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Wachtel, P.L. (2011). Healing Psychiatry: Bridging the Science/Humanism Divide, by David H. Brendel, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, 178 pp., $14.00.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 28(3):457-464.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(3):457-464

Book Reviews

Healing Psychiatry: Bridging the Science/Humanism Divide, by David H. Brendel, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, 178 pp., $14.00.

Review by:
Paul L. Wachtel, Ph.D.

Early in his book, Healing Psychiatry: Bridging the Science/Humanism Divide, David Brendel asks, “Is psychiatry an empirical science that aims to diagnose and treat abnormal human behavior, or is it a form of humanism that addresses the inner workings and meanings of people's subjective experiences and existential concerns?” (p. 3). He thus signals clearly, from the very beginning, that he is engaging a debate that has been hotly pursued by advocates of one stripe or another under a wide range of terms and rubrics—with one side characterized by labels such as positivism, empiricism, or evidence-based practice, and the other under banners such as hermeneutics, postmodernism, ornarrativ-ism. In contrast to the more strident advocates on either side of what is often portrayed as an unbridgeable divide, Brendel offers a quieter, calmer look at the issues, seeking to understand what is valid and sensible on each side and to consider when one or the other perspective is useful in the effort to help suffering patients. His approach is at once rigorous and capacious, attentive both to the findings of empirical research and the subjective experience of living, breathing human beings.

It would be a great boon to our discourse if Brendel's model of respectful calm were to become the norm. As things stand now, terms like positivist or postmodernist are uttered almost as schoolyard taunts. When I read an argument accusing someone of being a positivist, I usually prepare myself for a one-dimensional rhetorical onslaught rather than a nuanced and penetrating argument.

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