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Smith, R. (1987). The Reign of Error: Psychiatry, Authority and Law, by Lee Coleman, MD, Boston, MA; Beacon Press, 1984, xvi + 300 pages, $18.95. Free Associations, 1(10):141-147.

(1987). Free Associations, 1(10):141-147

The Reign of Error: Psychiatry, Authority and Law, by Lee Coleman, MD, Boston, MA; Beacon Press, 1984, xvi + 300 pages, $18.95

Review by:
Roger Smith

It is difficult not to be ambivalent about California. At one moment personal relations appear as soap opera, collapsing into tragedy and farce. At the next there are extraordinary displays of courage and mental energy. The lives of the mentally ill under the law seem to fit the pattern: one moment victims of psychiatric bullshit, the next subjects of the highest constitutional ideals. Dr Coleman's book — ‘a startling expose of psychiatry's misrule in the courts, mental hospitals and prisons’ — provokes just such ambivalence: shock at the cruelty and farce, delight at the possibilities for liberating action. It is a book in the eminent American tradition of campaigning reportage. It is disturbingly founded in social reality, and by focusing on a single issue succeeds in raising consciousness about alternatives. In its specifics it does not transfer easily to Britain; but in terms of underlying issues it should be decidedly familiar.

Dr Coleman is a Californian psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Over the last decade he has built up a specialist practice, which shows just how diverse and divided a profession he belongs to. He makes himself available, on a regular basis, as an expert witness in criminal and civil courts and in quasi-judicial hearings, to state that psychiatric testimony is not to be relied on. He is a forensic psychiatric witness to the non-expertise of forensic psychiatry.

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