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by Joanne Greenberg
New American Library, 1964
Review by Margo McPhillips on Nov 20th 1999

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

According to the author, this book was written to counteract the romantic notions about the mentally ill that cropped up in the 1960's and 1970's. During that time many young people thought being depressed meant you were a good candidate to be a poet so if you wanted to be considered a poet, you needed to get "in touch" with your depressed self, often by using illegal psychotropic drugs such as LSD. Greenberg wrote the book to show the starkness of mental illness and that "there is no creativity in madness; madness is the opposite of creativity, although people may be creative in spite of being mentally ill."

Amazon.com gives the synopsis of the book as:

Chronicles the three-year battle of a mentally ill, but perceptive, teenage girl against a world of her own creation, emphasizing her relationship with the doctor who gave her the ammunition of self-understanding with which to help herself.
I found the book's emphasis on the relationship between Debra, the protagonist, and her doctor an excellent example of good psychotherapy. But, surprisingly, I find reading Amazon's synopsis now to be exciting and find myself drawn to reread the book because of the theme implicit in the words, "battle… against a world of her own creation." It sounds sort of-"creative" and fantastical to me, almost like a good science fiction novel's description would. If the author's intent was to show the uncreative side of mental illness, I would have chosen a less imaginative and creative individual to portray.

But there are other conflicts surrounding this book than those of the author's creation. Debra is portrayed as having schizophrenia. On one hand, the well-known psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey schizophrenia is an almost entirely physical disease and dismisses the suggestion that it might be amenable to traditional psychotherapy. On the other hand, the antipsychiatry psychiatrist Thomas Szasz doesn't believe in schizophrenia or any other mental illnesses at all. Meanwhile, we nonpsychiatrists are here living our lives, in the trenches so-to-speak, actually dealing with the life situations intellectually battled over by psychiatrists, over our heads. Can you tell I don't believe in most psychiatrists? Yet alas, they still exist. Often, as in this instance, I find their intellectual battles both silly and offensive; offensive because they attempt to deny one's experience.

This is a hopeful novel for people who don't necessarily believe in psychiatrists but do believe in the power of warm, one-on-one communication with other people to help cure one's personal diaspora. In this instance, the other person supplying the warm power happened to be a psychiatrist.
 

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