Modern psychiatry is dominated by a biological medical understanding of mental disorder. But should we accept the conception of women this approach enshrines? Is it useful in dealing with mental distress or does it in fact act against women's interests? Denise Russell shows how the 'scientific' approach of contemporary psychiatry causes problems for women and develops an alternative perspective on mental distress. Women, Madness and Medicine looks at the roots of modern psychiatry, its theoretical approach to women, and what shifting trends in diagnosis tell us about its social underpinning. Arguing at both an epistemological and empirical level, Russell challenges the biological base of conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, anorexia and bulimia and female criminality. The work of women writers such as Phyllis Chesler, Luce Irigaray, Virginia Woolf and Janet Frame is examined in order to develop an alternative way of looking at problems of mental distress in women. This new approach attempts to dissolve the sanity/madness distinction using notions of oppression and repression and focusing on relations rather than individuals.
This book will be of interest to undergraduates and graduates in women's studies, psychiatry, psychology, philosophy and sociology.
'Her book beautifully integrates Phyllis Chester's seminal work,
Women and Madness. Must reading for upper-division
undergraduates, graduates, and professional practitioners in all
fields relating to women's health.' Choice
'... In this comprehensive critique she systematically analyses
and dismisses the bases of psychiatric intervention into the lives
of women... What Russell has accomplished in this excellent book is
to draw together a number of different arguments, each of which has
been covered by other writers, under this one comprehensive assault
on the epistemological base of biological psychiatry. Denise
Russell is to be congratulated in presenting this timely reminder
that the debate goes on.' History of the Human Sciences
'Women, Madness and Medicine continues (or more
accurately, restates) a tradition in the feminist critique of the
mental health professions whose roots are in the work of Phyllis
Chesler, the original analyst of the parallels between patriarchy
and psychotherapy ... useful and interesting commentary and
1. History of the relationship between Women and
includes: Women encounter psychiatry; Psychiatrists and
asylums; Nineteenth-century psychiatric theories of female
2. Modern Psychiatric Perspectives on Women.
includes: Psychiatric diagnosis and the interests
of women; Problems with the conceptual foundations of the
DSM-III-R; Problems wit subjectivity; Narrowness of focus;
Personality disorders; Personality disorders and biological
psychiatry; Personality disorders and child abuse; The medical
profession responds to child abuse statistics.
3. Shifting Trends in Diagnosis.
includes: Depression; Biological studies of
depression and diagnosis problems; Research into the biological
basis of depression; Is depression an illness?; The sociological
challenge to biology; Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) - defined?; PMS:
the causal research generates puzzles; Questions about the PMS
diagnosis and its role in the discipline of women.
4. Epistemological Problems with the Dominant Medical
includes: Schizophrenia; Genetic studies of
schizophrenia; Schizophrenia and body chemistry; Brain imaging
studies of schizophrenia; Eating disorders; The biological research
into eating disorders; Non-biological accounts of eating
5. Women, Psychiatry and Criminality.
includes: Female crimes and appropriate female
behaviour; Biological psychiatry and female crime; Pre-menstrual
syndrome and female crime; Psychiatric legal defences and the
interests of women; Battered woman syndrome and the law of
6. Contrasting Feminist Philosophies of Women and Madness:
Oppression and Repression.
Examining the work of Phyllis Chesler and Luce Irigaray.
7. Women, Creativity, Reason and Madness.
Examining the work of Virginia Woolf and Janet Frame.
8. Beyond Psychiatry.