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Psychiatric Polarities

, 144 pages
March 1987


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Psychiatric Polarities

Methodology and Practice


In this companion volume to their widely acclaimed Perspectives of Psychiatry, Phillip R. Slavney, M.D., and Paul R. McHugh, M.D., argue that the discontinuity of brain and mind is the source of much of psychiatry’s discord, for it leads psychiatrists to think about their discipline in terms of polar opposites: conscious or unconscious; explanation or understanding; paternalism or autonomy. Psychiatric Polarities brings together the history of ideas and such clinical issues as suicide and bipolar disorder to identify, describe, and debate these and other polar oppositions that arise from psychiatry’s inherent ambiguity.

There is no single conceptual perspective that is sufficient for all of psychiatry’s concerns, Slavney and McHugh observe, yet it is both possible and necessary to transcend the denominational conflicts that plague the field. In Psychiatric Polarities, their examination of these conflicts demonstrates how a methodological approach can help to resolve disagreements rooted in partisan commitments.

Phillip R. Slavney, M.D., is the Eugene Meyer III Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Paul R. McHugh, M.D., is a University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry and a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"A brief and gracefully written set of essays about a few of the philosophical controversies that have shaped current psychiatric thought... The authors appear to wish to give psychiatry back its 'soul,' and they make a strikingly cogent case that this is a necessary step in its reconstruction."

"[I]t is essential to revisit the fundamental thinking that underlies psychiatry. The clearly written, carefully detailed chapters of Polarities provide an essential foundation in satisfying this need."