Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis

Falling Into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis


By (author) Christine Montross

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  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • Format: Hardback | 239 pages
  • Dimensions: 152mm x 231mm x 25mm | 363g
  • Publication date: 1 August 2013
  • ISBN 10: 1594203938
  • ISBN 13: 9781594203930
  • Edition: 1
  • Sales rank: 348,953

Product description

"Falling Into the Fire "is psychiatrist Christine Montross's thoughtful investigation of the gripping patient encounters that have challenged and deepened her practice. The majority of the patients Montross treats in "Falling Into the Fire" are seen in the locked inpatient wards of a psychiatric hospital; all are in moments of profound crisis. We meet a young woman who habitually commits self-injury, having ingested light bulbs, a box of nails, and a steak knife, among other objects. Her repeated visits to the hospital incite the frustration of the staff, leading Montross to examine how emotion can interfere with proper care. A recent college graduate, dressed in a tunic and declaring that love emanates from everything around him, is brought to the ER by his concerned girlfriend. Is it ecstasy or psychosis? What legal ability do doctors have to hospitalize--and sometimes medicate--a patient against his will? A new mother is admitted with incessant visions of harming her child. Is she psychotic and a danger or does she suffer from obsessive thoughts? Her course of treatment--and her child's future--depends upon whether she receives the correct diagnosis. Each case study presents its own line of inquiry, leading Montross to seek relevant psychiatric knowledge from diverse sources. A doctor of uncommon curiosity and compassion, Montross discovers lessons in medieval dancing plagues, in leading forensic and neurological research, and in moments from her own life. Beautifully written, deeply felt, "Falling Into the Fire" brings us inside the doctor's mind, illuminating the grave human costs of mental illness as well as the challenges of diagnosis and treatment. Throughout, Montross confronts the larger question of psychiatry: What is to be done when a patient's experiences cannot be accounted for, or helped, by what contemporary medicine knows about the brain? When all else fails, Montross finds, what remains is the capacity to abide, to sit with the desperate in their darkest moments. At once rigorous and meditative, "Falling Into the Fire" is an intimate portrait of psychiatry, allowing the reader to witness the humanity of the practice and the enduring mysteries of the mind

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Author information

Dr. Christine Montross is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, and Co-director of the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Scholarly Concentration at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She is also a practicing inpatient psychiatrist. Dr. Montross's previous book, "Body of Work," was named an Editors' Choice by "The New York Times" and one of "The Washington Post"'s best nonfiction books of 2007. She and her partner, the playwright Deborah Salem Smith, live in Rhode Island with their two young children.

Review quote

Pauline W. Chen, M.D., "The New York Times" "Thought-provoking...Dr. Montross, an award-winning poet before attending medical school, is passionate about her work and her patients' plight...She addresses these issues with intelligence; and by deftly intertwining her patients' stories with historical facts, current research and ethical quandaries, she presents a moving and nuanced picture of the psychiatric patient and doctor relationship, and a riveting and thought-provoking look at mental health care." "Los Angeles Times" "Thoughtful and deeply compassionate...["Falling Into the Fire"] is a fluid meditation on the limits of medicine and how Montross learned to care for 'people nearly all of whom are in profound moments of crisis.'...This is not a doctor puzzling clues together like some real-world Dr. House; this is a doctor struggling to sit with the uncomfortable questions that arise when medicine doesn't have any answers." "The New Yorker" "Montross explores the practical, emotional, and philosophical challenges of working with patients whose illnesses of the mind are often intractable and deeply disturbing." "The Washington Post" "["Falling Into the Fire"] draws a troubling but illuminating picture of what it's like to be locked into unrelenting emotional and mental chaos...Montross does want to illustrate the 'messy, unsatisfying, nonconforming human mind, ' but this is also her story--and the story of all those whose mission it is to comprehend and treat these perplexing illnesses...Montross inserts herself, along with her partner and two children, into the book, with powerful effect. Parenting and caring for patients have quite a bit in common, she explains, including love, frustration, ineptitude--and of course fear...Other details of Montross's full and joyous family life serve to accentuate the humanity she brings to her work." "Providence Journal" "Writing with elegance and a sharp-eyed for detail a no