REVIEW: The Great Pretender

Having previously read Susannah Cahalan’s memoir, Brain on Fire, I was so excited to hear that she was writing a new book about the mental health system in America.

The Great Pretender is the unravelling of the paper written by David Rosenhan titled “On Being Sane in Insane Places” and examining how it was influenced by as well as influencing in regards to the treatment of people living with mental illness. It examined the case of people posing as patients to “infiltrate” the broken system and prove the point of misdiagnosis as well as the dismissal of those who receive those diagnoses. Winding through history and even looking at the development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the modern method of Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID) diagnosis.

Reading Cahalan’s previous book, I was familiar with her own experiences with misdiagnosis which I do feel was a key element in her ability to capture all of the elements of this narrative. My own experiences also gave me intense respect for those involved in the study and even for people that continue to speak out on behalf of those who are victims of the broken system that passes itself off as health care for the mentally ill.

I also found the final few chapters regarding fraudulent research and results in scientific papers to be fascinating. Tackling the disproven research from Freud all the way to the Standford Prison Experiment (which was a weird obsession I had in high school and will always find fascinating), it talked about not only creating fictitious results for the sake of being published but also how papers should really be taken with a grain of salt because not many of them age and achieve the same results when replicated.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology, psychiatry, history, or even mental health in general. Whether it’s your major or you’re simply curious, Cahalan’s writing style is very accessible and attention-grabbing. Once again, Susannah Cahalan has knocked this one out of the park and I look forward to any and all future books she comes out with.

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