Gail A. Hornstein is Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts (USA). Born in Philadelphia, she did her undergraduate work at the University of Pittsburgh and earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from Clark University.
Clark’s innovative psychology department and Hornstein’s subsequent postdoctoral fellowship in Personality and Social Structure at the University of California, Berkeley defined the focus of her whole career – understanding how individual psychology shapes and is shaped by the social worlds in which we live.
Hornstein’s articles, interviews and opinion pieces on a range of topics in personality and social psychology have appeared in many scholarly and popular publications. In recent years, her research has centered on the history and practices of psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. Her widely-reviewed biography To Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann – called “dazzling and provocative” by Publisher’s Weekly – tells the story of a pioneering psychiatrist who dedicated her life to doing intensive psychotherapy with the most disturbed patients.
“One goal of that book,” Hornstein said in an interview, “was to show that despite the spread of medication and electroshock as the primary treatments in American psychiatry, psychotherapy has long had powerful results with even the most seriously distressed people.”
Unlike most scholars who study mental illness, Hornstein has always been as interested in the insights of those with first-hand experience as in doctors’ theories. Her Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness in English (now in its 5th edition) lists more than 1,000 books by people who have written about madness from their own experience; it is used by researchers, clinicians, educators, and peer groups around the world.
Hornstein’s most recent book, Agnes's Jacket: A Psychologist's Search for the Meanings of Madness, shows how the insights of people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, personality disorder, and paranoia force us to reconceive fundamental assumptions about madness, treatment, and mental life. From Agnes Richter, who stitched an autobiographical text into every inch of the jacket she created in a 19th-century German asylum, to the hundreds of other patients who have managed to get their stories out, Hornstein shows how first-person accounts can help to bridge the gulf between the way medicine explains psychiatric illness and the experiences of those who suffer.
Agnes’s Jacket also documents the history, operation, and effectiveness of the Hearing Voices Network (HVN), an international collaboration of professionals, people with lived experience, and their families and supporters who have been working together for 25 years to develop an alternative approach to coping with voices, visions, and other extreme states that is empowering and useful and does not start from the assumption that such experiences are necessarily pathological. The core of HVN’s work takes place in the hundreds of peer-support groups now held each week in 30 countries across 5 continents. Countless people who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or other chronic psychiatric conditions are now living normally as a result of participating in these groups.
Hornstein speaks widely about HVN and other innovations in mental health across the US, UK, and Europe, and she founded – and for six years co-facilitated – one of the first HVN peer-support groups in the United States, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She is now co-Director (with Jacqui Dillon, Chair of HVN in England) of a major research and training project (supported by the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care) that is training dozens of new hearing voices group facilitators across the US, and conducting research to identify the key mechanisms by which this approach works.
Hornstein’s research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the National Library of Medicine, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation, and currently, by a major grant from the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care.
She is the recipient of visiting fellowships from the History of Science Department, Harvard University; the Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College; Clare Hall, Cambridge University; Magdalen College, Oxford University; the School of Advanced Study, University of London; the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Cambridge University; the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, University of London; and the School of Advanced Study, Durham University. In 2011, Hornstein was awarded the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship at Mount Holyoke, and in 2014 she received the Ally Award of the Western Massachusetts Peer Network.
The former chair of Mount Holyoke's Women's Studies Program, Hornstein was founding Director of the interdisciplinary Five College Women's Studies Research Center for its first 10 years. An avid organic gardener, she spends her free time fishing, traveling in Europe, and searching for the perfect beach. She writes and works in Holyoke, Massachusetts and London.