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Windhorse Talks: Dr. Gail Hornstein

Recently, Windhorse had the honor of welcoming Gail Hornstein to join us for a conversation about the life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, the pioneering psychiatrist who dedicated her life to doing intensive psychotherapy with the most disturbed patients, and was an important influence on Edward Podvoll, founder of Windhorse. Gail Hornstein is Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College, and the author of the widely-reviewed biography To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. “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.”


A recurring theme of Hornstein’s presentation was Fromm-Reichmann’s intense focus on “the hidden wellness within the patient.” This attunement allowed her to “bring forth the parts of someone focused on clarity and recovery.” In her quest to find the “healthy part” of her patients, most of whom had been on locked wards for years, Fromm-Reichmann would take them to lunch or a concert in order to bring alive that part of them that could still appreciate and respond to both the great and small pleasures of life. It is easy to see how her thinking informed Podvoll and his belief in the enormous potential for healing that exists within the context of a basic attendance shift, for on any given day, Windhorse staff and clients can be found spending time together by sharing a meal, going to the library, or visiting a museum.

Hornstein is also the author of Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness, which 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. This book is another incredible resource and would surely be applauded by Fromm-Reichmann, who encouraged her staff to read personal accounts of madness by survivors themselves to obtain the deep insights they offer. On Hornstein’s website, you can download a free version of her Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness in English (5th edition). We strongly recommend reading both texts if you want to obtain a wealth of insights yourself.

Hornstein’s presentation was illuminating and inspiring. Her expert knowledge, deep understanding, and talent for story-telling allowed her to render for us such a clear and intimate portrayal of Fromm-Reichmann that at times it felt like the great psychiatrist herself was in the room. Had she actually been in the room, we are sure she would have been smiling and nodding her head in approval as Hornstein spoke, overjoyed to know her legacy was being passed down through such an apt and deft channel. Please follow this link to Hornstein’s website, where you can find her Bibliography and order her books. http://www.gailhornstein.com/index.htm