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Brown, K. (2016). The Last Asylum—A Memoir of Madness in Our Times (2014) by Barbara Taylor, Published by Hamilton. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 10(1):52-57.

(2016). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 10(1):52-57

Book Reviews

The Last Asylum—A Memoir of Madness in Our Times (2014) by Barbara Taylor, Published by Hamilton

Review by:
Kate Brown

This is an enormously important book—one that should be widely read, not least by policy makers, minsters for health, mental health managers, social workers, nurses, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, patients—anyone who has even a passing interest in mental health and illness. At the heart of Taylor's book is the question: “What would have happened to me without the treatment I received in the mental health systems—including in the asylum?”

This is an extremely important question, highly relevant in the current context of closures of psychiatric wards and the wider question of what will happen to societies, communities, families, and individuals when those who suffer mental health problems have simply no place to go? No safe haven, no secure base? Even if asylums were historically highly flawed places, abusive even—is the so called “recovery model” and the rhetoric (or double speak) about “choice,” “responsibility,” and “hope” any more humane or effective? Taylor argues that the jury is still out … and also forces us to question the motives of those trying to push the “recovery” agenda. It is also a book that touched and moved me—and that I related to deeply.

This memoir works on many different levels, as an account of an analysis, an autobiography, in addition to being a social, historical political commentary about psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and the treatment of the so called “mentally ill”. It is also unusual in a review of a book to include so many direct quotes, I have done so quite simply because so much of Taylor's hugely important work bears repeating. It is by no means a “misery memoir”—but rather a story of transcendence and hard work, which in no way minimises the complexity and pain of genuine recovery—rather than advocating “quick fixes”. The term Taylor herself uses is “bin memoir”.

Bin memoirs are a peculiar genre. Some are modern gothic's lurid tales of decent, healthy minded people consigned to asylums by evil or stupid doctors.

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