The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

AHP readers will be interested in a forthcoming book exploring David Rosenhan’s “On being sane in insane places.” Susannah Cahalan’s The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness will be released in November 2019. The book is described as follows:

For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people — sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society — went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry’s labels. Forced to remain inside until they’d “proven” themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan’s watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever. 

But, as Cahalan’s explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

1 thought on “The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

  1. I’ve read an early draft and this book will do to the Rosenhan study what Gina Perry did to the Milgram and Sherif studies. It is also a portrait of a man and academic psychology in the 1970s.

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