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The Cure of Folly: A Psychiatrist’s Cautionary Tale

by Gordon Warme

With his book The Cure of Folly, University of Toronto psychiatry professor Gordon Warme attempts to recast the practice of psychiatry as “soul care,” an idea close to its roots, rather than a dubious science legitimizing “a tyrannical demand for conformity,” as he claims it has become. While his arguments are compelling and convincing, the book ultimately falls victim to the very psychiatric excesses Warme is criticizing.

The Cure of Folly uses an ongoing psychiatric seminar at Toronto’s Clarke Institute as its organizing motif. Every week, a group of students gather to observe Warme analyze a series of patients. Each session in the book leads into an exploration of psychiatry that fully embraces mystery and magic, ritual and mythology, and literature and art, while scorning quick diagnoses and pharmaceutical cures.

Warme is clearly a thinker, rather than a scientist, and the text is rich in overtones not only of classical psychiatric theorists Freud and Jung, but also of such theological and mythological thinkers as Joseph Campbell and Thomas Moore and the psychological insights of Homer, Shakespeare, and Thomas Mann. Warme delights in human peculiarity and complexity as revealed through the “cultural ritual of psychoanalysis.”

Unfortunately, too much of the book reads like an extended (self-) analysis session for Warme. Lengthy autobiographical sections seem provided solely to reveal, repeatedly, the mistakes that Warme made earlier in his career (in following psychiatric treatment trends), and how much smarter he is now. This egocentrism extends to his students and colleagues. Warme clearly thinks of himself as a guru, a role model, virtually a celebrity, to the participants in the “highbrow theatre” of these seminars, and his constant tone of superiority quickly becomes tiring.

Clearly Warme is a believer (as he thinks all psychiatric professionals should be) in the maxim “know thyself.” Unfortunately, his unflagging admiration of himself obscures his revelatory and important arguments and theories.