Descent Into Darkness: The Psychodynamics of Mental Illness: An Introduction and Illustration in the Form of a Novel
Descent Into Darkness||The Psychodynamics of Mental Illness: An Introduction and Illustration in the Form of a Novel
Author: Richard D. Chessick M.D., Ph.D.
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This book is unique because it presents a thorough coverage of the psychodynamics of mental illness in the form of a novel. The characters engage on a trip to Europe beginning in Chicago and proceed to Ankara, Berlin, Cappadocia, Hattusas, Ephesus, Pergamum, Troy, Istanbul, and Milan. The reason for the novel form is that the author feels the fullest understanding of the human psyche requires a dialogue between science and the humanities.

The basic plot of the novel is that Martin, an aging Chicago psychoanalyst, receives a grant to lead an educational tour. He centers it on Turkey in order to build on Freud's metaphor of the mind being similar to archeological layers where what is new is built on and incorporates the remnants of the past. The party of five couples, a collection of mental health professionals, academics, spouses, and others, provide living examples of the psychopathology articulated in the numerous lectures Martin delivers on the tour. So they inadvertently serve as clinical examples.

At the same time the personal internal sufferings of Martin are described, beginning with his infatuation with a patient and ending with a serious psychosomatic condition, illustrating how psychological problems can lead to the development and exacerbation of such illnesses. Woven into the dramatic stories and lectures are references to philosophers, psychiatrists, novelists, historians, playwrites, composers, artists, and ancient writers, as well as historical dissertations that illustrate the layering of one strata of human and social development upon another.

There is a discussion of training of therapists and treatment procedures, based on a profound empathy and deep concern for the mental suffering and pain that can characterize the human condition. The conclusion of the novel has a clever twist that drives the messages of the novel directly to the reader.

This is a book to read for fun and adventure, but also teaches a great deal; the author is an internationally known author, teacher, lecturer, and clinician and offers it here in an unusual and dramatic way. (462 pp.)

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