Throughout the world, schizophrenia is a diagnosis now in decline, representing a radical shift in our historical and medical understanding of madness and mental distress. But what does this medical term, first coined by a Swiss psychiatrist in 1908, mean? And why is it increasingly unpopular among patients and the medical establishment?
Historian and clinician Orna Ophir unearths the stories of patients and doctors as they struggle to make sense of this debilitating condition. At different times, patients have been depicted as possessed by demons, or simply “inspired,” as hearing voices, suffering from a “split-mind,” or merely having difficulty in “integrating” experiences. Now, a century after its birth, schizophrenia is increasingly viewed not as a radical, abnormal disease defined by an ever-changing cluster of symptoms, but the extreme end of a spectrum on which we are all located.
The story Ophir tells is a hopeful one: As patients and doctors sought to overcome stigma and improve therapeutic outcomes, they have shown ever-greater sensitivity to diversity and difference. Schizophrenia: An Unfinished History gestures toward a future in which clinicians and patients will collaborate in the search for better outcomes.
“Ophir’s survey of schizophrenia is magisterial. Diagnostic categorization has served general medicine and physical health very well. But this book conveys that we may have to consider such a process as abnormal, even inhuman, when it comes to personal experiences.”
Robert Hinshelwood, psychoanalyst and author
“We have long awaited a history of schizophrenia that brings to bear a deep understanding of that word’s past and present. This excellent look backwards will become a new starting point for us to better consider our future.”
George Makari, MD, author of Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia
“A superb account of the vicissitudes of the schizophrenia concept.”
Ruth Leys, Johns Hopkins University
“captivating […] thoughtful and compassionate”
“Ophir covers this ground skillfully, piquing the interests of readers coming from many different backgrounds and disciplines.”
Meghan Wildhood, Mad in America
About the Author
Orna Ophir is an Associate Director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute of Psychiatry: History, Policy & the Arts, Weill Cornell Medical College, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at New York University, where she teaches at The Gallatin School for Individualized Studies and is affiliated with the Department of Comparative Literature. Ophir is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City and a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), serving on its Committee on the History of Psychoanalysis.