Meanings of Madness: Gail Hornstein

First Aired: 11-03-2010 -- 10 comments | Add comment
Agnes's Jacket by Gail Hornstein

Seamstress Agnes Richter was locked away in a mental asylum in the 1890s, and was so determined to have a voice that she embroidered her personal story onto the jacket she wore on the ward. What is the hidden history of people writing their own narratives of going insane? How important is it to listen to the experiences of “mentally ill” people? Is there meaning in madness?

Gail Hornstein, Mt. Holyoke College professor and author of Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness, discusses the work of the Hearing Voices Movement in the UK, peer run support communities including Freedom Center in the US, and why professionals should let patients speak for themselves.

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10 comments on “Meanings of Madness: Gail Hornstein

  1. I have an interesting story to share about voices. They didn’t happen until 6 months ago, but before that they had a story attached. The story was attached in the time period of 3 years. In the beginning, it was like I took in all information at once. The information I took in was coming in from what I would look at, and how it would be associated. It was based off a true story, where I was in trouble. I took being in trouble to far, and looked at each person. The way they became seperated was through the use of text messages. These text messages were only meant to look for an anwser. What I was doing was seperating information based off where they were located, who they were with, and any outside source of information to what that would mean. I had created my own paranoia off my own true story, it was like I could stop at any moment, but I knew there was truth to it. I eventualy found out the truth, but I had to continue from what I figured out. I noticed that my thoughts seemed away from myself. The thoughts didn’t alter my reality, but there was a form of fiction to them. I was able to attach myself, and how the mind would work to movies. I was also able to attach to a song, as if I was the person in the song. I could only use the beginning, the middle ended up changing, and the end was difficult. I never heard voices until the end. The voices in the end were directly related to what I was going through. However, it looked as if they had a seperate look at events in the past. The way I was relating information in the beginning off impulse, ended up changing based off the voice heard later. The impulse feeling to text, or to write, would then become reflective later one. I wasn’t able to see the opposite angle the voice ended up creating. I could only see the opposite angle later on but it became a part of myself. The voice had a meaning against me, but oppositely looking at my own actions. I ended up storing more information from the voices. The thoughts continued to go in order, by storing more from the voices. The feelings that I was having, just by doing something in the beginning, became and actual feeling placed on me later. I had a feeling of being a vampire cause I could twist the words around. The words would appear as if I had an understanding of them working together. The end I ended up having 3 seperate types of people. As I would communicate with them it would initiate me getting closer and closer to them. When I communicated with them by getting closer, it was as if I was seducing them. It could be a 6 hour conversation if needed, but it would change the feeling I would have in my head, as I woudl do that. Its as if they were only impressions in my mind from teh beginning of the story. The beginning of the story looked at it from the bottom to the top. Taking individual people into my mind. It then flipped the whole argument completely around. What I was forming in the beginning had reason in the end. Its an interesting story, nearly as if its only psychological trauma.

  2. Heya! Am I so glad I stumbled across this site and radio station. I am Bi-polar and have had a recent ‘episode’. I am aware the way I have been acting and the things I did would be construed as being mad and I was acting odd and irrational, but I was desperately trying to find answers, I just wasn’t quite sure what the questions were. But I saw things and did things that were out of this world, how was I supposed to know how to deal with that?? I just had to keep it in my mind that all is well, and good will preside over evil (quite unlike the media representation of the world which promotes and perpetuates fear, hatred and paranoia). Although there were difficult parts of this experience, at times I was at one with the world and found amazing inner peace. Now my parents, psychiatrists, the drugs etc, are trying to convince me this was not a spiritual experience and it is best to ‘forget about it’, but it has only made me keen to address why these things were happening, specifically why they have happened to me. It’s difficult on my own. Will touches on spirituality and I was wondering of anyone could recommend some more reading on links between mental health and spirituality.

    1. In addition to the many resources on this site, check out forums community, I’m sure many people there will have ideas. Paul Levys work at Awakening The Dream is also worth exploring, as is Daniel Smith’s book on voices. Good luck — Will

      1. Hi James,

        I am very interested in your comments, I think I almost understand what you mean ;0) Could you please read my post below and let me know if you know where I can look for more information.

        Hope you are keeping well,

        Siobhán x.

        1. Mine is ‘Spirituality and Mental Health’ x.

  3. Gail Hornstein is the most dynamic and perceptive psychologist I have ever heard speak, and I say this as one who has gone through the academic gauntlet up to but not completely through the doctoral level at a prestigious university in Nevada. Nowhere have I heard such clarity and compassion from a “professional”. She is willing to challenge the rigidity of psychology & psychiatry by going directly to the subjective experience of troubled people, in an attitude of openmindedness that is so rare as to be almost non-existent in the field. This interview should be mandatory listening for every single person who intends to become a psychologist or psychiatrist.

    What was said here no doubt gives hope to many, who have waited years to hear. Thank you Ms. Hornstein for who you are, and your work, and also to Madness Radio for the exceptional coverage of such topics.

    Also, the interviewer (Will?) speaks eloquently and with a depth that goes far beyond what ordinary hosts achieve.

  4. Thanks, for another great show, I wanted to comment on the recent episode, where it was mentioned that because meaningful patterns were seen in license plates, that this caused a person anxiety/paranoia, for me, this same awareness of seeing deeper patterns, in what some people assume to be randomness, can inspire great joy. I am glad that you are working to help people change there perspective, and help others, perhaps triggering greater and greater spheres of healing and transformation.
    I think that, we have been programmed by society and culture to be afraid, we need to undo this programming, so that we may enjoy, a bigger more joyful perspective. And we have to learn to decide what parts of the social-cultural inheritance, that we have received, is actually in our best interest, and those that are not. This takes work, to dismantle, because letting go of these internalized aspects, feels like we are giving up something, we have been carrying for so long.
    From my own experience, regarding difficult states, the most difficult phase of the process, is the nature of our survival instinct/ego to react/interpret our own experience, through past programming, which seems to be a combination of past trauma and self doubt projected onto ones own experience, in such a way that we are in fact just reacting to our own shadow. By looking at the experience of madness, and seeing it from this different perspective, the fears associated with “madness” can be liberated. For me it has been a journey of learning to trust, that there was a greater intelligence at work in our lives, and that if we relax, rather than fight, beautiful insights await our discovery ~ James

    1. well said, James!

  5. Once again I am struck by the level of empathy on this topic of Professor Hornstein and something else that always catches my notice about these podcasts: it is the equal relating and dialogue between Gail and you, Will. That may not seem like much to comment for by the non psychiatrized but to the psychiatrized, who have been locked into power struggles, it is quite noteworthy. Keep up the great work towards change. Though your life may not have turned out as you had envisioned it Will, the world is a better place because you and Gail are in it.

    Note: Gail’s Book Agnes’s Jacket is available in my local public library. Those who know me in Ontario know where that is. It is well worth the read.

  6. I wish to complement Dr. Hornstein on doing work that is truly patient centered vs. disease centered.
    I practice what I call ‘spiritual communication.’ It is a distant cousin to telepathy and it is communication with divine beings. I’ve often asked myself am I hearing voices? No, in the sense as hearing a person through the telephone. But it is a voice in the sense of a thought that did not originate in my own mind. And for most of the communication is in picture form and my brain translates it into words/thoughts


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