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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness [Paperback]

R. Laing , Anthony S. David
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Jan 2010 0141189371 978-0141189376 Repint

His groundbreaking exploration of the nature of madness, R.D. Laing's The Divided Self illuminated the nature mental illness, making the mysteries of the mind comprehensible to a lay audience. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Professor Anthony S. David.

First published in 1960, this watershed work aimed to make madness comprehensible, and in doing so revolutionized the way we perceive mental illness. Using case studies of patients he had worked with, psychiatrist R. D. Laing argued that psychosis is not a medical condition, but an outcome of the 'divided self', or the tension between the two personas within us: one our authentic, private identity, and the other the false, 'sane' self that we present to the world.

Laing's radical approach to insanity offered a rich existential analysis of personal alienation and made him a cult figure in the 1960s, yet his work was most significant for its humane attitude, which put the patient back at the centre of treatment.

R.D. Laing (1927-1989), one of the best-known psychiatrists of modern times, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. R.D. Laing's writings range from books on social theory to verse, as well as numerous articles and reviews in scientific journals and the popular press. His many publications include The Divided Self, Self and Others, Interpersonal Perception, The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, and Madness and Folly.

If you enjoyed The Divided Self, you might like Sigmund Freud's The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'One of the twentieth century's most influential psychotherapists'

Guardian

'Laing challenged the psychiatric orthodoxy of his time ... an icon of the 1960s counter-culture'

The Times


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Repint edition (28 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141189371
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141189376
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Dr. Laing is saying something very important indeed. . . . This is a truly humanist approach." --Philip toynbee in the Observer "It is a study that makes all other works I have read on schizophrenia seem fragmentary. . . . The author brings, through his vision and perception, that particular touch of genius which causes one to say Yes, I have always known that, why have I never thought of it before?'" --Journal of Analytical Psychology --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

R.D. Laing, one of the best-known psychiatrists of modern times, was born in Glasgow in 1927. R.D. Laing's writings range from books on social theory to verse, as well as numerous articles and reviews in scientific journals and the popular press. His many publications include The Divided Self, Self and Others, Interpersonal Perception, The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, Madness and Folly. R.D. Laing died in 1989.

Anthony David graduated in medicine from Glasgow University in 1980. After training in neurology he switched to psychiatry at the Maudsley & Bethlem Hospitals. He is currently Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London. He has edited several books including The Self in Neuroscience and Psychiatry (2003) with T. Kircher, and Insight and Psychosis (2nd ed., 2004) with X. Amador, and is author of over 350 publications in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.


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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compassionate and Insightful 26 Mar 2006
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am not in the medical profession, however, do struggle with my own and other family members' mental health problems. Until now, I had never read a description or analysis of the process of schizophrenia which seemed to be true of what I have personally witnessed. Laing has utmost regard for patients and a real interest in trying to understand them. Unlike most of the psychiatric world which is now hung up on diagnosis and categorisations above all else and at the cost of the individual's needs. I feel better equipped and more able to understand what mental processes the concept of schizophrenia is founded upon, and as such, less resistant to psychiatry in general.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars profound and humane 30 Oct 2001
Format:Paperback
There is little specific to say about this book beyond what has already been noted in the previous excellent and lengthy review. All I can do is re-itterate that Laing provides the most powerful, moving and utterly convincing account of the causes and development of mental illness.
The most important contribution of Laing is that he has shown mental illness to be an extreme outcome of our UNIVERSAL anxiety about 'being in the world' and of inter-acting with others. As such, he gives the mentally ill a dignity, humanity and sense of 'normalcy' denied them by both medical psychiatry and traditional Freudian and neo-Freudian psychotherapy. This is a book which did and continues to change minds and lives. It simply must be read by anyone interested in psychology, social science and the human condition.
For those persuaded by its thesis I would also strongly recommend the work of Ernest Becker who draws on many of the insights of Laing and other writers in the existential-psychotherapy tradition. In particular search out his 'Revolution in Psychiatry' and 'The Denial Of Death'.
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76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent existential account of madness 26 Jun 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The Divided Self - by R. D. Laing
This book constitutes the definitive attempt to provide an existential account of madness. The traditional approach to understanding madness sees it as a clinical entity, largely divorced from any relevance to the personal or social aspects of the suffering person's life
This book is probably the most intelligent and in depth attack on such a position. Laing argues that madness is not due to chemical imbalances in the brain or any organic disease, and any attempt to understand madness as a pathological process is doomed to failure because it inevitably treats the patient as an object. The book is a logically developed and sustained argument that madness can only be comprehended as the desperate attempts of the individual to integrate their own fragmenting psychological structure. Although the failure to do so is the almost inevitable result, leading ultimately to madness. seen from an existential perspective the process is understandable.
Laing himself puts it "...its basic purpose is to make madness, and the process of going mad comprehensible". Laing achieves this purpose brilliantly through the use of case studies. The greatest achievement of the book, I think, is the way in which Laing explains to the reader how, gradually and systematically, a suffering individual "progresses" from a schizoid, but sane state of mind to a schizophrenic, insane state of mind.
Laing's description of this process is both poignant and tragic. The reader is left with a profound insight into the world of madness, the nature of which I have not come across anywhere else. As a consequence of Laing's existential analysis, an explanation of delusions becomes possible, which is consistent, relevant and faithful to the suffering individual's experience.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I write this review as a psychiatric social worker. I have been doing this job for about 5 or 6 years and have discovered that the psychiatric system in this country basically reacts to people with schizophrenia as if all their remarks - which certainly often sound pretty strange - are unintelligible and without significant meaning. The more weird stuff a patient comes out with the more important it is to give them medication to block out the thoughts they are having.
In the training I had Laing was briefly discussed but no real attempt was made to convey the sense of his teaching. He suggests, as other reviewers have explained, that mental illness is intelligible, even logical, and by implication at least to some extent treatable with a genuinely therapeutic approach.
By the late 1970s Laing's work was being confidently dismissed by the psychiatric establishment but recently a lot of work has been done picking up the themes expressed in Laing. People might want to look at the work of Mary Boyle, Lucy Johnstone, and Romme and Escher. However no-one explains the process of going mad more convincingly than Laing in my view and to read him now is amazing because it seems to me in the profession now so few people even think of actually trying to understand schizophrenia.
Some of Doris Lessing's novels are also very good on the nature of madness - try 'The Four-Gated City'.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Everyone in some measure wears a mask..." 20 May 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
... only for those with schizotypal personality disorder the mask ceases to be a defence, it corrodes the fragile self of the sufferer, turns against its wearer and can ultimately lead to full schizophrenic psychoses.

I get the impression on reading this book that RD Laing was responsible for injecting some much needed humanity into mental health treatment back in the sixties. As a support worker in mental health today I find much of Laing's emphasis on the subjective experience of the sufferer as relevant and important, yes, but at the same time quite obvious. Anyone reading Thomas Paine's Rights of Man will have much the same reaction, that after so long and so much change much of the book's radical feel has been lost. But skip back to four or five decades before the term person-centred-care was thought up, back to a time when anything ostensibly incoherent from a patient was written off as merely the `symptom of a disease', then we can begin to feel thankful that at least someone in fifties Glasgow was paying attention to what Heidegger and Sartre were up to.

The book is split into three parts. The first defines the idea of ontological insecurity (the dread of implosion, engulfment or petrifaction a person's identity) and ways of approaching the patient as a person and not as clinical material. The second explores Laing's version of the false-self system, a fatal defence mechanism whereby a person will remove themselves to the bell jar in order to protect but ultimately starve what they consider their inner `true' selves; we find here examples of people who, though clearly disturbed, have not as yet lost their capacity for coherent action in the world. The third part attempts to reveal what it means when that coherency does break down.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting
Very intersting abd informative book on psychiatry in the 1960`s-a must read
the theories were very advaced and novel for its tine
Published 9 months ago by David MacNeil
5.0 out of 5 stars This is applicable to us all
We need to read this to understand ourselves and how the processes that others and the world we live effect us.
Published 11 months ago by Mrs A.Kashdan
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important book on mental health ever written
I'm currently using this book as one of my main texts for a degree in counselling - it totally reframes and refocusses the way you look at mental health issues - 'breakdown'... Read more
Published 11 months ago by NobbyK
4.0 out of 5 stars The False self and Ontological Insecurity
Though regarded as a classic,the academic prose from 1959 will probably stymie the efforts of all but the most ardent pop psychology readers of today,but the books treatment of the... Read more
Published 17 months ago by nicholas hargreaves
5.0 out of 5 stars X Ray Eyes
A book that has stood the test of time extremely well, as Laing operated in the dark ages and beamed a light forward, sometimes it roared as a brazier but often shone with the... Read more
Published on 15 Jun 2012 by Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles
5.0 out of 5 stars Best mental health text ever written
This book is a very interesting read in its own right. However, it is invaluable as a mental health text, as it seeks to provide a philosophical account of the experience of... Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2012 by your average reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book Ever
Incredibly insightful book, totally given me a new insight into life, people, relationships. Could not recommend it enough, one of the best books I have ever read, and I only came... Read more
Published on 7 Sep 2010 by Arnaud033
5.0 out of 5 stars Laing's masterpiece
This is the most interesting and fascinating book on psychology I have read. I first came across it a long time ago and no other book on human behaviour has had the same... Read more
Published on 19 Mar 2010 by F Drew
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read for the interested layperson
Published in 1960, R.D. Laing's `The Divided Self' was a key text for the 1960's counterculture. It offers a new approach to the understanding of schizoid and schizophrenic... Read more
Published on 27 Feb 2010 by Guardian of the Scales
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable insight into the dynamics of the modern family
Little is written about R. D. Laing nowadays, but in the 1960s he came to be identified along with theorists like Herbert Marcuse as one of the leading intellectuals of the New... Read more
Published on 28 Jan 2010 by Patrick Stenberg
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