Psyche on the Skin

A History of Self-harm

Sarah Chaney

Psyche on the Skin

Sarah Chaney

Distributed for Reaktion Books

288 pages | 55 halftones | 6 x 9
Cloth $30.00 ISBN: 9781780237503 Published March 2017 For sale in North and South America only
It’s a troubling phenomenon that many of us think of as a modern psychological epidemic, a symptom of extreme emotional turmoil in young people, especially young women: cutting and self-harm. But few of us know that it was 150 years ago—with the introduction of institutional asylum psychiatry—that self-mutilation was first described as a category of behavior, which psychiatrists, and later psychologists and social workers, attempted to understand. With care and focus, Psyche on the Skin tells the secret but necessary history of self-harm from the 1860s to the present, showing just how deeply entrenched this practice is in human culture.
           
Sarah Chaney looks at many different kinds of self-injurious acts, including sexual self-mutilation and hysterical malingering in the late Victorian period, self-marking religious sects, and self-mutilation and self-destruction in art, music, and popular culture. As she shows, while self-harm is a widespread phenomenon found in many different contexts, it doesn’t necessarily have any kind of universal meaning—it always has to be understood within the historical and cultural context that surrounds it. Bravely sharing her own personal experiences with self-harm and placing them within its wider history, Chaney offers a sensitive but engaging account—supported with powerful images—that challenges the misconceptions and controversies that surround this often misunderstood phenomenon. The result is crucial reading for therapists and other professionals in the field, as well as those affected by this emotive, challenging act.
 
Review Quotes
Metapsychology
“Well-written, clearly organized, and entirely intriguing. . . . Psyche on the Skin is a fascinating and impressive piece of social history and analysis. Equally illustrative and didactic, it is a compelling ‘argument against a universal model of self harm. It is also a model for how to approach other categories that have been caught up in the maw of psychiatric reductionism, certainly eating disorders, but perhaps even mood disorders like depression. For those skeptical or concerned over present day ideas about mental health and illness, including practitioners, mental health service users, social historians and philosophers of psychiatry, this is a valuable contribution.”
R. E. Osborne, Texas State University | Choice
"In Psyche on the Skin, Chaney traces the illuminating and disturbing history of self-mutilation and other forms of self-harm. . . . This work offers a fascinating look at a set of topics often as taboo to talk about as the acts themselves. It is strongly recommended for professionals likely to encounter individuals who have engaged in such acts. Highly recommended."
Anthropology Review Database
“A welcome contribution. . . . Chaney’s most powerful point may come on the final page, where she asserts that ‘if psychiatry has one major failing, it is that it tries to function outside of all the other narratives, remaining separate from other ways of understanding self-harm, or mental illness more generally.’ . . .  With rich historical materials and case studies Psyche on the Skin makes this point abundantly clear.”
Joanna Bourke, author of "The Story of Pain"
“Eloquent, awe-inspiring, and sassy. This book will captivate anyone curious about the body and pain.”
Sander L. Gilman, author of "Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery"
“A remarkable account from the pen of a young and brilliant scholar of the history and meaning of self-harm. Insightful and immensely readable.”
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