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CR3 #49: Under Observation: Life Inside a Psychiatric Hospital by Lisa Berger

So it looks like my new obsession for fall (once I'm done with the summer's mystery challenge) will be mental hospitals. I checked my to-read list and discovered about six mental hospital-related books.

Lisa Berger spent about a year observing one unit at Massachusetts's McLean Hospital (for more information about McLean's history, here is a link to a previous review). The book was written in cooperation with the doctor-in-charge of the unit she observed, and benefits greatly from his observations. She focuses on a few specific patients over the course of two weeks (roughly the average stay for a patient in the hospital.) They each have different issues, and are treated in different ways. The book also gives some information about how new psychiatric drugs are developed, what the new (in 1992, anyway) advances in mental health are, and the different ideas regarding the treatment of psychological problems. There is also a certain amount of discussion on the way things like insurance companies and profit margins effect the treatment of patients at McLean.

On the whole, this isn't a bad book. The observations are good, and the characters are life-like. The only problem I had began with the introduction, which explains that the book is not entirely true, but (due to issues of ethics and patient privacy) that the patients portrayed are not real, but rather "compositions" made up of many different patients the author and her consulting physician observed. That took me out of things quite a bit, because I found myself thinking about how the patients portrayed were more fiction than reality. It also made me wonder which parts of the entire book are true and which are not. Another down side is that some of the chapters talking about drug research and brain chemistry can be a little dull for someone who is not particularly science-minded.

I would probably only recommend this to someone who is deeply interested in the subject but not bothered by the fictional aspects of the story. It's not really a book for the mildly interested.

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