On the Trail of the Morning Star: Psychosis as Self-Discovery

In 1936, at age nineteen, Dorothea Buck followed the trail of a star along the mudflats of her North Sea home, Wangerooge Island. Hospitalized at a Christian institution called Bethel, she was sterilized under Nazi law upon a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Buck lost her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher—the sterilized could not get a college degree. Instead, she became an artist and activist. Buck, who lived to the age of 102, fought throughout her life for psychiatric reform. She created her own form of psychiatric treatment, which she called “trialogue,” in which psychosis experiencers, family, and clinicians join together to examine the experience of psychosis. Trialogue seminars still take place today.

Buck also demanded recognition of the Nazi murders of the disabled and the mentally ill. Many of these victims were psychiatric patients gassed in chambers built into six of Germany’s asylums. In 2008, Buck told an audience commemorating these murders that there must be “no second-class victims” of Nazi rule.

Biologically based psychiatry, Buck believed, would always reduce a condition like hers to something “genetically caused, meaningless, and incurable.” Like fellow German Paul Schreber’s Memoirs, Buck’s On the Trail of the Morning Star calls for a radical rethinking of what it means to live with and in psychosis. This publication is the first time one of her major writings appears in English.