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The Creation of Psychopharmacology

The Creation of Psychopharmacology

David Healy

ISBN 9780674015999

Publication date: 09/15/2004

David Healy follows his widely praised study, The Antidepressant Era, with an even more ambitious and dramatic story: the discovery and development of antipsychotic medication. Healy argues that the discovery of chlorpromazine (more generally known as Thorazine) is as significant in the history of medicine as the discovery of penicillin, reminding readers of the worldwide prevalence of insanity within living memory.

But Healy tells not of the triumph of science but of a stream of fruitful accidents, of technological discovery leading neuroscientific research, of fierce professional competition and the backlash of the antipsychiatry movement of the 1960s. A chemical treatment was developed for one purpose, and as long as some theoretical rationale could be found, doctors administered it to the insane patients in their care to see if it would help. Sometimes it did, dramatically. Why these treatments worked, Healy argues provocatively, was, and often still is, a mystery. Nonetheless, such discoveries made and unmade academic reputations and inspired intense politicking for the Nobel Prize.

Once pharmaceutical companies recognized the commercial potential of antipsychotic medications, financial as well as clinical pressures drove the development of ever more aggressively marketed medications. With verve and immense learning, Healy tells a story with surprising implications in a book that will become the leading scholarly work on its compelling subject.


  • David Healy is one of the founding historians of psychopharmacology, first with his three-volume series of interviews with the first generation of psychopharmacologists, and secondly with his brilliant book, The Antidepressant Era. Now Healy crowns these achievements with this breathtakingly original and important history of the antipsychotics, psychiatry's flagship drugs. In their short lifespan they have revolutionalized psychiatry, converting it from a medical specialty based on psychotherapy to one based on biochemistry. Yet as Healy's analysis shows, commerce has been as influential as science in this transformation--perhaps more so. For its originality, readability, and wisdom, The Creation of Psychopharmacology is the most important contribution to the history of psychiatry since Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious.

    —Edward Shorter, University of Toronto, author of A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac


  • David Healy is Reader in Psychological Medicine at North Wales Clinical School and a former Secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology.

Book Details

  • 480 pages
  • 1-1/8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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