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Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process Hardcover – 25 Mar 2008

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A fascinating collection of 16 essays, as insightful as they are compulsively readable.

(Publishers Weekly (starred review))

All agree that the sick brain often spells catastrophe for the creative mind.

(New York Times)

The book shows that good poets also write vigorous, engaging prose. Richard Berlin has done a marvelous job of showing us how ordinary poets are; the selected poets have shown us that mental illness shares with other experiences a capacity to reveal our humanity.


At once instructive and poignant, Poets on Prozac constitutes an important addition to the literature on creativity and mental illness... An illuminating read both for mental health professionals who work with creative people and for artists who are contemplating treatment options.

(New England Journal of Medicine)

This book belongs on the shelves of all therapists who treat women and men who immerse themselves in creative writing or any other fine art. Dr. Berlin's pithy introduction provides a useful summary of the relationship between creativity and emotional disorder. The 16 essays and the poetic excerpts that bolster them share the virtues of being heartfelt, accessible, and brief. They can be read by highly literate women and men, even those in the midst of an emotional maelstrom.

(American Journal of Psychiatry)

Each essayist (and the book as a whole) certainly has an audience, most faithfully in poets.

(Roxanna Font Bellevue Literary Review)

This collection of brilliant essays does not resolve the relative contribution that medication (ranging from SSRIs to orthomolecular treatment) makes to the resolution of a creative person's fallow periods and blocks. Like the creative process itself, the picture that emerges is idiosyncratic and, perhaps, understood better as an appreciation than as analysis.


The book's claim to uniqueness lies chiefly in the character of the authors and the poetry with which they express their feelings.

(Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease)

In providing these poets with a voice in prose, Richard M. Berlin, himself both a healer and an artist, provides telling insights into both mental illness and the creative process.

(Harvey Fenigsohn Lamar Soutter Library Book Reviews)

Endlessly fascinating.

(Brooke Allen Hudson Review)

This collection of essays would be particularly useful to psychiatrists who have patients from the creative world of literature but I believe also from music, fine art or theatre.

(British Journal of Psychiatry)

Through the words of poets, this book celebrates the idea that health is not an end point―and that healing is a lifelong process.

(Dagan Coppock, MD Psychiatric Times)

An exceptional collection of poetically written and stirring accounts of overcoming mental suffering that provides valuable affirmation and understanding of the antithesis between mental illness and creative achievement. Although this is not a systematic scientific study, it vividly points to the ways that psychiatric treatment, which itself involves a mutual creative process between patient and therapist, may frequently improve poetic creativity.

(Albert Rothenberg, M.D., Harvard University, author of Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes and The Creative Process of Psychotherapy)

In brilliantly illuminating the interplay between creativity and mental illness, Richard Berlin's fascinating book shows us poets in the process of becoming healers―not only of themselves, but also of others, and even of society at large. Whether it is Denise Duhamel purposefully confronting bulimia in a spirited, long-lined poem, or Jack Coulehan more intuitively seeking structure through received poetic forms to calm anxiety, we experience firsthand 'dis-ease' as an incitement to the creative act, and, in turn, the tremendous power of imaginative language to interrogate and to assuage our suffering.

(Rafael Campo, M.A., M.D., D.Litt. (Hon), Harvard Medical School)

About the Author

Richard M. Berlin, M.D., is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts, a psychiatrist in private practice, and a published poet. He writes a monthly poetry column for Psychiatric Times and is the author of How JFK Killed My Father, a collection of poems about illness and the healing arts.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Review of Poets on Prozac 4 July 2008
By Paul R. Fleischman M.D. author of Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This review is written by Paul R. Fleischman, MD.
Poets on Prozac compiled and edited by my friend and colleague, Dr. Richard Berlin, will be of great interest to psychotherapists interested in creativity, to poets and artists, and to anyone interested in the centuries long discussion of the relationship between madness and poetry. No one is more competent than Dr. Berlin to have compiled this book, as Dr. Berlin is a well published psychiatrist and poet.
One of the strengths of this book is that it is a collection of first-person narratives written by professional writers. This not only gives it compelling force of confession, but it also helps the poets speak freely outside of the confines of scientific imposition, questionnaires or tests. The editor's excellence has been in creating a dialogical atmosphere in which his subjects and fellow investigators feel they can write with remarkable freedom. This is a book of science and courage.
Dr. Berlin provides a thought-provoking Introduction in which he discusses the relationship between psychiatric disorders and poetic creativity. Avoiding any rigid conclusions, he nevertheless points to the recurrent theme that emerges in the rest of the book. Poets who have psychiatric disorders generally benefit from psychiatric treatment. Psychiatric treatments are generally effective. Most of the poets who write chapters for this book became more creative after successful treatment. Treatment does not reduce poetic creativity and may well augment it. All of this does not answer the question about whether this group of poets would have been equally creative if they had had not psychiatric disorders in the first place. Is it the absence of psychiatric disorder, or is it good treatment of preexisting psychiatric disorder, that is the most fertile ground for creativity?
This book makes us all feel befriended and hopeful in our personal turmoil and suffering, and in our will to create.
A full length review of Poets on Prozac has been posted by Cortney Davis online on The Literature, Arts, and Medicine database. Dr. Berlin has been interviewed about his book at the site called Treatment on Line.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
One of my favorite books on creativity and mental illness 13 May 2009
By Dobie Lee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I first heard about the book Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process, edited by Richard M. Berlin, M.D. from my mother, who had heard about it on a local radio program. Being someone who writes poetry and takes Prozac, the title intrigued me. I then read about it on a poet's blog, and decided to order it. It is a collection of sixteen essays by an array of published poets who have suffered from various mental disorders and have used some sort of biochemical therapy along with any psychotherapy they may have had. They each discuss their own process of trying medications, adjusting and/or changing medications, and sometimes quitting medication altogether, and include in their essays examples of their poetry, and how they believe the use of biochemical therapy has changed, helped or hindered their work.

I was a little afraid that the book might be too dry or academic, but every essay is unique, with each poet having different ways that their depression or other mental illness manifests. What I like most about this collection is the variety found not only in the writing of each artist, but most particularly in their experiences with their dis-ease: Ren Powell suffers from bi-polar disorder; Denise Duhamel tackles bulimia; Vanessa Haley copes with obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder; Thomas Krampf suffers a complete psychotic break; Jesse Milner and Liza Porter both struggle with alcoholism.

This has become my favorite book on the art of how to continue to write, while traversing the waters of mental anguish. I like to bring it with me to poetry readings and read selections entitled Bulimia, I Was Once a Drowned Boy, The Suicides, and Neurotransmission. This is a fascinating read for anyone who is artistic and suffering from mental illness. I personally love this book because it has shown me that dealing with clinical depression and other disorders is not a death knell for my writing, and that I have choices and options in therapy. It opens me up to the possibility that my best and most lucid writing may come in the future.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Cold Comfort for Fellow Depressives 6 Mar. 2011
By Yoga Mofo - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book in a review from Rain Taxi, which gives it an impressive rating. (Thank-you, David Ray!) Poets on Prozac manages to entertain the reader while disseminating valuable insights about depression caused by imbalances in the brain's chemical makeup. Essays from 16 different poets describe their various depressive states and experiences with legal chemical cocktails. The reader should realize that prescriptive drug treatment for this malady is a relatively new science, hence the patient is somewhat of a guinea pig. It seems none of the poetic patients got the correct mixture of pills until a series of experiments led to a workable solution.

As one who suffers depressive episodes, I found a great deal of comfort in the confessions of the writers. In addition, the poetry in each piece provided a much-needed antidote to the heavy negative experiences of the authors. ("Pistachios" by J.D. Smith is worth the price of the book alone.) Mental illness is still misunderstood today, so it takes brave souls to speak honestly of their emotional battles. Poets on Prozac reveals the inner torments of the artist/poet, yet anyone who deals with depression can relate to the stories. I felt better after reading this book. It's good to know that I'm not the only one who feels hopeless, helpless, and hapless at times. If this talented bunch could cope with the devastating effects of depression, then there could be hope for me! One caveat: do not read this book for too long of a stretch because it can be depressing in itself. However, for those of us who fall into the dark pit and for those who love and live with us, this book sheds light on a frustrating and often misunderstood condition.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Poets on Prozac disappoints 9 Sept. 2008
By Susan F. Lick - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The question posed in this book is whether treatment for mental illness helps or hinders creativity. Sixteen poets talk about their experiences and share poetry written before, during or after treatment. While interesting, I'm afraid it didn't really answer the question for me. Perhaps the best answer came in the final essay, by Chase Twichell, who says it's impossible for a person whose consciousness is affected by psychopharmacological drugs to know what the effects are. For Twichell, the drugs enable her to function, including writing, but she also admits that the sparkle of language and metaphor is dulled by the drugs. She can write, but it seems more difficult. Overall, the sad truth is these stories are all too much alike and didn't really grab me the way I had hoped they would. But they do raise intriguing questions.
fear feels like home 3 Sept. 2014
By JL nash - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An easy to digest, succinct group of accounts of poets who experience major depression or other mental illnesses. Their clear voices from the depths of fog provide a brutally honest and encouraging read. Process I'm always fascinated by process.
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