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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology) Paperback – 22 Nov 1990


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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology) + The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct + Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature
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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: 13.1 x 1.4 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 74,261 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

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Mar 2006
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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60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By steven garside on 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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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on 28 Aug 2004
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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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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Jun 2001
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Edward Beach on 20 May 2008
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... 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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