The Great Pretender
From "one of America's most courageous young journalists" (NPR) comes a propulsive narrative history investigating the 50-year-old mystery behind a dramatic experiment that changed the course of modern medicine. For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people -- sane, normal, well-adjusted members of society -- went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever. But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?

The Great Pretender Details

TitleThe Great Pretender
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 5th, 2019
PublisherGrand Central Publishing
ISBN-139781538715284
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Psychology, History, Science, Health, Mental Health

The Great Pretender Review

  • Susannah
    January 1, 1970
    A writer friend always rates her own books. She explained that if she doesn’t love her own book enough to give it five stars, how can she expect anyone else to do the same? I like this mentality so here I go!
  • Julie Ehlers
    January 1, 1970
    Back in the early 1970s, Dr. David Rosenhan published the results of a study wherein he and several other people (so-called “pseudopatients”), none of whom had ever had mental health issues, attempted to get admitted to psychiatric hospitals by showing up and claiming they heard a voice in their head saying “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.” All of them got admitted on this basis, most of them receiving a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia. Once admitted, they behaved like their normal selves, Back in the early 1970s, Dr. David Rosenhan published the results of a study wherein he and several other people (so-called “pseudopatients”), none of whom had ever had mental health issues, attempted to get admitted to psychiatric hospitals by showing up and claiming they heard a voice in their head saying “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.” All of them got admitted on this basis, most of them receiving a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia. Once admitted, they behaved like their normal selves, but no one seemed to notice they were actually not mentally ill. The resulting article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” purported to show that (1) diagnosis of mental health issues was unreliable at best; and (2) patients in psychiatric hospitals were in fact not treated in ways that might actually be therapeutic.When Susannah Cahalan heard about this study a few years ago, she was fascinated. Girl, me too. Rosenhan’s study put me in mind of Nellie Bly’s groundbreaking undercover investigation of an asylum, which she published in the 1880s as “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” and which I was obsessed with as a kid. Bly’s investigation is detailed in The Great Pretender, but Cahalan’s own interest was based on something more personal: Her harrowing experience of having her brain inflammation misdiagnosed as mental illness. If a determined doctor hadn’t discovered what was actually ailing her, her life may have turned out very differently.Cahalan decided to find out everything she could about Rosenhan’s study, talking to his associates and even attempting to track down some of the other “pseudopatients” who took part in it. Without spoiling anything, what she discovered was very interesting, and The Great Pretender itself should have been similarly interesting. Unfortunately, this book had so many structural problems it was ultimately much more frustrating than fascinating.Simply put, Cahalan should have made the Rosenhan study, how it was received, and her investigation into it the main plotline of the book. But she clearly did a ton of research and didn’t want any of it to go to waste, so there are many, many detours, for paragraphs, pages, or even entire chapters, into topics that are peripheral (the history of the Esalen Institute, for example) and/or can’t be discussed adequately here (overdiagnosing; replicability issues in research; imprisoning the mentally ill). Some of these details actually undermine the points she is trying to make—for example, she wants to claim that Rosenhan’s study caused the closure of psychiatric hospitals, resulting in a lack of support for the mentally ill, but a long detour into John F. Kennedy’s efforts to “help” the mentally ill shows that this was a problem well before Rosenhan came on the scene. All of this extra information not only makes the reading experience a slog; it also dulls the impact of the discoveries Cahalan herself makes. I truly wish someone had edited this book with an eye toward making it sharper and more concise; it would have made the book a more informative and memorable reading experience.Cahalan understandably takes issue with the vague misdiagnosing that caused the “pseudopatients” to end up hospitalized, but she seems equally opposed to the much more detailed diagnostic criteria provided by DSM volumes that have appeared subsequent to the Rosenhan study. Does Cahalan offer her own solution to these problems? In a word, no—in the penultimate chapter of The Great Pretender she rails against the psychiatry and psychology professions in a way that’s nearly incoherent, and in the final chapter she purports to offer hope for the future, but some of the “advances” she names seem like quackery and pseudoscience, and the fact that psychiatrists are making more money than ever before hardly seems like the good news she thinks it is.The book is also sloppy with facts in a way that gave me pause. She misuses the word “metastasize,” for example, and indicates that mammograms “prevent” breast cancer (they don’t, of course). She also makes much of the fact that Rosenhan published his article in Science rather than a more specialized journal, implying that Science would be less rigorous in its review and that its quick turnaround times necessarily meant its peer-review process cut corners. This implication struck me as irresponsible; it seems equally likely that Rosenhan wanted to be in Science because it was a prestigious and popular journal, and that its faster peer-review process might be a result of its large number of resources compared to other journals. I was left with the feeling that Cahalan, a former New York Post reporter, didn’t know much about scientific publishing, and it made me wonder what else was mere speculation on her part.Some criticisms with the presentation of the book: The Rosenhan article itself wasn’t included here; neither were the responses to the study that other researchers published. Sure, it would have cost money for the publisher to obtain these reprint rights, but it would have made the entire experience of reading The Great Pretender much more informative. Additionally, Cahalan urges readers to educate themselves on these issues, but she doesn’t include a list of recommended reading; instead readers are expected to wade through the end notes for pertinent material. None of this adds up to a satisfactory learning experience.As I said, this topic is fascinating to me, and it saddens me that I can’t recommend this book. In short, the whole thing should have been way more incisive. The less-pertinent info should have been edited way down; Cahalan’s unfocused screeds should have been shortened and made, well, more focused; and more resources should have been provided for the reader. It seems that The Great Pretender is meant to be some kind of challenge to the field of psychiatry to do better, and while that’s a worthy goal, Cahalan hasn’t done much here besides meet their fuzzy thinking with fuzzy thinking of her own.I received this ARC via a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Thank you to the publisher.
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  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
    January 1, 1970
    Have read Susannah Cahalan’s deeply personal memoir, Brain on Fire? She has followed-up that best-selling book with The Great Pretender, which exposes the suspenseful mystery behind an experiment that shaped modern medicine and mental health as we know it today. David Rosenhan and his brave colleagues entered asylums undercover in order to come out diagnosed out the yin-yang, but better able to expose the atrocities and systemic problems in mental health treatment at the time. On top of that, Have read Susannah Cahalan’s deeply personal memoir, Brain on Fire? She has followed-up that best-selling book with The Great Pretender, which exposes the suspenseful mystery behind an experiment that shaped modern medicine and mental health as we know it today. David Rosenhan and his brave colleagues entered asylums undercover in order to come out diagnosed out the yin-yang, but better able to expose the atrocities and systemic problems in mental health treatment at the time. On top of that, Cahalan exposes the untold mystery within the mystery.I received a complimentary copy from the publisher.Many of my reviews can also be found on instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
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  • Book of the Month
    January 1, 1970
    Why I love itby Maris KreizmanSusannah Cahalan was not okay. Over the course of a month she went from being a fully functioning young reporter to suffering from psychosis and hallucinations, a step away from being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. In her devastating 2012 memoir, Brain On Fire, Cahalan details how a neurological disease not only caused her body to attack her brain, but also caused her to question her own sanity.Susannah is fully recovered now, but what would have happened Why I love itby Maris KreizmanSusannah Cahalan was not okay. Over the course of a month she went from being a fully functioning young reporter to suffering from psychosis and hallucinations, a step away from being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. In her devastating 2012 memoir, Brain On Fire, Cahalan details how a neurological disease not only caused her body to attack her brain, but also caused her to question her own sanity.Susannah is fully recovered now, but what would have happened to her if her diagnosis of mental illness had stuck? This is what she grapples with in The Great Pretender, an engrossing history of the study of mental illness, centered around an experiment in which a psychiatrist and a group of other healthy people get themselves committed to mental hospitals in the early 1970s. There they experience the dehumanizing, traumatizing nature of the institutions themselves, and ultimately discover firsthand how mental illness diagnoses are biased and arbitrary at best.How do we decide who is mentally ill? Drawing on years of archival research as well as her own personal experiences, Cahalan’s gripping account of the history of insanity is a feat of both enjoyable storytelling and skillful reporting.Read more at: https://bookofthemonth.com/the-great-...
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  • Nenia ⚡ Aspiring Evil Overlord ⚡ Campbell
    January 1, 1970
    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || PinterestI was so excited to read this book because I loved her first book, BRAIN ON FIRE, which was her own journalism-style memoir chronicling her experience with autoimmune encephalitis that manifested itself with symptoms similar to schizophrenia. Had she been misdiagnosed, she could have ended up with permanent brain damage-- or dead. Given that close call, it's understandable that the author might have some skepticism about psychology. A lot Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || PinterestI was so excited to read this book because I loved her first book, BRAIN ON FIRE, which was her own journalism-style memoir chronicling her experience with autoimmune encephalitis that manifested itself with symptoms similar to schizophrenia. Had she been misdiagnosed, she could have ended up with permanent brain damage-- or dead. Given that close call, it's understandable that the author might have some skepticism about psychology. A lot of people do, and like a lot of sciences, its beginnings seem backwards and barbaric. Of course, since psychology is one of the newer sciences, those beginnings are far more recent than most.THE GREAT PRETENDER is about the Rosenhan experiment, a study in which volunteers (including the psychologist leading it) pretended to have vague symptoms and see if they would get checked in to a mental health facility. Spoiler: according to the researcher's notes, all of them did, and all of them (except for one) ended up with diagnoses of schizophrenia (the other was diagnosed as borderline, I think, or manic). Also spoiler: they found the conditions pretty horrible, too. Staff were unsympathetic and liable to treat even normal behaviors (such as journaling) as mentally ill.Cahalan manages to get access to the psychologist's notes and even interview some of the participants in the study. Her findings, through supplementary research and some historical context, are pretty grim on both sides. Yes, clinical psychologists have, historically, done some pretty awful things in the name of medical science, whether it's treating patients like circus acts (19th century Bedlam) or doing gratuitous surgeries assembly-line style, to those who are willing and not (lobotomies). Cahalan talks about a Victorian journalist who checked herself in to a psychiatric facility and was horrified by the results. Rosenhan and his experimenters, while finding themselves in conditions nowhere near as horrifying, were still shocked at their cold and impartial (and sometimes unhygienic) treatment.When the study came out, people immediately sought to riposte it. Psychology is an oft-villainized field and I think there was probably a concern that a distrust in the industry might dissuade people from seeking the treatment they might need. Less philanthropically, I'm sure they were also concerned for their careers and the cash money said careers brought in. As Cahalan notes, the study may not have been as truthful as it could have been, as there were some factual disputes that arose when his data was cross-referenced with interviewees and other sources.I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did, being that I was a psychology major in school and actually contributed to active research studies. Supposedly, there's even one floating around out there with my name on it. Initially, I was very interested in the subject of the experiment, but it quickly wore thin as it was much drier than I was expecting and the whole time I was reading, I kept comparing THE GREAT PRETENDER unfavorably to the author's first book. I do think if you want to read a book that goes into depth about what psychiatric clinics are like, as well as the ethics of psychology and treatment, you might enjoy it, but those who aren't interested in psychology and have only scant interest in the topic will be disappointed, as this is hardly titillating and textbook-dry.Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 2 to 2.5 stars
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  • Nadine
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender is one of those nonfiction novels that is not for everyone. It’s information heavy and quite dry at times, but full of interesting and thought provoking ideas and concerns about the field of psychology and psychiatry. The Great Pretender follows the author Cahalan as she dives deep into the 1973 ground breaking study about the treatment of patients at asylums. Cahalan sets out to discover the truth behind the study and interview its participants.As mentioned previously, The The Great Pretender is one of those nonfiction novels that is not for everyone. It’s information heavy and quite dry at times, but full of interesting and thought provoking ideas and concerns about the field of psychology and psychiatry. The Great Pretender follows the author Cahalan as she dives deep into the 1973 ground breaking study about the treatment of patients at asylums. Cahalan sets out to discover the truth behind the study and interview its participants.As mentioned previously, The Great Pretender is information heavy. Cahalan paints in detail the sentiments towards psychology and psychiatry at the time. This information is crucial to understanding the impact this study had on the doctors in the field and the public. However, Cahalan gets lost in the weeds at times by giving too much information or going off on tangents for pages that could have been shortened to a few paragraphs. This is especially true when she begins searching for the participants. If you’re interested in the study and psychology/psychiatry in general, The Great Pretender is a fantastic book to read. Cahalan breaks down the tumultuous field making it easy to understand the culture of the time, the sentiment toward the field itself, and the future of medicine.
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  • Janelle | She Reads with Cats
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating! Review to come.
  • Sharon
    January 1, 1970
    I found this a very interesting read, this study led to some major shifts in how mental illness was thought about, diagnosed and treated and so it’s important that the study be real and accurate. This is a well written and well put together account of what happened. If you are interested in psychiatry, then I would encourage you to take the time to read this book.
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  • Judy Lesley
    January 1, 1970
    Susannah Cahalan and her family didn't want to accept her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder even though her symptoms easily fit. Instead they continued to search for what was happening to her, what was causing the symptoms she was living with. Finally she was diagnosed with the medical condition of autoimmune encephalitis, received treatment and recovered. Coming that close to such a huge misdiagnosis caused her to wonder how doctors in the field of psychiatry could tell which patient was Susannah Cahalan and her family didn't want to accept her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder even though her symptoms easily fit. Instead they continued to search for what was happening to her, what was causing the symptoms she was living with. Finally she was diagnosed with the medical condition of autoimmune encephalitis, received treatment and recovered. Coming that close to such a huge misdiagnosis caused her to wonder how doctors in the field of psychiatry could tell which patient was sane and which insane. Friends suggested she might be interested in reading an article published in the journal Science in 1973 titled "On Being Sane in Insane Places" by Stanford University professor David Rosenhan. Reading the article ignited her desire to find out who the "pseudopatients" were that participated in Rosenhan's project, to know how they got themselves admitted to twelve hospitals and, just as interesting, how they managed to convince staff that they were cured or sane enough to be released. Commitments ranged from 7 to 52 days with seven participants plus Rosenhan himself. The first portions of this book were not terribly interesting to me but the writing is very well done and the whole question of how to reliably tell sanity from insanity was what had initially triggered my interest so I decided to read on. Once Cahalan began to research who the pseudopatients were and which hospitals they chose the story began to change completely for me and I became thoroughly involved. The research into the questions surrounding Rosenhan's article soon became can't-stop-reading for me, a real life mystery spotlighting not just his article, but the man himself. The answers Cahalan found were unexpected, especially when considering the world wide changes the article had on the field of psychiatry. One man made such a difference to an entire branch of medicine. Find out here how he did it and what the consequences have been.I received a review copy of this book.
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  • Peter Tillman
    January 1, 1970
    Nature's review: https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158...Excerpts: Author "Cahalan quotes a former colleague of Rosenhan’s, who notes that he was a good networker, an excellent lecturer and a generally charismatic character. “But some people in the department called him a bullshitter,” Kenneth Gergen says. And through her deeply researched study, Cahalan seems inclined to agree with them. She discovered that the man whom she had initially admired, and who had done so much to change how mental Nature's review: https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158...Excerpts: Author "Cahalan quotes a former colleague of Rosenhan’s, who notes that he was a good networker, an excellent lecturer and a generally charismatic character. “But some people in the department called him a bullshitter,” Kenneth Gergen says. And through her deeply researched study, Cahalan seems inclined to agree with them. She discovered that the man whom she had initially admired, and who had done so much to change how mental illness was perceived, was not all that he had seemed. And neither, she argues, was his famous experiment.""When all of the leads from her contacts led to ground, she published a commentary in The Lancet Psychiatry asking for help in finding them — to no avail. Had Rosenhan invented them, she found herself asking?In recent years, other heroes of social psychology have been found to have misrepresented their data. The most prominent case is that of Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel, who was forced to retract 58 papers. Those who have followed these cases might be appalled by the Rosenhan story, but will not be surprised.Cahalan, whose life was saved by front-line medical science in the context of psychiatry, was shocked by what she found. She writes that she cannot be completely certain that Rosenhan cheated. But she is confident enough to call her engrossing, dismaying book The Great Pretender."
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender, by Susannah Cahalan, is one of the most extraordinary, best written works of nonfiction I think I’ve ever read. I have so much to say about it that I’m honestly not sure where to begin! This book takes on our existential fear of mental illness, our cultural dread of asylums, and the possibly unsolvable problem of where mental illnesses come from and how to cure them. Cahalan uses all her skills as a journalist to dig deep into a contentious scholarly and societal argument The Great Pretender, by Susannah Cahalan, is one of the most extraordinary, best written works of nonfiction I think I’ve ever read. I have so much to say about it that I’m honestly not sure where to begin! This book takes on our existential fear of mental illness, our cultural dread of asylums, and the possibly unsolvable problem of where mental illnesses come from and how to cure them. Cahalan uses all her skills as a journalist to dig deep into a contentious scholarly and societal argument about the the legendary Rosenhan Experiment...Read the rest of my review via A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for view consideration.
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  • Sharon
    January 1, 1970
    Author Susannah Cahalan was diagnosed with schizophrenia -- except she had autoimmune encephalitis. Like many, including myself, with autoimmune diseases, she was presumed to have a severe mental illness. Luckily, during her hospitalization a different doctor ran a different test and found out the truth.In the mean while, Cahalan was subjected to the kind of treatment that far too many people receive in mental health environments: "Take the meds and be cooperative." When she was sufficiently Author Susannah Cahalan was diagnosed with schizophrenia -- except she had autoimmune encephalitis. Like many, including myself, with autoimmune diseases, she was presumed to have a severe mental illness. Luckily, during her hospitalization a different doctor ran a different test and found out the truth.In the mean while, Cahalan was subjected to the kind of treatment that far too many people receive in mental health environments: "Take the meds and be cooperative." When she was sufficiently recovered, Cahalan began to wonder whether we can really tell the difference between sanity and insanity (in the traditional sense) and started to do some research. This led her to the work of David Rosnahan, a Stanford researcher whose paper entitled "On Being Sane in Insane Places" exposed some of the behavior inside mental institutions.Rosnahan's paper states that he sent eight "pseudopatients" undercover, one of them himself, complaining of identical auditory hallucinations, and seeking voluntary commitment. Some of the data and information didn't make sense to Cahalan, so she sought out Rosnahan's colleagues and became determined to find out who the pseudopatients were so that she could interview them as well.Cahalan not only learned about institutionalized life, but also the degree to which social psychology research could be (and was) influenced by the researcher's personal bias.This book not only lays out Cahalan's journey to research the researcher, but also shows just how little we still know and understand about mental illness -- and how Big Pharma tends to influence diagnostic outcomes for purposes of convenience. Read alongside Gary Greenberg's "Manufacturing Depression," this book creates a scathing picture of what can only be called the mental health industry rather than treatment. Highly recommended.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    *I received a free ARC from the publisher at BookCon*As a school psychologist who sees rampant misdiagnoses of mental health conditions and autism I found this book to be such an interesting read. I was familiar with some of the history she covers but I had never heard of this study. The book is written in such a way that you share in her journey from respect for the researcher to skepticism of the results to disappointment. Studies like this and researchers like Rosenhan do so much damage to *I received a free ARC from the publisher at BookCon*As a school psychologist who sees rampant misdiagnoses of mental health conditions and autism I found this book to be such an interesting read. I was familiar with some of the history she covers but I had never heard of this study. The book is written in such a way that you share in her journey from respect for the researcher to skepticism of the results to disappointment. Studies like this and researchers like Rosenhan do so much damage to the public's trust of anything related to psychiatry and mental health treatment and I found myself so mad at him and anyone who defended him. The saddest part of this book is that you realize so little has changed in this field and diagnosing is still problematic. My hope is that this book will get the APA to develop better systems for diagnosis and treatment - maybe require doctors and psychiatrists to meet with people for more than 15 minutes before giving a diagnosis. Unlikely, but this book inspired me to dream of better days.
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  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender is an in-depth exploration of a 1970s study that involved pseudo patients being admitted to mental institutions and the results of their findings, led by a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan. The book looks at the details of this study, its effect on the future of mental health, the history of psychology and psychiatry, and the holes in what Rosenhan revealed to the world. “Psychiatry at its best is what all medicine needs more of - humanity, art, listening, and The Great Pretender is an in-depth exploration of a 1970s study that involved pseudo patients being admitted to mental institutions and the results of their findings, led by a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan. The book looks at the details of this study, its effect on the future of mental health, the history of psychology and psychiatry, and the holes in what Rosenhan revealed to the world. “Psychiatry at its best is what all medicine needs more of - humanity, art, listening, and empathy - but at its worst it is driven by fear, judgment, and hubris.” ~Susannah Cahalan This is not a biography. If you go into it expecting a story, you may be disappointed. It is an investigative journalism report and its findings are revealed to us in the same order that they were revealed to the writer. Her passion for the topic is overwhelmingly evident and adds flavor to the text. Still, this collaboration of facts and the fact finding process may not appeal to everyone. With the right expectations in mind, I feel that readers can really benefit from the intriguing material presented in The Great Pretender. Upon finishing the book, I felt that I had more questions than I had before starting it, which is not a flaw, as I feel the writer intended to create inquisitiveness for the readers. I believe she sought to make us question the system and the answers we’re handed. If we are unwilling to investigate and we accept all that the psychiatric field (or society, in general) hands us as fact, perhaps a book like this will open up our eyes to why we need to be more critical seekers and thinkers. The topic explored is complex and important.I really enjoyed The Great Pretender. The material was fascinating and I am a fan of this type of factual delivery in non-fiction. Personal anecdotes were limited but noted when Cahalan felt they supported the report she shared with the reader. I appreciated traveling through the mystery of it all as she unraveled it. Having felt similarly about Brain on Fire, I must enthusiastically state that I’m really looking forward to whatever Susannah Cahalan produces next! Thank you Grand Central Publishing for gifting me this finished copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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  • Genevieve Trono
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender was initially intriguing to me as mental health diagnoses and treatment is a topic I am very passionate about and has also been a part of my life personally. Author Susannah Cahalan shares an in-depth look at a study from the 1970s that I had previously never heard of before but still affects the diagnosis process to this day. It was an eye-opening experience to see how mental health has been treated both historically and some practices that still continue today.Cahalan's The Great Pretender was initially intriguing to me as mental health diagnoses and treatment is a topic I am very passionate about and has also been a part of my life personally. Author Susannah Cahalan shares an in-depth look at a study from the 1970s that I had previously never heard of before but still affects the diagnosis process to this day. It was an eye-opening experience to see how mental health has been treated both historically and some practices that still continue today.Cahalan's first book, Brain on Fire, was a personal look at her own experiences and I loved that this book was a wonderful follow up to this important and timely topic as a whole. While we have come so far, we still have a way to go when dealing with mental health stigmas and treatment.Non-fiction books like this are such a powerful and important conversation starter. While this novel was insightful and thought-provoking it wasn't an easy read at times. With that said, sometimes discomfort is what can fuel the fire for change and I am so glad I gave this once a chance.
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  • Book Pairings (Laci Long)
    January 1, 1970
    coming out, I knew I needed to read it. I read Brain on Fire when I was going through my own neurological issues and it really hit me in the feels and has stuck with me. The Great Pretender does make references to Susannah’s experiences in Brain on Fire, so if you are interested in reading both I’d recommend reading Brain on Fire first. Alright, back to The Great Pretender. This book explores the misdiagnosis of mental illness and the differential treatment of individuals labeled as mentally ill coming out, I knew I needed to read it. I read Brain on Fire when I was going through my own neurological issues and it really hit me in the feels and has stuck with me. The Great Pretender does make references to Susannah’s experiences in Brain on Fire, so if you are interested in reading both I’d recommend reading Brain on Fire first. Alright, back to The Great Pretender. This book explores the misdiagnosis of mental illness and the differential treatment of individuals labeled as mentally ill in the past and present. To do so Susannah investigates the Rosenhan experiment which was a study where a group of healthy volunteers (including Dr. Rosenhan) get themselves admitted to mental health facilities in the early 1970s. These volunteers experience the dehumanizing treatment of patients in the facilities firsthand and how diagnosis is really not founded in science, but more so in bias. This was an endlessly fascinating book with some unexpected revelations. I highly recommend this one for anyone interested in modern psychiatry’s history or for anyone who enjoys reading about mental health. I will not lie, it is hard to read at times but ultimately I think this is a fascinating and enlightening story that I hope many people read.
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  • Carla (Carla's Book Bits)
    January 1, 1970
    From Susannah Cahalan, (author of the eye-opening memoir Brain on Fire), The Great Pretender seeks to shed light again on the mental health world. This one focuses on a (pretty infamous) study done in the 70's; where 7 perfectly healthy people get themselves committed to various mental hospitals, claiming to have serious mental illnesses. The point of the experiment was to see how doctors diagnosed mental illness & the way that the industry perceives patients with mental illness.I mean, I From Susannah Cahalan, (author of the eye-opening memoir Brain on Fire), The Great Pretender seeks to shed light again on the mental health world. This one focuses on a (pretty infamous) study done in the 70's; where 7 perfectly healthy people get themselves committed to various mental hospitals, claiming to have serious mental illnesses. The point of the experiment was to see how doctors diagnosed mental illness & the way that the industry perceives patients with mental illness.I mean, I don't know about you, but that sounds hella interesting to me. I will say this: If you can't get into nonfiction unless it reads 100% like a story, you'll probably find this book kinda dry. This book doesn't really read like a narrative, unless you consider following Cahalan's thought process during her research a kind of narrative. BUT, I thought it was so so interesting! Cahalan's research took some really surprising turns, and I never found myself without something interesting to chew on.I know many loved Brain on Fire for its addicting quality; the rapid page-turning while you're asking yourself what's going to happen next. The Great Pretender definitely takes its time a bit more. But that's not to say it's not as good of a read. This book reiterates things we all knew about the system, and it teaches us even more new things about it. In researching this study, Cahalan has revealed the whole field, with all its triumphs and flaws. So while it's not as "addicting" as Brain on Fire, it's an equally important and eye-opening book with a message that touches everyone in one way or another.I received an ARC for free from Hachette in exchange for an honest review.
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  • D
    January 1, 1970
    Very disappointing. This book is rather poorly written and its approach is exceedingly scattered. In my opinion, the author is not really qualified by either education or experience to write about the topics discussed. The actual purpose of the work remains elusive to the reader. Cannot recommend either the purchase or taking the time to read this.
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  • James
    January 1, 1970
    An engrossing work of investigative journalism with developments that read as page-turning fiction. At the heart of the story is a mystery with major implications on our modern day mental health system. Was shocked and awed by the story and the larger picture Susannah paints with her prose.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating look into a published study of psychiatric facilities that influenced their later shuttering and the mental health crisis that resulted. As well as an in-depth look into the history of psychiatry.
  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    I read an arc of this. A really interesting delve into how we diagnose and treat mental illness, told against the backdrop of a potentially fraudulent landmark study that started a revolution in psychiatry.
  • Anna
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender touched on the issue of psychiatric institutions, specifically in the United States. In the early 1970's, Dr. Rosenhan was in charge of a study that involved 8 people getting themselves admitted into different psychiatric hospitals around the country. The participants did not have any history of mental health issues and were instead 'undercover' to determine how professionals diagnose patients and treat them during their hospitalization. During the intake interview the The Great Pretender touched on the issue of psychiatric institutions, specifically in the United States. In the early 1970's, Dr. Rosenhan was in charge of a study that involved 8 people getting themselves admitted into different psychiatric hospitals around the country. The participants did not have any history of mental health issues and were instead 'undercover' to determine how professionals diagnose patients and treat them during their hospitalization. During the intake interview the participants had a certain list of symptoms to mention to the doctor. Once in the institution, the patients no longer showed any signs of mental health illnesses and went back to 'normal'. Eventually, all patients were released though each had a different amount of time spent in the institution. I was interested in this book because I have been receiving mental health treatment for almost half my life. I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with my providers and the care I received, including the medications prescribed. Despite my positive experience, I know that many people do not have great experiences and to learn about undercover first hand experience in an institution thrilled me. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. The author had experienced what doctors thought was a mental health illness but eventually discovered that her illness was something entirely different. I think her negative experience showed through in much of the book regarding mental health care professionals. She often had quite negative opinions of them and psychiatry as a whole as being essentially bogus, but this made me feel that my experiences and those of many others are invalid. Some issues she brought up are issues that need to be addressed in our country, including the incarceration of the mentally ill instead of providing adequate care. I like the information that the book provided regarding the history of psychiatry and how it has evolved over time but the consistent negative views of mental health providers did not sit well with me. I am a social worker and think that this can produce more public distrust in people in social services and other mental health care providers.
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  • Crystal Zavala
    January 1, 1970
    In the quest to learn more about mental health and what it is, Susannah Cahalan learned of Dr. Rosenhan and his famous paper, “On Being Sane in Insane Places”. Dr. Rosenhan's paper was published in the journal Science in 1973 and drastically changed the field of psychology. When she learned that he had been given an advance to write a book about his study, but never fulfilled that contract Susannah decided to investigate why he never finished his book.“On Being Sane in Insane Places” is a study In the quest to learn more about mental health and what it is, Susannah Cahalan learned of Dr. Rosenhan and his famous paper, “On Being Sane in Insane Places”. Dr. Rosenhan's paper was published in the journal Science in 1973 and drastically changed the field of psychology. When she learned that he had been given an advance to write a book about his study, but never fulfilled that contract Susannah decided to investigate why he never finished his book.“On Being Sane in Insane Places” is a study that sent undercover, "sane" individuals into mental institutions to see if they could get in and once in, see if they could be determined "sane" and then released. These "pseudo-patients" were given a script to get into the institutions and then it was left to them to get out. The pseudo-patients tongued their meds, took notes, and interacted with fellow patients and staff of the institutions. The results of the study indicated that psychiatrists were embarrassingly bad at distinguishing the "normal" from the mentally ill. The institutions and the patients were given pseudonyms and after 40 years, this information has remained confidential. This study triggered events that changed the DSM (the book that psychologists use to diagnose), closed institutions, and continued the negative perception that the American people held about psychology.Susannah is given access to all of Rosenhan's notes and his draft of the book. Now, Susannah needs to determine who the pseudo-patients are and which institutions they were admitted to. Quickly, Susannah determines that Rosenhan was one of the pseudo-patients. She speaks with anyone and everyone close to Rosenhan. She went down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Leads are not panning out and small, insignificant details seem exaggerated or inaccurate. Susannah begins to wonder how much of the study is real?
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  • Sydney
    January 1, 1970
    I loved Cahalan’s first book “Brain on Fire” and I enjoyed “The Great Pretender” just as much! Both books discuss important concepts and controversies within the psychiatric/psychological community, including misdiagnosis and the differential treatment of individuals based simply on the label of mental illness. The Rosenhan study is one that fascinated me as an undergraduate student in psychology and I actually learned a lot from this book that I didn’t know. I think the author is a fantastic I loved Cahalan’s first book “Brain on Fire” and I enjoyed “The Great Pretender” just as much! Both books discuss important concepts and controversies within the psychiatric/psychological community, including misdiagnosis and the differential treatment of individuals based simply on the label of mental illness. The Rosenhan study is one that fascinated me as an undergraduate student in psychology and I actually learned a lot from this book that I didn’t know. I think the author is a fantastic writer and I could not put this book down until I finished reading about the real-life mystery revolving around one of the most popular studies in psychology today. Although this one focuses less on Cahalan’s own personal experience and more on her research, I felt like the book sometimes was disconnected due to the detours it took to explain different aspects related to mental health (or mental institutions). Although, personally, I enjoyed these little detours but I can definitely see how it might break up the flow of the story as some reviewers have mentioned. I would highly recommend “The Great Pretender” no matter what your knowledge of psychology may be right now! Release date 11/5/19 (also available now through Book of the Month). Thank you to the publisher for the free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!(4.5 stars rounded up to 5)
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  • Ashley Mullins
    January 1, 1970
    While this was an interesting book, it is a dnf for me. The research is there and I understand the point of the book, however, it seems like a book written only to support her lack of belief in the mental health industry while ignoring all the beneficial and essential treatments available today.
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  • Rachel Quinn
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender by Susannah CahalanMy Rating: 2/5 starsLet me start by saying I typically tend to enjoy an non-fiction reads. I love learning and the plot of this book was so interesting to me. I mean it claims to be the real story of eight people who went undercover as psych patients into asylums in the 1970s. It sounds so exciting and enlighting. Well the most exciting part was the summary on the back cover. The writing style of this book is awful. It’s like a drunk aunt or a wild college The Great Pretender by Susannah CahalanMy Rating: 2/5 starsLet me start by saying I typically tend to enjoy an non-fiction reads. I love learning and the plot of this book was so interesting to me. I mean it claims to be the real story of eight people who went undercover as psych patients into asylums in the 1970s. It sounds so exciting and enlighting. Well the most exciting part was the summary on the back cover. The writing style of this book is awful. It’s like a drunk aunt or a wild college professor who was telling me a story and continually forgetting the point. It’s full of wild tangents and unnecessary author bias. Don’t get me wrong Susannah Cahalan’s story where her actual illness was diagnosed as a mental disorder. But she wrote a Memoir called Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. Did she really need to rehash that story in this book as well? Parts of this book were really interesting but they got lost in the rest of the book. This book could have been shorter and better organized and I think this could have been a really powerful piece. The plot is really intriguing but it falls flat.The Bottom Line: There are so many good books in the world, don’t waste your time with this one. I received a review copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing and Shelf Awareness in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for allowing me to review this book.
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  • Claire Taylor
    January 1, 1970
    Wow, this was a really eye-opening look at the history of how we deal with people struggling with mental illness in this country. I read Cahalan's previous book, Brain on Fire, and really loved the description of her progression from how she wrote that book into this one. In short, she came to the realization that people (including doctors, nurses, etc) treated her differently once she was diagnosed with auto-immune disease vs. thinking she likely had developed a mental illness. Why? Isn't Wow, this was a really eye-opening look at the history of how we deal with people struggling with mental illness in this country. I read Cahalan's previous book, Brain on Fire, and really loved the description of her progression from how she wrote that book into this one. In short, she came to the realization that people (including doctors, nurses, etc) treated her differently once she was diagnosed with auto-immune disease vs. thinking she likely had developed a mental illness. Why? Isn't mental illness also a disease that needs to be treated? Why are people dealing with psychological issues singled out or treated differently? In this book, she investigates the ground-breaking study done in the 70s where one researcher sent "pseudo-patients" in to different asylums to test their system of diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. The findings of this study shocked the field and contributed greatly to what happened next which was pretty much a wide-spread closing of all mental asylums in this country. She delves deep into the psychiatry field and it gets pretty technical at times, but I still found it very fascinating. What she uncovers about the study was not at all what I expected and I appreciated how she laid out the facts fairly and concisely. I enjoyed this book and although I am not sure if others who liked her last book will appreciate this one (it is way more of a technical and investigative look at the psychiatry field and mental illness), I think Cahalan is a talented writer and I can't wait to see what she writes about next.
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  • Bookish
    January 1, 1970
    I’m a big fan of Susannah Cahalan’s first book Brain on Fire, and was super excited to learn that she had another work of nonfiction coming out later in 2019. The Great Pretender is about a group of people who went undercover in the 1970s as patients in America’s asylums to see what the mental health system was like from the inside. Cahalan tells the story of this experiment and its impact on treatment of mental illness, and also reflects on its significance and the way we remember it now. — I’m a big fan of Susannah Cahalan’s first book Brain on Fire, and was super excited to learn that she had another work of nonfiction coming out later in 2019. The Great Pretender is about a group of people who went undercover in the 1970s as patients in America’s asylums to see what the mental health system was like from the inside. Cahalan tells the story of this experiment and its impact on treatment of mental illness, and also reflects on its significance and the way we remember it now. —Elizabeth (excerpted from Bookish's Staff Reads)
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    I received an uncorrected proof of this book at Book Expo. This book is a must read for anyone with an interest in psychology or psychiatry. It is part history of the field, part detective story, and part rallying cry for hope and change. I was unable to put this book down and finished it in less than 24 hours. I will be highly recommending this book to everyone I know.
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  • Alexandra
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Pretender is an in-depth exploration of mental institutions and their changes (for better or worse) over time. Cahalan’s primary focus is Rosenhan, a psychologist who, with 9 others, infiltrated mental institutions across the country to expose the maltreatment of the “insane”, and to prove that the diagnoses provided were oftentimes inaccurate. The entire field of psychiatry and mental health is examined thoroughly, and this narrative feeds into the debate about the efficacy of our The Great Pretender is an in-depth exploration of mental institutions and their changes (for better or worse) over time. Cahalan’s primary focus is Rosenhan, a psychologist who, with 9 others, infiltrated mental institutions across the country to expose the maltreatment of the “insane”, and to prove that the diagnoses provided were oftentimes inaccurate. The entire field of psychiatry and mental health is examined thoroughly, and this narrative feeds into the debate about the efficacy of our current mental health system. I found the book to be relevant, interesting, and thorough, though dry and dense at times. I wish she had focused a bit more on the actual experience of being in a psychiatric unit rather than the backstory. Something I appreciated about my old supervisor is this- when I asked “what is the diagnosis”, she replied that instead of focusing on a diagnosis, I should focus on the symptoms that the client wants help with, because focusing on a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily help with treatment. My current supervisor echoes that sentiment. I see our field as moving away from a pathologizing standpoint and instead moving towards one of helping others reduce or manage various symptoms that they’re seeking assistance for. The diagnosis is no longer the important piece- the experience of the client is. I know our field has its flaws and shortcomings- the mind is a difficult thing to study, and researchers are still trying to find physical causes for mental illness to help regulate its treatment. However, I will say this- I know some people are over-medicated and misdiagnosed. But, I also see how beneficial medication can be, and how supportive talk therapy is for many people. I can only hope that my field, and the field of psychiatry, continues to grow and develop to best serve our communities. Perfect when paired with PLENTY of days to read (the info is dense, y’all), a quiet environment (again, lots. of. info.) and an interest in the field of psychology. 4 stars for the information + 3 stars for reader friendly= 3.5⭐️
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