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October 3, 1986

Masters of Madness: Social Origins of the American Psychiatric Profession

Author Affiliations

Portland, Ore

JAMA. 1986;256(13):1807-1808. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380130135049

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Here is an easily read medical history that combines scholarship with good style to recount the beginnings of the American Psychiatric Association. Implicitly, Masters of Madness offers insight into a pressing medical problem faced by many contemporary physicians: how, when faced with an uninformed public, to introduce a new medical technology.

In Masters of Madness the new medical technology was the European development of "moral therapy" (the process) combined with the American concept of the "asylum" (the structure). For the 13 physicians who banded together in 1844 to form the first national medical society, the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Association Institutions of the Insane, this new technology was the answer to mental illness, while simultaneously promising an outstanding professionalism for emerging American psychiatry.

Although much attention is given to committees, the author attempts to enliven the tale with details of the personalities of the original 13. Despite their