Books by Ethan Watters

HISTORY
Released: Jan. 1, 2010

"Mental-health professionals should pay attention, and shrewd investors in pharmaceuticals may take interest in Watters's guess as to what disorder is likely to be big in the near future."
Americans may not be any more deranged than anyone else on the planet—but, says pop social scientist Watters (Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment, 2003, etc.), we are much better at universalizing our afflictions. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: April 9, 1999

"The psychodynamic theory of the mind and the treatment methods derived from it are the quackery the mental health profession is burdened with surviving," according to this pull-no-punches assault on the current practice of psychotherapy. The prior collaboration of Watters, a freelance journalist who has written for the New York Times Magazine and elsewhere, and sociologist Ofshe (Univ. of Calif., Berkeley), Making Monsters: False Memory, Satanic Cult Abuse, and Sexual Hysteria (1994), indicted a specific area of psychotherapy; the present work is a broader attack, going to its very roots. Freud, they assert, was one of the century's great myth makers and a "shameless self-promoter who committed scientific fraud" with his claim that a dynamic unconscious controls human behavior and that therapists can tap into its secrets by talking to patients. Drawing on the work of historians, medical researchers, and other scholars, they trace the influence of Freud's ideas in 20th-century America, where by midcentury psychoanalysis had become the accepted treatment for mental illness. Citing cases to illustrate what they term the intellectual hubris of psychodynamic talk therapists, they present the fundamental errors they say these therapists share, and they analyze the process by which talk therapists and their patients unwittingly reinforce each others' mistaken belief in the therapist's wisdom and insight. While Freud is debunked and talk therapy denounced (even trounced), the real target of this sometimes strident attack is the mental health profession itself. The authors assert that because the profession fails to disseminate new scientific research or to reach consensus on acceptable standards of care, patients who could be helped by the biomedical approach will continue to be poorly served, even harmed, by an approach based on myth, not modern medicine. A forceful demand that the mental health profession reform itself—controversy is sure to follow. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

A forceful, persuasive indictment of the fad of repressed memory therapy and its attendant theories of multiple personality disorder and satanic cult abuse. Ofshe (Social Psychology/Univ. of Calif., Berkeley), a Pulitzer Prize winner for public service reporting, and Mother Jones contributor Watters document the harm done by psychotherapists who practice memory therapy. Using the writings of its practitioners, the authors examine cases to show how powerful therapeutic techniques, such as hypnosis and guided imagery, implant in patients the erroneous belief that they are uncovering repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. As memory therapy has grown, so has the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, which the authors charge is a product of such therapy. Multiple personalities are believed to be formed in response to childhood abuse, and memory therapists claim that each alter personality can produce a set of memories of that abuse. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of repressed memory therapy is the assertion by some of its leading proponents that among the abusers they have uncovered a secret international satanic cult linked to (among others) the Mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, and the CIA. Here the authors manfully resist the impulse to poke fun, but their disbelief is clear. Unsubstantiated theories are nothing new in the mental health field, but they assert that the current popularity of memory therapy is an especially serious problem. Aside from the primary victims—the patients subjected to such therapy—the authors point to the harm done to their families, who often must defend themselves in court against false accusations of abuse. Their hope is that mental health empiricists, who argue that practice should be based on scientific observation, will carry the day. Looks at some of the same cases as Elizabeth Loftus's The Myth of Repressed Memory (p. 908) but covers more ground and digs deeper. Sure to provoke angry outcries. (Author tour) Read full book review >