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Book Review   |    
Conquering Schizophrenia: A Father, His Son, and a Medical Breakthrough
R. Leroy Moser, The Rev.
Psychiatric Services 1998; doi:
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by Peter Wyden; New York City, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, 335 pages, $25

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Peter Wyden's gifts as an investigative journalist serve him well in this fascinating account of treatment of the mentally ill in the 20th century. Mr. Wyden's chronicle is illustrated by his son Jeff's experience with schizophrenia and the multiple efforts at treating him over the last 25 years. Wyden's vivid and concrete literary style enables him to interpret meaningfully the personal events within the context of broader social and historical realities. In Wyden's hands, his son's experiences become a prototype of the odyssey of so many persons with schizophrenia seeking relief from this devastating disease. The book therefore speaks eloquently to family members who have been there.

Wyden documents his son's encounters with the many medications over the years. The trials and errors, the failures, the partial successes, the side effects, the exciting movement toward more and more effective medications, and the hope for even more effective ones—all these experiences resonate with family members of mentally ill persons. The experiences also speak to professionals who are called on to make judgments about what medical regimen may be most effective for their patients.

Wyden also describes the inexorable movement away from psychoanalytically oriented psychiatry toward biological psychiatry. Although the road has often been bumpy, the movement toward understanding the major mental illnesses as biological reality is clear. This is not to say that therapy does not have its supportive role in the patient's improvement, but the dominant perspective of mental illness is that of a complicated brain disorder to be treated primarily by new pharmacological discoveries. The book is often an exciting and suspenseful story of medical breakthroughs that are made by researchers in the drug companies in this country and abroad.

The author writes effectively about the frustrations in the search for treatment. Professional advice is often contradictory. The fragmentation of psychiatric services is a pervasive reality. The inadequacies of housing are underlined. Numerous hospitalizations and the great variety of recommended medical regimens often leave patient and family members confused. It becomes clear that the search for treatment is often long and complex before the professional, the family, and the patient find what works.

Wyden illustrates the important role family members may play in the hoped-for process of recovery. Persistence, evolving understanding, compassion, and loving care are necessary companion ingredients to the healing properties of the latest pharmacological discoveries. It is also important in the healing process for the professional to have these same caring qualities.

Wyden's drive to explore all avenues to find answers to his son's illness has given him a cautious optimism. The new drug olanzapine has so changed his son's reality that Wyden sees evidence of his son's old self and new possibilities for normal life.

Conquering Schizophrenia should encourage frustrated and despairing family members never to give up. It is a saga of the belief that there are sound scientific reasons for hope in the treatment of the mentally ill.

Mr. Moser is president of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Massachusetts.

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