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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology) [Paperback]

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

22 Nov 1990 Penguin Psychology
Presenting case studies of schizophrenic patients, Laing aims to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible. He also offers an existential analysis of personal alienation.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (22 Nov 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140135375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140135374
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 293,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"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

About the Author

R.D. Laing, one of the best-known psychiatrists of modern times, was born in Glasgow in 1927 and graduated from Glasgow University as a doctor of medicine. In the 1960's he developed the argument that there may be a benefit in allowing acute mental and emotional turmoil in depth to go on and have its way, and that the outcome of such turmoil could have a positive value. He was the first to put such a stand to the test by establishing, with others, residences where persons could live and be free to let happen what will when the acute psychosis is given free rein, or where, at the very least, they receive no treatment they do not want. This work with the Philadelphia Association since 1964, together with his focus on disturbed and disturbing types of interaction in institutions, groups and families, has been both influential and continually controversial. 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 publications are: The Divided Self, Self and Others, Interpersonal Perception (with H. Phillipson and A. Robin Lee), Reason and Violence (introduced by Jean-Paul Sartre), Sanity, Madness and the Family (with A. Esterson), The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, Knots, The Politics of the Family, The Facts of Life, Do You Love Me?, Conversations with Children, Sonnets, The Voice of Experience and Wisdom, Madness and Folly. R.D. Laing died in 1989. Anthony Clare, writing in the Guardian, said of him: "His major achievement was that he dragged the isolated and neglected inner world of the severely psychotic individual out of the back ward of the large gloomy mental hospital and on to the front pages of influential newspapers, journals and literary magazines... Everyone in contemporary psychiatry owes something to R.D. Laing."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The term schizoid refers to an individual the totality of whose experience is split in two main ways: in the first place, there is a rent in his relation with his world and, in the second, there is a disruption of his relation with himself. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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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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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars profound and humane 30 Oct 2001
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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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent existential account of madness 26 Jun 2001
By A Customer
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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31 of 32 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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read for the interested layperson 27 Feb 2010
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 personalities, based on the notion that they are the result of the divided self: the creation of a false self to present to the outside world, prompted by insecurity as to one's own identity, which insecurity is itself the result of social factors, especially family ones, in Laing's view. Schizoid personalities are characterized by self-consciousness, feelings of unreality, and a sense of alienation from self. Schizophrenia involves these characteristics taken to pathological levels. Many of Laing's case studies seem to have been unusually `good' children; that is, pliant and uncomplaining. Such pliancy involves a reliance on others (usually the parents) to guide and validate one's actions, and a consequent absence of sense of self. This can lead to schizophrenia in adolescence and adulthood.

Laing's approach was revolutionary in seeing schizophrenia as a response to social pressures, and taking a human and empathetic view of schizophrenia and other psychotic states, rather than trying to fit each case into a preconceived mould. Schizophrenics are people who have reacted in a certain way to their social experiences, as opposed to having some medical condition alien to the rest of us. His idea of the divided self is as relevant now as it was in 1960, if not more so. For what sensitive and intelligent person in contemporary western society is not aware of having to create something of a divided self to carry on one's interactions with the outside world? `A face to meet the faces that you meet', as Mr. Eliot put it.
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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 6 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 8 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 8 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 14 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 22 months ago 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
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
5.0 out of 5 stars invaluable to any mental health professional
RD Laing takes an existential slant on mental illness in his influential book The Divided Self. What this means in practice, is taking account of the patient's background and using... Read more
Published on 13 July 2009 by Talc Demon
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