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Frosh, S. (2016). The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, London, 2014; xx + 290 pp; £18.99. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 97(1):221-225.

(2016). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 97(1):221-225

The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, London, 2014; xx + 290 pp; £18.99

Review by:
Stephen Frosh

The opening of Barbara Taylor's memoir does not augur well for psychoanalysis. She writes:

In 1981, when I was thirty-one, I broke down entirely for a time and decided to seek help. Many of my friends were in psychotherapy, so this became my route. In 1982 I began seeing a psychoanalyst. Within three years I had lost all semblance of

ordinary life; three years further on I was admitted to Friern. I spent nearly four years in the mental health system, either as an inpatient or a day patient. While I was in Friern I lost my home, and went to live in a psychiatric hostel. By then my world had contracted around my illness and I believed I would be a lifelong mental patient. (p. x)

So much for psychoanalytic treatment, one might think: turning to it in distress, she ends up so mad - so full of suicidal impulses, so anxious, so abandoned and withdrawn, obsessionally washing her “filthy” face, so out of her mind with alcohol and prescription drugs and desperate sex and vicious, nightmarish dreams - that nothing except the crumbling wards of what was once the largest psychiatric hospital in Europe could contain her. The brutality, barrenness, unpredictability and desolation of this end-of-era institution, officially pilloried for handling its inmates like “human trash,” was where Taylor found herself - and remarkably, one might even think accusingly, it provided the “asylum” she needed. Her analyst says at one point, in response to the repeated question of why Taylor keeps coming to see him, that it is because she is hoping for a “miracle,” or sometimes because she wants “to know the truth.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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