Mental Disorders

Review of "The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Psychiatry"

By Robert E. Hales, Stuart C. Yudofsky, and John A. Talbott (editors)
American Psychiatric Press, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Apr 23rd 2002
The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Psychiatry

This mammoth book (xxvii+1762 pages, and a CD-ROM version of DSM-IV) summarizes the current state of psychiatry.  It has five sections:

  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Assessment
  • Psychiatric Disorders
  • Psychiatric Treatments
  • Special Topics

The fifty different chapters are written by some of the best known names in psychiatry and clinical psychology, including Steven Hyman, Nancy Andreasen, Aaron Beck, Irvin Yalom, Robert Simon, and Melvin Sabshin, to name just a few. 

            This Textbook has a broad range, and while some of it is somewhat technical, much of the book should be accessible to educated lay readers.  For example, the chapter on mood disorders, by Steven Dubovsky and Randall Buzan, is 86 pages long, including 18 pages of references.  It discusses the prevalence of mood disorders in the US and other countries, diagnostic critiera, connections with other psychiatric conditions, as well creativity, different theories about the causes, different treatments, and mood disorders in children and adolescents.  It acknowledges some controversies although, unsurprisingly, it does not give much space to strongly critical viewpoints.  

            By way of contrast, the chapter on personality disorders, by Katherine Phillips and John Gunderson, is much shorter, at 28 pages, with five of those being the references.  There’s some discussion of the history of the category, classification issues, etiology and pathogenesis, subtypes, and a short paragraph on conclusions. 

            I’m not a researcher in psychiatry, and I’m not in a strong position to judge the accuracy of the claims in the book, but it seems like a highly professional work.  It is certainly a wonderfully thorough source of information, to which health care professionals and patients, as well as academics may turn when they need the mainstream view of just about any issue in psychiatry.

            I am in a position to judge the chapter on ethics and psychiatry, by Allen Dyer.  This is a mere 16 pages, and devotes a strangely large portion of its space on the history of ethics, even quoting the original Hippocratic oath at length, and it includes almost two pages to diagrams of deontological and teleological ethical methods, which most readers are bound to find utterly confusing.  But then, psychiatric ethics is my area of expertise, so it’s hardly surprising that I am critical of this chapter.  Textbooks are not aimed at experts, and are not necessarily best judged by experts. 

            In sum, this is an excellent resource, and will be useful to a wide variety of readers.

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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