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Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness (Unabridged)
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Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness (Unabridged) [Audio Download]

by Gail A. Hornstein (Author), Marguerite Gavin (Narrator)
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Audio Download
  • Listening Length: 14 hours and 23 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC
  • Audible.co.uk Release Date: 21 Aug 2009
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002SQDGS2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product Description

In a Victorian-era German asylum, seamstress Agnes Richter painstakingly stitched a mysterious autobiographical text into every inch of the jacket she created from her institutional uniform. Despite every attempt to silence them, hundreds of other patients have managed to get their stories out, at least in disguised form. Today, in a vibrant underground net-work of "psychiatric survivor groups" all over the world, patients work together to unravel the mysteries of madness and help one another re-cover.

Optimistic, courageous, and surprising, Agnes's Jacket takes us from a code-cracking bunker during World War II to the church basements and treatment centers where a whole new way of understanding the mind has begun to take form. A vast gulf exists between the way medicine explains psychiatric illness and the experiences of those who suffer. Hornstein's luminous work helps us bridge that gulf, guiding us through the inner lives of those diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, depression, and paranoia and emerging with nothing less than a new model for understanding one another and ourselves.

©2009 Gail A. Hornstein; (P)2009 Gildan Media Corp

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and revealing 11 Nov 2011
By sally
This book is very informative and an eye opener to how mental illness is used as a very loose term
to label too many people suffering from depression, grief and other fragile states of the human condition.
It informs us of the positive move away from psycotic drugs towards taking independant steps to
restore the human psyche. I am particularly interested in Agnes Richter and her journey.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Should Be Required Reading For All Mental Health Clinicians 8 Nov 2012
By DragonflyD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read many more books than I review. But every once in a while a book comes along that just makes me want to sing it's praises. The style with which this author convey's such valuable information makes the reading very easy for anyone. Reading this book changed the way I see my role in assisting my client's, and changed in many ways the way I see the experiences of my clients. I have recommended it to many of my co-workers, friends, and even some client's themselves. I will be remembering the people and their experiences, which the author so eloquently shared long after the pages are closed. Much of the world's mindset regarding "mental illness" needs to change and books like this could be the foundation upon which we as a society change our ways of thinking, and acting in order to provide more beneficial outcomes which truly support rather than harm other members of our society.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, insightful, enlightening book 19 May 2010
By K. L. Haworth - Published on Amazon.com
I just finished reading this book and am finding it difficult to express how wonderful I think it is. But I think it has the potential to be a life-changing book for many people, so I will add a few words of praise to the eloquent reviews I read above (or below, depending on where this review gets posted).

The information and insights in this book have fundamentally changed the way I look at "madness" and the way I feel and think about those around me who are dealing with mental health issues. After reading this book, I hope I can be a better and more supportive friend to those in my social circle who are living with schizophrenia and depression. And I know for certain that I will look differently (with more caring and understanding, I hope) at strangers I come across in my daily life who appear to be mad.

Thank you, Gail Hornstein, for writing this book and for sharing the stories of some truly amazing and inspiring individuals and groups.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and accessible to the lay person 5 Jun 2009
By Margaret Pyle - Published on Amazon.com
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Agnes's Jacket. Being that Ms. Hornstein is a Mount Holyoke college professor, I was concerned that it might be quite technical and dry, but it was anything but that. Agnes's Jacket is a thought provoking analysis of the lives of people who hear voices, suffer from depression and a variety of other devastating psychological problems and how they have been treated medically in the US versus the UK. Ms. Hornstein makes a convincing case that in the UK, where self-help groups are more prevalent and medication is less prescribed, the ill seem to have a safer place to manage their illnesses and therefore have better, and even more normal lives.
As I read the book, I kept on thinking of different people in my life who would benefit from reading it. Agnes's Jacket also made me think of all of the people who I see daily (I work in NYC)who may be suffering from some of these afflictions, and it makes me think about the hardships in their lives.
Agnes's Jacket was a really wonderful book to read and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I've already passed it on at work to have others read it. It would be a great book to read and discuss in a book club.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Study of Mental Illness 24 Sep 2012
By Lynn C. Tolson - Published on Amazon.com
Dr. Hornstein is a psychology professor at Mount Holyoke College. She conveys extraordinary empathy in the stories she weaves into Agnes's Jacket. Agnes Richter was a hospitalized German woman who stitched messages on her jacket to express herself. Dr. Hornstein uses the jacket as a focal point representation of the trap of mental illness that found a narrative escape.

Dr. Hornstein sees value in the writings of patients who provide insight into the nature of madness. A main theme of Agnes's Jacket supposes that recovery from madness can be achieved through mutual support and self-help. Dr. Hornstein states that the patients themselves are "experts by experience" who can help their peers. This peer-support approach opposes the medical model espoused by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill which states that "mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders."

Dr. Hornstein travelled Europe in search of the meanings of madness, attending lectures, visiting groups, and exploring theories. She shares her immense research in a writerly way that makes the book read more like a mystery than a study in psychology. She uses true stories from patients' experiences with mental health agencies.

According to Dr. Hornstein, in Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, social psychiatry proposes that: "Emotional distress is assumed to result from family crisis, racism, poverty, sexual abuse, war, or terrorism." However, in the United States, psychiatrists fail to connect "madness" with previous life experiences.

Counselors and their clients may develop a greater understanding of mental illness by Dr. Rothstein's interesting look into trauma and treatment. Patients are more than their apparent symptoms and resulting diagnosis; they are individuals with stories to tell. Society might listen to the stories to open lines of communication that will ultimately serve to enhance the mental health of its citizens.

Review completed by Lynn C. Tolson, author of Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor's Story
19 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, but not entirely convincing 11 Aug 2009
By Elizabeth A. Root - Published on Amazon.com
I found Agnes's Jacket to be a very uneven work. On one hand, I was very moved by the possibility that self-help groups can be a valuable resource. Hornstein spends time in England where the mentally ill are often considered by to be "experts by experience" able to assist one another and insist that the psychiatric professions truly listen to them about the nature of insanity. They exchange ideas on dealing with symptoms that they cannot get rid of; I would think that this might be limited to the higher functioning insane. Others might not be sufficiently articulate, but perhaps different types of groups could help different people.

Hornstein comments that people who hear voices can often help one another cope. That seems very plausible and promising to me. But surely one's underlying attitude toward the voices makes a difference: the person who genuinely believes that there is a radio transmitter in his/her head might not see how practicing yoga would be to the point. I would think that they would feel more in need of a surgeon to remove the transmitter. Still, if self-help is effective, I support it. At least they could be offered the support of people who understand and sympathize with their problems. Unlike Hornstein, I don't think it necessarily follows that there are not underlying chemical bases for some mental illnesses.

Hornstein also quotes an author know as John Custance who suffered from mental illness and wrote books on the subject. (She is very disappointed to find out that his son does not remember life with father fondly.) Custance argued that if a lunatic tells his doctor that he sees a devil, the doctor should regard the devil as being as actual as the lunatic and investigate what kind of devil he has seen. Certainly talking to the lunatic about an imaginary devil may reveal more about the patient's mind, but if the devil is actual, than the lunatic is wasting his time seeing a psychprofessional--he/she should be seeing an exorcist.

I am also not convinced by Hornstein's rejection of insanity, or some of it, as chemical imbalances. If, as she says, professional opinion shifts every forty years or so, I would assume that neither physical nor life history explanations are adequate. It may be that insanity, like blindness, can have a variety of sources and histories. Not all of her examples support her premise. "Peter, from Jesus", for example, had no history of known traumas underlying his sudden breakdown, and found talk therapy irrelevant. If one has read popular works (and I would presume professional literature) about mental illness, one has also read about people who found talk therapy useless and drugs like Prozac a miracle cure, so perhaps the message is that there aren't simple answers. Mental patients, like all patients, need to be listened to. Agnes's jacket, the central symbol of the book, is ambiguous in this regard. It may be a statement from Agnes's point of view, but it is incomprehensible to the rest of the world, even to those who try earnestly to understand it.

Hornstein rejects the chemical imbalance theory because she does not like the assumption that the imbalance is incurable, although it can be treated. It doesn't matter what she doesn't like, it matters what it true. She does not offer any evidence that her preferred support groups cure the condition, and it is ironic that such groups, especially those in the twelve step tradition, has also been severely criticized for arguing that the problem will be life-long.

She also criticizes the chemical treatments because there are problems with side effects. That is very true, and not inconsequential, but it is also true with diseases that are generally agreed to be physical. I stopped taking the medicine I was given for migraines because I hated the side effects, but other people successfully use the same medicine. It really isn't evidence against the chemical imbalance theory, just against carelessness in the use of medication.

On the balance, self-help and guidance from mental patients sounds like it might be promising, but I am not convinced that insanity may not be, in some cases, chemical, and that drugs cannot be helpful.
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