Gail Hornstein, AGNES’ JACKET

Gail Hornstein
Gail Hornstein

Gail Hornstein talks about AGNES’ JACKET: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness.

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The dominant view of mental disorders is that they are genetic diseases caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Imbalances for which psychiatric medication is the primary–and often only–treatment. But psychologist Gail Hornstein says that madness is more code than chemistry. There’s meaning in madness — meaning that’s largely overlooked by the mental health profession because patients’ accounts of their own experiences aren’t listened to. After all, why listen to people who are, by definition in the professional’s view, irrational?

Gail Hornstein has been listening to them. She’s teaches psychology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. In the course of her work, she became fascinated with accounts written by mental patients themselves–personal memoirs, theoretical treatises on mental illness, and documents advocating for the rights of mental patients. One of the most famous is [amazon-product text=”I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” type=”text”]0805089268[/amazon-product], by Hannah Green (pen name of Joanne Greenberg), which was a bestselling book and then a Hollywood movie. [amazon-product text=”Hornstein wrote a biography” type=”text”]0684827921[/amazon-product] of the real psychologist behind the book’s thinly veiled fictionalized version, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.

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Hornstein found that not all patient accounts are on the printed page. One of the most intriguing is the hand-tailored jacket created by 19th century mental patient Agnes Richter in Austria. Richter embroidered her experience of madness on every centimeter of the garment’s fabric in a kind of code. It struck Hornstein as not only a beautiful work of art, but also a wonderful metaphor for the intense desire of mental patients to make sense of their own experiences.


4 thoughts on “Gail Hornstein, AGNES’ JACKET

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  2. exactly……they are not listened to. Not only by docs they are brushed aside by most all “normals” so to speak. I am not professional but I do have a son that has this so called imbalance. He hears a lot of people from his past. Some that were nice to him and some that were horrible. I will always say that my son would not have went into this imaginary world if he had not been bullied in school. He left this hard and mean place to be comforted by his imagination. But there is no place here on earth anyone can completely hide, Where ever you go there you are. It is a temporary escape from the pain inside. That is just how I see it after dealing with this for 20 years with him. We love him and accept him completely, voices and all. He talks freely and laffs freely to his imaginary friends. He does take meds but they are yet to find anything that will stop the voices, only to help his paranoia and sleep. It has all made me who I am and that is a person that can love the worst and hate the snobs that look down upon the ones that are different. God forgive me but I see it still as we live with the Scribes and Pharasees in this world today, so we just go on our journey one day at a time and that is exactly what we HAVE to do. To survive and keep our own sanity as caregivers and parents.I hope this helps someone.

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