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Thursday 28th February 2019

Thursday 4th July 2019

September 2019

Thursday 28th November 2019


“Sadness, Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul. Transcending the medicalisation of sadness” is based on the research project I carried out for my PhD (University College London). I set up a study to explore the conceptualisation of deep sadness and consequent help-seeking behaviour using several qualitative methods to gather data amongst 57 practising Catholics in different religious pathways (lay theological students, priests and contemplative nuns and monks) in different parts of Spain. The research experience was very intense and fulfilling, and writing this book gave me the opportunity to provide a detailed depiction of the participants’ narratives and ways of life, to reflect on the findings and to synthesise the lessons learned along the way which could be used in mainstream psychiatric practice.

This is a truly ground breaking publication. By bringing together insights from psychiatry and spirituality Dr Glòria Durà-Vilà has provided an exceptionally helpful guidebook for all involved in helping people in situations of personal distress, sadness and trauma. Professor Bernadette Flanagan, author of “Embracing Solitude”.

Durà-Vilà’s rich ethnography of spiritual sadness is as haunting as it is beautiful.  By giving us intimate glimpses into participants' spiritual lives, this work illuminates how, for some, sadness can become a source of deep reflection, and even grace, as well as what is potentially lost when medicalization strips sadness of its resonant meanings. Deftly and sympathetically weaving together spiritual and biomedical perspectives, this is a "must-read" book for anyone interested depression, spirituality, and how institutions like religion and psychiatry shape our inner worlds. Professor Rebecca Lester, Department of Anthropology, Washington University, author of “Jesus in Our Wombs,Embodying Modernity in a Mexican Convent”.

Lucid scholarship and sensitive ethnography situated in the ecclesiastical landscape of Spain provide grist for Durà-Vilà's cultural critique of a psychiatric check-list approach to diagnosing depression devoid of context. Clearly written and engaging, the study explains strengths and limitations of medicalising and spiritualising normal sadness and pathological depression. As a timely study of challenging issues, it demonstrates the value of a cultural formulation of religious faith. The book is an important contribution to cultural psychiatry, psychological anthropology and religious thought. Professor Mitchell Weiss, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Basel.

We need a much better understanding of, and antidote to, the all-pervasive but often pointless medicalisation of human sadness and anxiety. This book engages with this problem from a fresh vantage point - that of men and women living a secluded religious life who not only make sense of psychological torment but face it head on, accommodating and transforming it as a kind of spiritual alchemy. Based on rich ethnographic research, Glòria Durà-Vilà explores the spiritual conceptualisation of human angst and loneliness with insightful compassion. In doing so, she permits us a unique and revealing account of dwindling religious communities that will stimulate anyone interested in the human condition. Professor Gerard Leavey, Director of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Ulster University.

In this substantial study, Glòria Durà-Vilà has stepped boldly into the conflict between sacred and secular understandings of sadness, and revealed it to be a remarkably interesting, important and fertile area of study. The book presents detailed and careful research which not only shines light into contemporary and traditional experiences of darkness and depression, but also into the often murky ways that religious and medical professionals think about each other. The work is certainly illuminating; it deserves to be influential. The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King's College, Cambridge, author of "Barefoot Disciple", "Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom for Ministry" and "Healing Agony".

This book deepens our understanding of the complex distinction between normal sadness and depressive disorder. Through a penetrating study of Catholic help-seekers in Spain she clearly illuminates the ways that individuals interpret their distress and take various kinds of actions to relieve it. This book makes an important contribution to knowledge not just about depression but also about the process of medicalization more generally. Professor Allan Horwitz, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University, author of “The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder”.

A balanced account of one of the most unbalanced topics in cultural psychiatry, psychiatric anthropology, and religious studies. An important study for inclusion in courses on religion and medicine, and an empirical provocation to psychiatry, anthropology and religious studies to reconsider what it means to struggle, endure, succumb, and overcome a ubiquitous form of human misery. Professor Arthur Kleinman, Department of Social Medicine, Harvard University, author of “Rethinking Psychiatry: From Cultural Category to Personal Experience”.

Glòria Durà-Vilà presents a fascinating study of cultural difference… a thought-provoking, at times plangent, account of her subjects, a striking example of how clinicians like her can use a little modest social anthropology to broaden their understanding of human suffering… Her book is not of course a plea for ‘more religion’ but it is a plea for more context, more understanding, more empathy. Professor Roland Littlewood, Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London, author of “Aliens and Alienists: Ethnic Minorities and Psychiatry”.

A novel book that tackles in a creative and original way, as well as being empirical, documented and rigorous, one of the great topics of today: the relationship between spirituality, religion and mental health in a globalised world in a state of deep transformation. This brilliant analysis highlights the differences among sadness, the Dark Night of the Soul and depressive disorders in a social frame with a strong tendency to medicalise human suffering. Professor Joseba Achotegui Loizate, Department of Psychiatry, University of Barcelona, Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association - Transcultural Psychiatry Section.


All good wishes,



Dr Gloria Dura-Vila

Senior Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Medical Lead for Behavioural and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Honorary Lecturer, Research Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London.