The roots of the recovery movement in psychiatry: lessons learned

Larry Davidson, Jaak Rakfeldt, John Strauss
Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2010, £45

Davidson and his colleagues have engagingly illustrated the continuity and progression of values-in-action through selected lives of people who have become our inspirational forefathers starting with Pinel who inaugurated both moral treatment and the modern psychiatric era, through the lives of social activists, Dorothea Dix and Jane Adams, pioneers of deinstitutionalisation, Erving Goffman and Franco Bassaglia, crusading civil rights and race leaders, including Martin Luther King, humane psychiatrists, Adolph Meyer and John Strauss and finally psychological and economic theorists Lev Vygotsky and Amartya Sen.

Most of these names are familiar to even a casual student of our history but here is an opportunity to appreciate that nobody gets it right completely and focus on what lessons can and should be carried forwards and equally underline cautionary notes concerning what we should avoid repeating.

However, it is initially puzzling that in a book dedicated to the roots of the recovery movement, none of those reviewed specifically  espoused ‘recovery’ as we currently know it. The authors could have written to their title by offering an annotated Who’s Who of more recent recovery champions but have offered something more profound and helpful by tracing the guiding principles of recovery back through various forms of emancipatory humanism and values-led activism which has fuelled progressive change throughout the modern era.

This inspirational and supportive book concludes with an imagined conversation between those previously reviewed and having drawn the reader into this challenging conversation as a witness, the authors conclude by sending him out to continue the debate with friends and colleagues but certainly better informed and equipped.

This is an important contribution which offers the reader interested in recovery an awareness of its substantial ethical and political foundations and the need to sustain a civil rights perspective, from international leads.

Glenn Roberts 7.5.2010