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How An Influential And Flawed Psychiatric Study Changed The Course Of Modern Medicine


In 2009, New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan suddenly experienced hallucinations, paranoia, seizures and catatonia. She was misdiagnosed for a month before she was finally treated for a rare autoimmune disease that can attack the brain, anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

Cahalan has little recollection of this time in her life, but she investigated her experience and published the details in her 2012 book, “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.”

Led by a concern that others suffering from this condition were being mistreated in psychiatric hospitals, she began looking into an influential 1973 study titled "On Being Sane in Insane Places" by psychologist David Rosenhan. The details of her investigation are found in her latest book, “The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness.”

Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Cahalan about her examination of Rosenhan’s study, what she learned about the treatment of mental illness from researching her own harrowing experience and the narrow line between physical and mental illness.

Related Event
What: Left Bank Books Presents: Susannah Cahalan - The Great Pretender
When: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 7 p.m.
Where: .ZACK, 3224 Locust St., St. Louis, MO 63103

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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