On Being Sane in Insane Places – Experimenting with Psychiatric Diagnosis



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On Being Sane in Insane Places Experimenting with Psychiatric Diagnosis

Opening Skinner’s Box by Lauren Slater – Chapter 3


‘If I were to drink a quart of blood and, concealing what I had done, come to the emergency room of any hospital vomiting blood, the behavior of the staff would be quite predictable. If they labeled and treated me as having a peptic ulcer, I doubt that I could argue convincingly that medical science does not know how to diagnose that condition.’
A physical condition that appears to be an emergency would likely be diagnosed without considering that it could be fake, imagined, exaggerated, or perhaps nothing at all. But, what if you acted crazy? What if you exhibited symptoms of a disorder? Who decides what is normal for you? What impact does a diagnosis or label have? In this chapter the author, Lauren Slater, discusses a controversial experiment involving psychiatric diagnosis conducted by David Rosenhan in the early 1970s. Please answer the following questions to guide your reading and prepare you for discussion.


  1. Why did Rosenhan conduct his experiment? What was his point / problem?



  1. Briefly describe the experiment. What did the pseudopatients do?



  1. What happened? How were the pseudopatients treated in the hospitals? Give details.



  1. What effect did labels / diagnoses have on the people in mental hospitals?



  1. Slater writes that Rosenhan’s study is still hated in the field (psychology / psychiatry) even after 40 years. Why? How do they (psychiatrists and psychologists) react?



  1. Rosenthal and Jacobsen experiment (pg. 70) – What does this suggest about diagnosis and the labeling of people?



  1. Connect your response to question 6 to our lesson on defining disorders (including ADHD, Asperger’s, and autism). How does a diagnosis affect a child’s socialization and education?



  1. What is Slater’s personal experience with mental hospitals? (74)



  1. What happens to the author when she tries Rosenhan’s experiment? How was Slater’s experience different than Rosenhan’s?



  1. What makes something a disorder? Who decides?



  1. Is mental illness real? Explain your response.


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