A Timeline of Psychiatry in the Novels of Philip K. Dick

  • Riccardo Gramantieri
Keywords: anti-psychiatry, biological psychiatry, Philip K. Dick, psychoanalysis, science fiction


In the works of Philip K. Dick, one can identify the various moments that have characterized the progress made in psychiatry in the decades following the 1940s. According to Shorter’s classification, these phases make up the first biological psychiatry until the 1940s; psychoanalysis between the 1940s and the 1960s; anti-psychiatry in the 1960s; and the second biological psychiatry from the 1960s onward. The first and fourth phases are characterized by an explanation for mental illness through a biological paradigm, and by therapies which were initially the constraining and surgical type, and pharmacological afterwards. The psycho-analysis and anti-psychiatry parentheses are instead characterized by the “talking cure” and socio-family paradigms.

Philip Dick, an American writer famous for his science fiction novels, was an anxious person, suffering from several disorders and using amphetamines and psychotropic drugs. In his adult life, he became interested in mental distress and psychotherapies, and included futuristic transpositions of daily, post-war, American living in his science fiction works.

The aim of this article is to highlight how the different evolutionary phases of psychiatry in the United States are described in Philip K. Dick’s literary production, and to thus confirm how his science fiction work was positioned within that particular American historical context.