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Psychiatry, Politics and PTSD: Breaking Down

Integrating critical and feminist psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, this text offers a distinct perspective of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a clinical and social phenomenon.

The book draws upon interviews carried out in field settings to examine the true individual and social costs of being diagnosed with PTSD.

The author examines how social contexts and social movements shape diagnostic thinking about mental trauma and how the PTSD diagnosis emerged as a symptom of a crisis in psychiatry over demands to recognize the social and political origins of mental suffering.

Chapters explore case examples from a range of settings, such as military and veterans' affairs clinics, war zones and refugee camps, psychosomatic medicine, the criminal justice system, and more.


Providing a new way of thinking about PTSD and an alternative to both critics and defenders of the diagnosis, this text will be useful for scholars and practitioners in psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis,  public health policy as well as, sociology, social work, gender studies, and the law.


What People Are Saying

"This book is essential reading. It’s a superb, scholarly, timely and inspiring work that brings together a lifetime’s critical analysis of psychiatry and the politics of posttraumatic stress disorder, using biographical, filmic, visual, participatory and field-based research. Important lines of analyses include the societal aspects of mental suffering, moral discourse on criminality, and the use of personality disorder and PTSD diagnoses as they underpin the social project of psychiatry. This book will be on my core reading lists for sociology, women's studies, critical and cultural criminology." 


Maggie O’Neill, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Criminology,
University College Cork

"This pathbreaking and invaluable book breaks down psychiatric conceptions of PTSD, reconstructing the history of the diagnostic category through a critical feminist psychoanalytic lens, and documents its functions in military contexts. Haaken's historical analysis and critique artfully bridge the worlds of theory and a range of practices, from clinical settings, war zones, the courts, crisis work, to political activism."


Ian Parker, Ph.D., practicing psychoanalyst, secretary
Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix

"With her characteristically lucid prose and critical intellectual gifts, Haaken interprets PTSD through the lenses of politics, history, and feminist psychoanalysis.  She sheds light on how PTSD has emerged and grown powerful as a diagnosis and how it serves not only to help patients but also to protect clinicians and limit their understandings of how and why patients suffer.  Importantly, she accomplishes this with compassion, fairness, and clinical acumen; she sees many sides of the same problem and never loses sight of the people who suffer and those who are tasked with attenuating that suffering… Breaking Down is a book to be savored both by psy practitioners and general intellectual audiences throughout the world."


Philip Cushman, Ph.D. , Professor Emeritus
Antioch University Seattle

"A former student asked me to zoom in on a class on culture and psychology. In his syllabus there was Jan Haaken’s (1998) Pillar of Salt: Gender, Memory, and the Perils of Looking Back.  Having taught a seminar where years before he had studied that book, it was a much-deserved tribute to Haaken’s nuanced narratives of social psychological phenomenon and their intertwining.  Certainly, her work is not in the vein of écriture feminine nor in the forced (if sometimes humorous) efforts of Slavoj Žižek to modify university discourse. Haaken does this subversion [JM1] with ease and grace, like a beautifully written case study with satirical and political bite.  Haaken crafts modes of expression that should especially merit the attention of feminist psychologists[JM2]  who must contest the American Psychological Association’s stylistic constraints- which occasionally beset Haaken’s latest book. Still, the overall result of her text in both style and content and should generate more radical reflections on how we write what we write about."


Kareen Malone, Professor of Psychology

University of West Georgia

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