Our Necessary Shadow is the first attempt in a generation to explain the whole subject of psychiatry, from the UK's leading expert, Tom Burns
A lot is written about psychiatry and the things it deals with, but very little that describes psychiatry itself. Why should there be such a need? There isn't a raft of books explaining all the other branches of medicine. But for good or ill, psychiatry is a polemical battleground, critcised on the one hand as an instrument of social control or a barbaric practice, while on the other the latest developments in neuroscience are trumpeted as offering lasting solutions to mental illness.
Which of these strikingly contrasting positions should we believe? This is the first attempt in a generation to explain the whole subject of psychiatry. In this deeply thoughtful, descriptive and sympathetic book, Tom Burns reviews the historical development of psychiatry, the places where there is much agreement on treatment and where there is not, 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. Psychiatry, for all its flaws, currently represents our best attempts to discharge this most human of impulses. It is not something we can just ignore. It is our necessary shadow.
Tom Burns is Professor of Social Psychiatry at Oxford University. From the late 1980s he has conducted research, in addition his clinical and teaching work, and has produced nearly 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles.