Books About the Mentally Ill and Therapist/Patient Relationships

I just finished reading the play Equuis, which I loved, and now I’m looking for some books that have a similar theme. Really, any book in which the focus is a mentally ill character finding (or failing to find) help in a mental institution. I’d prefer it if the doctors/nurses were not the antagonists (aka, no One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest).

Any suggestions?

there’s a real life story called The Burn Journals about a teen who tries to commit suicide by fire and his recovery

It’s not a novel, but I highly recommend The Noonday Demon, a memoir of depression by Andrew Solomon. It’s very engaging and well-written, and I’m pretty sure there are parts of it that take place in a mental institution. (It was a National Book Award finalist.)

And Girl, Interrupted, of course. I understand that quite a bit of it is not as autobiographical as was originally claimed.

The username/post combo here is creeping me out a little.

Dibs: In Search of Self is a good book. It’s about a boy (young) who is in therapy. What I find interesting about it is that we never learn what actually happened to him, nor are the dynamics between his parents (or he and his parents) ever fully explained. It’s an older book (early 80s)–check your local library.

An Anthropologist on Mars or The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are also excellent “windows” into neurological disorders and (some) mental illness. They are written by the inestimable Oliver Sacks (of Awakenings fame).

Veronika Decides to Die. An interesting book.

It’s from 1964; I read it maybe ten years later, in intermediate school. It packed a punch.

How about The Madness of King George?

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green

Do you like Star Trek: TOS? If so, there’s a pretty good novella at the end of the first “Star Trek: The New Voyages” collection (might be a bit hard to find–it’s from the 70s) called “Mind Sifter.” Kirk is subjected to the Klingon mind sifter, goes insane, and uses the Guardian to go back in time, where he ends up in a mental institution.

Thank you so much for your replies. I’ll be sure to look into all of these for my next book selection.

winterhawk11, I’m watching Wrath of Kahn right now. I love TOS, and will try to find that novel.

Pat Barker does this kind of book really well. If you like your shrink/patient fiction with a historical backdrop, try her wonderful Regeneration Trilogy. The first book takes place at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh during the First World War and the shrink and his patients are all suffering from varying degrees of shell shock. All three books are good, but the first, Regeneration and the third, The Ghost Road, are exceptional.

She also has a more contemporary novel called Border Crossing where the shrink rescues someone he helped convict of murder from drowning and then treats him. It’s a harrowing, fascinating book.

That’s the one I was going to suggest. Is was inspired by the author’s own stint in a mental hospital, and her positive experience with a therapist there.

Both the character and the author were diagnosed with schizophrenia, but this label was applied rather more loosely then that it is today. Many modern psychiatrists feel that depression would be a better diagnosis.

A number of years back I discovered the genre of psychotherapist case studies that read like fiction. I remember reading and enjoying George Weinberg’s The Taboo Scarf: And Other Tales and Nearer to the Heart’s Desire: Tales of Psychotherapy, and Robert Akeret’s Tales from a Traveling Couch: A Psychoatherapist Revisits His Most Memorable Patients.

I guess nobody has mentioned Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, or Judith Rossner, August, two novels with similarities to I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

I look for a way to recommend Infinite Jest in response to just about every request for a book about ( ), since it’s a book about a lot of things, but it’s warranted in this case. Mental illness and addiction, specifically, so that the “institution” is actually a halfway house, but if you’re looking for a book about sick human beings looking for Help and either finding it or not, Infinite Jest, I promise. It will assault your brain and make you smarter.

Analyze This, Analyze That, and The Sopranos?:slight_smile:

Sybil- both book and movie- about a woman with multiple personality disorder (her name posthumously revealed to be Shirley Mason, avery talented artist) is a classic in the field, but it’s come under a LOT of fire in recent years. Many psychoanalysts (who never met her it should be noted) are not convinced that she had MPD or even that it exists. Dr. Wilbur (the psychiatrist- real name as well as character name) maintained a relationship with Sybil/Shirley until the day she died, supporting her financially at times and leaving her full rights to the book. In the book she changed a lot of names and identifying details (a standard practice in both psychiatric case writing and memoirs about non famous people) which have since been revealed, such as the religion of Shirley Mason (Seventh Day Adventist, which is important in the book), plus Mason’s identity being revealed allowed some details about her parents (EXTREMELY important) to be discovered.

The miniseries messed me the hell up when I was a kid. The scenes of child abuse were horrifying for what they showed and what they just implied (all manner of sexual abuse by her mother including object rape, enemas, battering, etc.). I blocked it out of my memory it was so disturbing, though luckily I became Trevor, Nigel, Little Sam, and Laeticia, all of whom do remember it, though strangely they can’t remember Bewitched.
The movie version starred Joanne Woodward as Dr. Wilbur; she had earlier played Eve in The Three Faces of Eve, another MPD/psychiatrist movie based on a true story.

Actress Patty Duke has written two books and several articles about her psychotherapy over the years. She’s bipolar and revealed it in Call Me Anna (her autobio) in which it was very backseat, though in the movie version it was more front and center. She later wrote co-wrote A Brilliant Madness about her experiences with extreme bipolar disorder (she was full-fledged: not just a mood disorder but paranoia, hallucinations, etc.).

I’d second both of these. I’m a therapist myself and I found them really compelling.

By Theodore Isaac Rubin: “David and Lisa / Jordi / Little Ralphie and the Creature: Three remarkable stories of children struggling to find themsleves and their places in this world” (out of print)

And there’s the movie “David and Lisa” based on the first story, one of Keir Dullea’s early performances.

A psychoanalyst named Robert Mitchell Lindner wrote a book entitled The Fifty Minute Hour, first published in the 1950s. It’s a collection of case studies (names and identifying details changed obviously) but it’s most famous for one particular one: The Jet Propelled Couch.

Here’s a descriptionof it by Carl Sagan in The Demon Haunted World. I’ve deleted some of it below so as not to risk copying too much:

You can read the rest of Sagan’s discussion of it at the above link, but the short version is that Lindner himself began to fall under Allen’s spell and wondering if somehow, just possibly, this man who spoke so expertly and so convincingly of life on other planets somehow really was living simultaneously in multiple time-space dimensions. (One of the funny things, similar to an old sci-fi short I saw once in which scientists know that the computers they discover on a spacecraft are built by aliens because “the gas in the vacuum tubes is not one that we have on Earth”, is that ‘Kirk Allen’ stored his secret information in caves beneath a satellite surface on another world in a huge cavern filled with his file cabinets [i.e. all hard copy]).

I hope I don’t spoil the ending by revealing that it turned out Kirk Allen probably wasn’t really an interdimensional space explorer but a man with some issues. I have read that this story inspired the name of Captain Kirk (but the source did not come from Roddenberry so I honestly don’t know) and I believe Kurt Vonnegut actually said it was one of his inspirations for his ‘very different but similar’ Slaughterhouse Five (where the main character exists in interdimensional timespace). I’ve always thought it’d be a great movie, especially now that you could use CGI for the interplanetary scenes (and I’d definitely include those file cabinets), and the book is certainly worth a read if only for that story. (There are several other case studies as well and they’re all interesting for the 1950s take on psychology, but The Jet Propelled Couch is by far the most famous and most memorable.)

This is not exactly what you’re looking for, but The Eden Express, by Mark Vonnegut, is a harrowing memoir of a man’s struggles with schizophrenia.

In a somewhat similar vein, but told from the viewpoint of the person trying to help the schizophrenic person, is The Soloist by Steve Lopez.