As usual, I bought my wife Vogue magazine for Christmas. It always serves well as, in North America parlance, a ‘stocking stuffer’. This year it had further value as it highlighted the brain. A well-known psychiatrist, Nancy Andreasen, set out to inform America about modern psychiatry (Andreasen, 1990). The article is entitled ‘Brave New Brain’ with the subtitle being ‘Modern Psychiatry has Left the Couch for the Laboratory’. She takes the reader through neuro-imaging, molecular genetics and psycho-pharmacology. It is an elegant synopsis and worthy of someone who had a doctorate in English before she took up medicine. Importantly, however, she prefaced her serious material with a mock-comic story about a conversation she had had with someone at a New York hospital recently. She was phoning about the retrieval of a brain for research and the ingenuous person at the hospital just could not put the idea of psychiatry and brains together. Another sad tale of psychiatric breast-beating? Those of us who trained in psychiatry in Britain a generation ago might give a wry smile. After all, biological psychiatry was all that we ever knew. When I entered the Maudsley in 1964, part of the orientation for registrars consisted of going to the laboratories. A mouse was popped into a jar containing liquid nitrogen, it went rock hard and the group was advised that freezing the neurotransmitters in that way was the royal road to solving problems.
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