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Friday 4 January 2013




Definitions of mental health and views on appropriate treatment have always been a hotbed of debate but when having visions of angels and hearing voices is seen by some as the ultimate religious experience and others as a severe psychiatric episode, who decides which is which? As part of 4 Goes Mad, this week 4thought.tv asks, ‘What is madness?’

Richard Bentall

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Richard Bentall (born 1956) is currently appointed as a Chair of Clinical Psychology at the University of Bangor in Wales, UK, and is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist.
Born in Sheffield, he attended the University College of North Wales, Bangor as an undergraduate before registering for a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at the same institution. After being awarded his doctorate, he moved to the University of Liverpool to undertake professional training as a Clinical Psychologist. He later returned to his alma mater of Liverpool to work as a lecturer, after a brief stint working for the National Health Service as a Forensic Clinical Psychologist. In later years, he studied an MA in Philosophy Applied to Healthcare from University of Wales, Swansea. He was eventually promoted to Professor of Clinical Psychology at University of Liverpool. In 1999, he accepted a position at the University of Manchester, collaborating with the numerous researchers working in understanding the psychology and treatment of psychotic experiences.
He is particularly well known for his work in psychosis, especially delusions and hallucinations. He has published extensively in these areas.[1] He also has an interest in differences between human and animal pedagogy and in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome.
In 1989, he received the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology 'May Davidson Award', an annual award for outstanding contributions to the field of clinical psychology, in the first ten years after qualifying.[2]
In a 1992 thought experiment, he proposed to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder.[3]
He has edited and written several books, most notably Madness Explained, which was winner of the British Psychological Society Book Award in 2004. He advocates a psychological approach to the psychoses, and considered symptoms worthwhile investigating in contrast to the Kraepelinian syndromes. (Refuting Kraepelin's big idea is the starting chapter of this book.) A review by Paul Broks in The Sunday Times summarized its position as: "Like Szasz, Bentall is firmly opposed to the biomedical model, but he also takes issue with extreme social relativists who would deny the reality of madness." In the book, Bentall also argues that no clear distinction exists between those diagnosed with mental illnesses and the "well". While this notion is more widely accepted in psychiatry when it comes to anxiety and depression, Bental insists that schizotypal experiences are also common.[4]
His latest book is titled Doctoring The Mind: Is Our Current Treatment Of Mental Illness Really Any Good? A scathing review of this book by neuro-scientist Roy Sugarman found that it allied itself with the anti-psychiatry movement in its critiques of biological psychiatry.[5] The review in PsycCRITIQUES was more nuanced, pointing out that Bentall did not reject psycho-pharmacology, but that he was concerned over its overuse.[6]


  • Bentall, Richard (2009). Doctoring the mind: is our current treatment of mental illness really any good?. NYU Press. ISBN 0-8147-9148-4. (The UK title is Doctoring the Mind: Why Psychiatric Treatments Fail)[5]
  • Read, J; Bentall, RP; Fosse, R (October–December 2009). "Time to abandon the bio-bio-bio model of psychosis: Exploring the epigenetic and psychological mechanisms by which adverse life events lead to psychotic symptoms". Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale 18 (4): 299–310. PMID 20170043.
  • Varese, F; Smeets, F; Drukker, M; Lieverse, R; Lataster, T; Viechtbauer, W; Read, J; van Os, J et al. (29 March 2012). "Childhood Adversities Increase the Risk of Psychosis: A Meta-analysis of Patient-Control, Prospective- and Cross-sectional Cohort Studies". Schizophrenia Bulletin. DOI:10.1093/schbul/sbs050. PMID 22461484. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  • Morrison, A. P. & Renton, & J & French P & Bentall, R. P. (2008) Think You're Crazy? Think Again: A Resource Book for Cognitive Therapy for Psychosis London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-58391-837-1
  • Bentall, R. P. (2003) Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature London: Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-7139-9249-2
  • Bentall, Richard (1999). Why There Will Never Be a Convincing Theory of Schizophrenia. In S. Rose (ed). From brains to consciousness? Essays on the new sciences of mind London: Penguin Books.
  • Bentall, R. P. & Slade, P. D. (eds) (1992) Reconstructing Schizophrenia London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-01574-X
  • Bentall, R. P. & Slade, P. D. (1988) Sensory Deception: A Scientific Analysis of Hallucination Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-3760-X

See also


External links

  • Richard Bentall staff profile University of Bangor
  • Psychiatry's failed paradigm, guest blog entry in the Washington Post (January 4, 2010)
    Psychiatric classification and methodology in psychopathology

    The development of a science of psychopathology requires the accurate description and classification of psychiatric problems. In a number of publications, I have argued that catagorical systems of psychiatric classification such as DSM-IV have very little scientific value. I have therefore advocated research targetted at specific psychological symptoms.
    The psychology of psychotic symptoms
    Much of my empirical research has focused on psychological mechanisms responsible for specific psychotic symptoms. In studies of auditory hallucinations I have explored cognitive failures which lead the hallucinating individual to misattribute their inner speech to an external source. In studies of persecutory delusions, I have investigated social reasoning (especially attributional andn theory of mind) biases which lead the deluded person to attribute malevolent intentions to others. Recently, this work has been extended to examine mechanisms responsible for manic symptomatology.

    Psychological interventions for psychotic patients
    Early studies on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) interventions for patients who hear voices have been extended to large scale clinical trials, mostly funded by the MRC. I am a grant-holder (together with Shon Lewis, Nick Tarrier, Peter Kinderman and David Kingdon) for the SoCRATES (Study of Cognitive Realignment Therapy in Early Schizophrenia) project, in which over 300 first and second episode schizophrenia patients have been randomly assigned to CBT, supportive counselling or treatment as usual; this project is nearing completion. I am also a grant-holder (togather with Jan Scott, Richard Morriss, Peter Kinderman and Eugen Paykell) of a large scale multi-centre study of CBT for patients with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Most recently, with Tony Morrisson of Mental Services of Salford NHS Trust, I have begun a clinical trial of CBT for individuals at high risk of psychosis, the aim of which is to determine whether vulnerable individuals can be prevented from becoming ill.

    Subjective appraisal of neuroleptic drugs
    In recent years I have studied the subjective effects of neuroleptic drugs, the medical treatment most often given to schizophrenia patients. In addition to investigating patients' subjective appraisals of these drugs and determinants of their attitudes towards them, I am a grant holder (together with Jennie Day, David Healy and Anne Rogers) on the Neuro99 project, a clinical trial in which psychological interventions designed to influence neuroleptic adherence are being assessed.

    Chronic fatigue syndrome
    I am directing a clinical trial of a psychosocial intervention for chronic fatigue syndrome, which has been funded by the Lindbury Trust. This study, which has promising early results, is approaching completion.

    Equivalence learning
    My only non-clinical research interest is equivalence learning, a type of symbollic learning which appears to be restricted to the human species. The relationship between equivalence learning and language acquisition remains controversial. Together with David Dickins at the University of Liverpool, I have conducted behavioural experiments designed to explore this issue. Recently, with Krish Singh and Neil Roberts at Liverpool, we have conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of equivalence learning.

    My research does not, as a rule, involve the use of complex equipment, and most data collection occurs out in the field (ie. psychiatric patients assessed at home, in clinics or on wards). However, I have recently become involved in functional neuroimaging research with collaborators in Liverpool and at the Institute of Psychiatry in London.


    • PS2902(B) - Psychopathology
    • PS1572 - Introduction to Abnormal Psychology
    • PS3350 - Psychosis


    I obtained my BSc in Psychology at University College of North Wales Bangor, where I also obtained a PhD in experimental psychology in 1983. I qualified in clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool in 1984 and obtained a MA in philosophy applied to health care from University College Swansea in 1989. After briefly working as a forensic clinical psychologist in the NHS, I was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Liverpool in 1986, eventually becoming Professor of Clinical Psychology in 1994. I was appointed Professor of Experimental Clinical Psychology at the University of Manchester in 1999. I am a fellow of the British Psychological Society.

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