Author ORCID Identifier

Jonathan Sadowsky

Document Type


Publication Date



One of the most common questions we get asked as historians of psychiatry is “do you have access to patient records?” Why are people so fascinated with the psychiatric patient record? Do people assume they are or should be available? Does access to the patient record actually tell us anything new about the history of psychiatry? And if we did have them, what can, or should we do with them? In the push to both decolonize and personalize the history of psychiatry, as well as make some kind of account or reparation for past mistakes, how can we proceed in an ethical manner that respects the privacy of people in the past who never imagined their intensely personal psychiatric encounter as subject for future historians? In this paper, we want to think through some of the issues that we deal with as white historians of psychiatry especially at the intersection of privacy, ethics, and racism. We present our thoughts as a conversation, structured around questions we have posed for ourselves, and building on discussions we have had together over the past few years. We hope that they act as a catalyst for further discussion in the field.


ethics, patient records, privacy, psychiatry, racism

Publication Title

Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences


© 2023 The Authors. Journal of The History of the Behavioral Sciences published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.


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10.1002/jhbs.22260" data-hide-zero-citations="true" data-style="small_circle">

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