Charles Barber (author)

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Charles Matthew Barber
Charles Barber
EducationHarvard University, Columbia University
SubjectMental health, psychiatry, criminal justice
Notable worksComfortably Numb, Songs from the Black Chair

Charles Barber (born 1962) is an American author who writes about mental health, psychiatric, and criminal justice issues.

Education and influences[edit]

Barber attended Harvard University, where he studied with and was greatly influenced by the psychiatrist and writer Robert Coles. After attending graduate school at Columbia University, Barber worked for ten years with the homeless mentally ill in New York City. He worked in shelters at Bellevue and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and in supportive housing programs.


In 2005, Barber published Songs from the Black Chair: A Memoir of Mental Interiors, an account of his work with the homeless and also the story of his own experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine compared the book to William Styron’s Darkness Visible and Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind.[1] The title essay of Songs from the Black Chair won a 2006 Pushcart Prize, and material from the book appeared in The New York Times and on National Public Radio.[2]

In 2008, Barber published Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation, a critique of the over-use of psychiatric medications, particularly antidepressants, to treat and medicate everyday life problems. Comfortably Numb was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection,[3] and was called "a blockbuster" by Library Journal.[4] Salon wrote: "Compelling. In Comfortably Numb, Barber brings a street-smart perspective... Offers something several of the other books don't: practical, therapeutic alternatives to antidepressants.”[5]

Barber wrote pieces relating to Comfortably Numb in The Washington Post, Scientific American Mind, and The Nation. In promoting the book, he appeared on Fresh Air and national television.[6] The paperback edition of Comfortably Numb was released by Vintage Books in 2009.[7] His forthcoming book, Citizen Outlaw: One Man's Journey from Gangleader to Peacekeeper, will be published by HarperCollins.[8]

Lectures and affiliations[edit]

Barber has lectured nationally and internationally at colleges, medical schools, and mental health advocacy organizations. He is a Writer in Residence at Wesleyan University, Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, and Director of The Connection Institute for Innovative Practice, which is dedicated to the role of narrative and story-telling in recovery from behavioral health disorders.

Published works[edit]

  • Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (Softcover) (Vintage, 2009) ISBN 978-0-307-27495-3
  • Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (Hardcover) (Pantheon, 2008) ISBN 978-0-375-42399-4
  • Songs from the Black Chair (Softcover) (Bison Books, 2007) ISBN 978-0-8032-5975-1
  • Songs from the Black Chair (Hardcover) (Nebraska Press, 2005) ISBN 978-0-8032-1298-5