survived war and those surviving Covid19 show similar social reintegration problems.

An estimated 1 million Americans (and still counting) died from Covid19. An estimated 53,000 Americans died in WWI and 290,000 in WWII.

United States cases

Updated Mar 4 at 2:32 PM local




Isolation during Covid 19 created “foxhole” relationships in families that changed the social dynamic of relationships and individual roles in society.

There seems a need today for as much psychiatric help for Americans after the pandemic as Harrington writes about after two world wars. One might argue the rise in 21st century crime, unemployed young, and homelessness is partly a consequence of recovery from the pandemic.

Irvin D. Yalom (Author, Doctor of Medicine, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.)

Author of “When Nietzsche Wept”

Harrington’s history of the evolution of psychiatry offers a possible cure, or at least improvement for what ails 21st Century America. That improvement is expensive. The question every American might ask themselves–are more jobs all that is needed? Listening or reading “Mind Fixers” implies jobs are only a part of the answer.  

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: