Brief Book Review: Crazy All the Time: Life Lessons and Insanity on the Psych Ward of Bellevue Hospital

RfG Newsletter, Volume 4, Number 1, Fall 1994

Crazy All the Time: Life Lessons and Insanity on the Psych Ward of Bellevue Hospital
Frederick L. Covan, with Carol Kahn
Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994

This wonderful book, written to appeal to both a professional and a lay audience, takes the reader into three intersecting worlds of craziness–patients, therapists, and mental health institutions. The author, formerly the Chief Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry of New York City’s famous–or infamous– Bellevue Hospital has written a barely fictional autobiography in which he attempts (mostly successfully) to guide the treatment process of the lurid cases encountered by the psychology interns he supervises. Although the author emerges in the book as an unflappable veteran, compassionate mentor, and wearied, barely willing administrator, and the cases are indeed colorful, our main focus goes to the interns as they struggle to discard the attitudes fostered by their upbringing and formal education in order to adapt both to the reality of the psych ward and the thought processes of their patients.

The major underlying lesson I discern in the book is that the effective clinician draws fully on his/her resourcefulness, flexibility, and courage; technical skill and theoretical knowledge are far less valuable than the creative and present-centered use of Self. This is a view that I heartily agree with and which informs my use of improvisation for clinical training and practice. Fred Covan has produced a vivid and persuasive anecdotal vision of this viewpoint; I stongly recommend this book to mental health students, therapists and clinicial supervisers.