Cracked: why psychiatry is doing more harm than good, James Davies, Icon Books, 2013, 313pp, £10.99, ISBN 978-1848315563

Where psychiatry goes wrong

Reviewed by Duncan Double

I have to declare an interest: until I looked at this book, I had forgotten that James Davies interviewed me in the course of his research and quotes me in its pages.

A senior lecturer in social anthropology and psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton, Daviesí quietly spoken manner belies how much he wants to communicate the truth about psychiatry, as he sees it. I agree with his argument that psychiatry is a pseudoscience, in as much as it encourages the belief that psychiatric medication can correct biochemical imbalances in the brain and that these have a genetic origin. However, in general, perhaps because I earn my living as a psychiatrist, Iím not quite so scathing about the profession. Certainly psychiatry can do more harm than good; it cannot escape its history of causing damage to people. But its capacity to do harm is a corollary of its ability to be of benefit to people.

Most of what Davies says is correct. In fact, I donít think heís really made any new discoveries, although this is how he presents the results of his investigations. Psychiatry and medicine, in general, can exploit patients and have always tended to put their own prestige above the interests of those theyíre supposed to help. Some of the recent illegal marketing of psychotropic medication has been particularly scandalous and even biologically minded psychiatrists are now expressing concern about the moral integrity of the profession today.

This is a well-written book intended for a popular audience and one that makes a positive contribution to the debate about whether psychiatry can become a more open practice. In time I hope the views it expresses will no longer be seen as heresy.

Duncan Double is a consultant psychiatrist and honorary senior lecturer at Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and the University of East Anglia.

To listen to a podcast with the author, please visit: http://sciencefocus.com/podcast/focus-magazine-podcast-july-2013