‘Searching for a Rose Garden: Challenging Psychiatry, Fostering Mad Studies’ reviewed by Lucy Goldsmith

‘Searching for a Rose Garden: Challenging Psychiatry, Fostering Mad Studies’ edited by Jasna Russo and Angela Sweeney (PCCS books, 2016). Reviewed by Lucy Goldsmith, researcher at St George’s, University of London.

“I never promised you a rose garden”: so striking was her psychiatrist’s statement about recovery in mental health that it became the title of Joanne Greenberg’s celebrated semi-autobiographical novel, published in 1964. Over fifty years later, in the introduction to this collection, the authors state “the main value of a rose garden might be our right to search for it ourselves, collectively, and regardless of anyone’s promises. That right cannot be denied to anyone labelled mad anymore” (Russo and Sweeney, 2016:5).

This book is a marvelous polyphony of voices, each of which makes a powerful contribution to the reader’s understanding of the past, present and future of mad studies, as understood by leading scholars in the area. The contributions are arranged in four sections: the first conveys why radically different approaches to psychological distress are necessary. The second focuses on survivor-produced knowledge, academic work about madness which is separate (draws on a different academic tradition) from that undertaken by clinical academics in mental health. The third contains chapters about grassroots mental health organisations in which survivors found, define, lead and control the organisation and the support given, such as Berlin’s Runaway House. The final section contains chapters about work produced in partnership, for example setting up peer work within the psychiatric system, and the survivor and allies’ perspectives of the reality of working in such collaborations.

Searching for a Rose Garden is about sharing experience in order to develop and expand the area, rather than draw conclusions, and to that end, the final section contains authors’ contributions about the most important issues for future work. These are so important I have summarised some of them here. They include:

  • “How can we create research paradigms that actually fit with our values”? (Sherry Mead)
  • How to create spaces for coproduction in which “unnecessary asymmetries in position and privilege are not only acknowledged but are also actively challenged and reversed”? (Anna Sexton)
  • What parts are censored from accounts of lived experience “because it is too painful/shameful in the mind of the teller? And can there be authentic co-production if there are those who view our stories as sickness?” (Dolly Sen)
  • “How do we honour and assert mad knowledge and share and apply it in order to challenge sanist ideology?” (Danielle Landry)
  • How can we enable a new generation of mad scholars? (Kathryn Church)
  • How can we resist co-optation of peer worker roles and instead create independent peer specialist organisations which have strong voices in the areas of human rights, living wages and meaningful work? (Celia Brown)
  • What “if we saw each other as people with many stories – rather than people with many symptoms? How does an emphasis on learning from each other revolutionise the way we think about each other in distress?” (Beth Filson)
  • As what is labelled ‘mad’ is a perfectly normal response to abuse, what would it be like if the help available focused on healing the pain from this abuse? (Renuka Bhakta)

This is a highly important book for medical humanities in many ways. The very field of mad studies often occupies the same territory as medical humanities, using approaches alternative to the medical model to understand the medical system, experiences labelled ‘symptoms’, and experiences of medical treatment. It is unusual to see such diverse work combined in one text, and the book can be understood as a powerful historical document, detailing the cutting edge of where we are now in the field of mad studies, thanks to the groundbreaking and varied contributions made in each of the chapters. The book contains useful thought-provoking text about coproduction with relevance to all areas of medical research and medical humanities; it pushes the boundaries of the field and calls for many more of us to push further. I highly recommend this book for readers interested in understanding and contributing to the rich, vibrant and deeply important field of mad studies and for researchers in the medical humanities seeking knowledge about an area in which the questions of expertise, whose expertise, and which knowledges are valued is so actively contested.


Greenberg, J. (1964). I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Austin, TX: Holt McDougal.

Reviewer Biography

Lucy Goldsmith is a researcher at St George’s, University of London, where she is currently working on a coproduced project to design, develop and test a new peer worker role in mainstream mental health services. The peer worker role is designed to enable peer workers to operate as an independent team, using grassroots peer worker values. Lucy has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a PhD in Medicine, and has previously worked on the causal role of the therapeutic alliance in talking therapies and analysed narrative accounts of experiences of hearing voices.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.