David Rosenhan's On Being Sane In Insane Places
Insanity is often described as a combination of behaviors brought about by certain mental disorders, which point towards abnormality and to a deranged state of mind. The word insane, however, is not a medical term. Psychiatrists and other medical practitioners often refer to it as psychosis, characterized by delusions and hallucinations. Although majority of patients are easily diagnosed with mental disorders, the reliability and validity of these diagnoses is often questioned. In fact, many people judged to be sane and competent are more dangerous to themselves, their families, and their communities than the supposedly 'insane' patients locked up in psychiatric wards for a substantial amount of time. In light of the doubt cast on the various categories of symptoms that distinguish the sane from the insane, David Rosenhan sought to find out how capable hospital staff were in differentiating between genuinely sick patients from those who were actually sane and were only there for research purposes. This text looks at the experiments Rosenhan and his team conducted, their findings and also the implications
The Rosenhan Experiment
Conducted in the 1970s, the Rosenhan experiment was bound to have its mark in history as the best of its kind in challenging the validity of psychiatric diagnoses....
Rosenhan, himself a psychologist, together with three women and four other men referred to as the pseudopatients feigned hallucinations in the form of hearing voices in order to be admitted as patients. The pseudopatients were admitted in 12 different hospitals located in five different states and only Rosenhan's identity was made known to the head psychologist and the hospital administrator (Rosenhan, 1973). All the other pseudopatients used aliases and concealed their true professions, although the details of circumstances and history remained unchanged. After being admitted, the patients abandoned all the behaviors that pointed towards abnormality. They engaged in all the activities required by the facility, and sometimes openly took notes that would help in the research. Rosenhan (1973) also describes another experiment that was conducted at one particular hospital that had heard of Rosenhan's research and challenged the pseudopatients to be admitted in their facility, as they were positive the same mistakes could not be done.
The findings of the experiment were rather surprising, especially because none of the pseudopatients were detected as frauds. In fact, in the initial hospitalizations, 35 patients were the ones who were able to detect that the pseudopatients were sane, some voicing their allegations openly and accusing them of being journalists and professors due to their note taking habits (Rosenhan, 1973). Their behaviors, albeit normal, were interpreted to be evidence of pathological disorders. For instance, the writing habits were translated to be proof of disturbance and they concluded that the pseudopatient caught writing indeed had schizophrenia. The staff believed it was upon the pseudopatients to prove they were getting better, and they were forced to take more than 2100 medication tablets although they had no indications of being unwell. They were made to stay in the hospital for an average of 19 days and in this period, they observed…
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