Elyn Saks

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Elyn Saks
Alma materVanderbilt University, Oxford University, Yale Law School, New Center for Psychoanalysis
AwardsMacArthur Fellow
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Bridgeport School of Law, University of Southern California Law School, New Center for Psychoanalysis

Elyn R. Saks is Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, an expert in mental health law and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner.[1][2] Saks lives with schizophrenia and has written about her experience with the illness in her award-winning best-selling autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold, published by Hyperion Books in 2007.[3] Saks is also a cancer survivor.

Academic background[edit]

Saks was an attorney in Connecticut and instructor at the University of Bridgeport School of Law before joining the USC Law faculty in 1989. She graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University before earning her master of letters from Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar and her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she also edited the Yale Law Journal. She holds a Ph.D. in psychoanalytic science from the New Center for Psychoanalysis. Saks is a member of Phi Beta Kappa; an affiliate member of the American Psychoanalytic Association; a board member of Mental Health Advocacy Services; and a member of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Foundation, Robert J. Stoller Foundation, and American Law Institute. Prof. Saks won both the Associate’s Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship and the Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award in 2004.[4]

Mental illness research[edit]

Saks experienced her first symptoms of mental illness at eight years old, but she had her first full-blown episode when studying as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University. Another breakdown happened while Saks was a student at Yale Law School, after which she "ended up forcibly restrained and forced to take anti-psychotic medication".[5]

Saks lives with schizophrenia and has written about her experience with the illness in her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness published by Hyperion Books in 2007.[3] Saks is also a cancer survivor. She emphasizes that "illness of any kind need not define an individual”, while remarking on the different ways that mental and physical illnesses are regarded.[6]

Saks says "there's a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life."[7] In recent years, researchers have begun talking about mental health care in the same way addiction specialists speak of recovery — the lifelong journey of self-treatment and discipline that guides substance abuse programs. The idea remains controversial: managing a severe mental illness is more complicated than simply avoiding certain behaviors.[8] Approaches include "medication (usually), therapy (often), a measure of good luck (always) — and, most of all, the inner strength to manage one's demons, if not banish them".[7] That strength can come from any number of places, these former patients say: love, forgiveness, faith in God, a lifelong friendship. Saks says "we who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives, if we have the right resources."[7]

Saks has spoken of the Mental Health America Village in Long Beach that provides best practice integrated services, giving all the needed services and support in one venue. She has also said that her former psychotherapist in England does many home visits, saving the cost of hospitalisation.[5]

On several occasions Saks has spoken to American Psychiatric Association members about being a successful professional who has had severe mental illness and her perspective on psychiatric care.[6] In June 2012, Saks gave a TED talk advocating for compassion toward people with mental illness.[9]

Saks has been researching high-functioning people with schizophrenia in Los Angeles, who suffer from "mild delusions or hallucinatory behavior". They are successful technicians, and medical, legal and business professionals. Many are studying toward college or graduate degrees.[10]


Saks in 2009 was selected as a MacArthur Foundation fellow, receiving a $500,000 "genius grant". Saks used the money to establish the Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics, which highlights one important mental health issue per academic year and is a collaborative effort between seven USC departments.[5][11][12] Saks has had a hospital ward named after her -- "The Elyn Saks Ward"—at Pelham Woods Hospital in Dorking, England.[13] She is an elected member of the American Law Institute.[13]


Saks writes mainly on legal issues and mental health, and has published four books:[13]

  • The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, ISBN 978-1-4013-0138-5
  • Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill, ISBN 978-0-226-73397-5
  • Interpreting Interpretation: The Limits of Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis, ISBN 978-0-300-07603-5
  • Jekyll on Trial: Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Law, ISBN 978-0-8147-9764-8

Saks' latest book, The Center Cannot Hold, won the Time Magazine Top Ten Nonfiction Book of the Year Award, the Books for a Better Life Inspirational Memoir Award, and has been on The New York Times Extended Best Sellers List.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Elyn Saks". Weblaw.usc.edu. 2010-10-01. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  2. ^ "Elyn Saks, Southern California Law Professor, Wins MacArthur Genius Grant". The Faculty Lounge. 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  3. ^ a b "Schizophrenia Daily News Blog: Interviews with Elyn Saks, author of "The Center Cannot Hold,"". Schizophrenia.com. 2007-08-08. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  4. ^ USC Gould School of Law (July 5, 2013). "Elyn Saks: Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences". USC Contact.
  5. ^ a b c Lori Craig (Sep 27, 2011). "Law professor, mental health patient and advocate". Spirit of the Law.
  6. ^ a b Mark Moran (June 25, 2013). "Jeste, Saks Discuss Stigma, Resilience, and Recovery From Mental Illness". Psychiatric News.
  7. ^ a b c Benedict Carey (June 23, 2011). "Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Benedict Carey (August 6, 2011). "Learning to Cope With a Mind's Taunting Voices". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness -- from the inside". TED. June 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  10. ^ Elyn Saks (January 25, 2013). "Successful and Schizophrenic". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Elyn Saks - MacArthur Foundation". Macfound.org. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  12. ^ Grohol, John M (2009-09-22). "Elyn Saks Receives MacArthur Genius Grant | World of Psychology". Psychcentral.com. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  13. ^ a b c d "Elyn Saks, J.D., Ph.D." Psychology Today.

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