Richardson Seminar: “The Great Pretender: the undercover mission that changed our understanding of madness”, by Susannah Cahalan

On Wednesday, May 20th, author Susannah Cahalan will be speaking at the Richardson Seminar about her recent book, The Great Pretender. Cahalan is the bestselling author of Brain on Fire, a memoir about her experience with autoimmune encephalitis, and the difficulties in diagnosis that threatened to hamper her care. In The Great Pretender, Cahalan interrogates the work of Dr. David Rosenhan, the Stanford professor whose 1973 article, “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” cast doubt on the capacity of psychiatrists to distinguish the sane from the insane, rattling the profession. In conducting research for this book, Cahalan examined the professor’s personal notes on the experiment and interviewed individuals involved in the work, and found herself confronted with a new specter of doubt. The work underlying Rosenhan’s famous article was not as rigorous as the professor advertised, casting doubt on the scientific validity of his findings. Uncomfortable questions follow. What does it mean if the great debunker of psychiatry was himself something of a “pretender”?

The Zoom lecture of Cahalan will take place at 2pm Eastern Time. Contact Dr. Megan Wolff at to attend the lecture.

If you missed an earlier seminar conducted this spring or would like to share it with a colleague, you can access the video archive at

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