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Number 9: Winter 2013

Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good By James Davies

Alan Pope

Icon Books, London 2013
A review by Alan Pope

The Site invited Dr. James Davies to give a talk at the October Gallery in May of this year. The talk, entitled ‘The DSM – a great work of fiction?’ was convened by The Site to mark the publication the following week of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The title of the talk was taken from the heading of Chapter Two of his recently published book Cracked: Why Psychiatry Is Doing More Harm Than Good.  This event was well attended by both Site members, trainees and other interested parties.  Davies is a lucid and entertaining speaker and the talk provoked a lively discussion with the audience. His talk primarily focused on the DSM but his book goes considerably further than this. Davies is a psychotherapist who has worked in the NHS. His doctorate is in medical and social anthropology and he is a senior lecturer in social anthropology and psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton.  His academic background gives him both the access and skills to research his project thoroughly.  Thus, he has written a book that is aimed at the general reader and service user that nevertheless has much to offer to mental health professionals.

Davies sets out his stall in the preface:

“I will investigate three medical mysteries: why has psychiatry become the fastest-growing medical specialism when it has the poorest curative success? Why are psychiatric drugs now more widely prescribed than almost any other medical drugs in history, despite their dubious efficacy? And why does psychiatry, without solid scientific justification, keep expanding the number of mental disorders it believes to exist – from 106 in 1952 to 374 today? what is going on?”.1

As you can probably already tell from that short extract, Cracked has a snappy journalistic style and not the style that is normally found in Sitegeist or other academic journals. Some may balk at this, calling it lightweight, as indeed some online reader reviews have done.2 At the Site talk, Davies said that he could have written an academic work which would have been read by a few but would not have reached the people who it most affects, the general public. Perhaps it can at times feel like the script of a caper movie as Davies jets around the world and there is a tendency to have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.  I have no problem with this and in fact I welcome it because it gives a sense of his enthusiasm.  I find it refreshing that Davies does not obfuscate his project with the language of the elite.  Having said that, the book is extensively researched and footnoted for those who wish to explore the academic texts. Cracked investigates three “mysteries”, and it is these big and very important “mysteries” that Davies sets out to answer in the course of his investigation.


  1. Davies, J. (2013). Cracked: Why Psychiatry Is Doing More Harm Than Good, London: Icon Books, p. 2 

  2. “Finally I must comment on the poor quality of the writing here. The narrative style was somewhat trying, with the poor creative writing experiments indulged at the start of each chapter becoming particularly wearing by the end and general pseudo-journalistic style requiring enormous will power on the part of this reader to avoid throwing it in the bin before reaching the curious appendix at the end.”

    DaL (12 June 2013) Amazon.co.uk