Much is written about psychiatry, but very little that describes psychiatry itself. Why should there be such a need? For good or ill, psychiatry is a polemical battleground, criticized on the one hand as an instrument of social control, while on the other the latest developments in neuroscience are trumpeted as lasting solutions to mental illness.
Which of these strikingly contrasting positions should we believe? In Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry, Tom Burns reviews the historical development of psychiatry, throughout alert to where psychiatry helps, and where it is imperfect. What is clear is that mental illnesses are intimately tied to what makes us human in the first place. and the drive to relieve the suffering they cause is even more human.