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Sadness, Gladness--and Serotonin

- Abstract

These days, psychiatrists tend to treat mental illness as principally an affliction not of the mind but of the brain—a condition, that is, marked by a deficiency or excess of certain neurochemicals, which medication can restore to healthy levels. The pill has replaced the couch as the therapeutic instrument of first resort.

Ever since the usefulness of some of the most important psychoactive drugs was discovered by serendipity—doctors could see that the drugs worked without knowing why—clinical practice has remained several large steps ahead of neurobiological theory. But the theory is catching up, and its influence on the culture at large will surely be as momentous as Freudian theory was during the last century. Two recent books, by distinguished professors of psychiatry writing for a lay audience, introduce the reader to the latest developments in the field. They also provoke far-reaching questions about the new world into which the innovations are taking us.



About the Author

Algis Valiunas writes on culture and politics for COMMENTARY and other magazines. His "Goethe’s Magnificent Self" appeared in January.