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The Concepts of Psychiatry

A Pluralistic Approach to the Mind and Mental Illness

Because most psychiatric illnesses are complex phenomena, no single method or approach is sufficient to explain them or the experiences of persons who suffer from them. In The Concepts of Psychiatry S. Nassir Ghaemi, M.D. argues that the discipline of psychiatry can therefore be understood best from a pluralistic perspective. Grounding his approach in the works of Paul McHugh, Phillip Slavney, Leston Havens, and others, Ghaemi incorporates a more explicitly philosophical discussion of the strengths of a pluralistic model and the weaknesses of other approaches, such as biological or psychoanalytic theories, the biopsychosocial model, or eclecticism.

Ghaemi's methodology is twofold: on the one hand, he applies philosophical ideas, such as utilitarian versus duty-based ethical models, to psychiatric practice. On the other hand, he subjects clinical psychiatric phenomena, such as psychosis or the Kraepelin nosology, to a conceptual analysis that is philosophically informed. This book will be of interest to professionals and students in psychiatry, as well as psychologists, social workers, philosophers, and general readers who are interested in understanding the field of psychiatry and its practices at a conceptual level.

About the Authors

S. Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., M.P.H., is director of the Bipolar Disorder Research Program at Emory University School of Medicine.


"Ghaemi raises dozens of thought-provoking questions in the midst of his tour through the concepts of psychiatry."

- John Z. Sadler, M.D. - Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

"This interesting and well-written volume can both enhance the reader's conceptual approach to understanding psychiatry and assist the reader's avoidance of dogmatism on the one hand and conceptual 'glibness' on the other... A valuable contribution to our literature and an important extension of McHugh and Slavney's 1998 text, The Perspectives of Psychiatry."

- James W. Lomax, M.D. - Journal of Clinical Psychiatry

"After the narrow confines of most psychiatric writing, it is refreshing to read an author who can quote knowingly from both Seymour Kety and William James and who can competently discuss topics as diverse as the mind-body problem and the relevance for psychiatry of Epicurus and Sufism. The book is a reminder of the rich banquet of conceptual and philosophical issues that are of relevance to our field but rarely make it into the standard literature."

- Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D. - Psychological Medicine

"A sensational success when it comes to waking us up from our conceptually impoverished stupors... Ghaemi has given us a book that is not only painfully unusual by today's standards, but so stubbornly and clearly thought out as well."

- Andrés Martin, M.D., M.P.H. - Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

"The book is intended for thinking psychiatrists, but thinking patients stand to benefit perhaps even more."

- John McManamy - McMan's Depression and Bipolar Weekly

"I highly recommend this book to professionals in the mental health field, although others—such as hospital administrators, educators, and the intelligent layperson—may also find it stimulating and thought provoking."

- Victor A. COlotla - PsycCRITIQUES

"Ghaemi's grasp is wide. His book will be as much disturbing as satisfying but will provide the reader a sense of where our field has been and where it may need to go."

- Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D. - American Journal of Psychiatry

"Rare is the book that escapes descending into polemic on the subject of depression... Ghaemi provides a philosophical structure for considering unhappiness, but one designed to bolster the scientific validity of depression. As he makes clear, this is needed."

- Alexander Langford - British Journal of Psychiatry


"Eventually we all can hope that psychiatry will join medicine in identifying how the disorders we recognize are not entities imposed from without on people but rather expressions of life under altered circumstances that we can work to correct. To achieve this goal, we need to grasp how we are both working with patients and thinking about their conditions. Read here and see the future—not darkly and indistinctly hoping for inspiration, but face to face with the methods and practices that will bring it to pass."

- from the foreword by Paul R. McHugh M.D.

"Wide ranging and extraordinarily informed, Dr. Ghaemi gives us an indispensable guide to the difficulties and dilemmas of psychiatric work, plus the roadmap for a pluralistic future. A work of truly unusual intelligence."

- Leston Havens, M.D., Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Hospital
Johns Hopkins University Press
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Last Call

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