An insider's probing look at the present state of the mental health professions. Fancher, a psychoanalyst in private...


CULTURES OF HEALING: Correcting the Image of American Mental Health Care

An insider's probing look at the present state of the mental health professions. Fancher, a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City and a professor of philosophy at New York University, asserts that most of what passes for scientific theory in mental health care is really philosophy, and not very rigorous or careful philosophy at that. In his discomfiting view, mental health care's claims to a scientific basis are false, and its recommendations are essentially moral and social programs. Consequently, we must think like social and cultural critics when evaluating them. Fancher regards schools of care as self-perpetuating cultures, each with its own beliefs and practices. After a brisk and fascinating history of how mental health care developed in America, he looks closely at four of the most important schools of healing: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, cognitive therapy, and biological psychiatry. His chapter titles reveal his take on each: ""The Faded Glory of Psychoanalysis""; ""Behaviorism's Failed Imperialism""; ""The Middlebrowland of Cognitive Therapy""; and ""Biological Psychiatry's Confusion of Tongues."" No school, he says, can claim scientific validity for most of what it teaches patients -- even the well-researched effects of psychoactive drugs, for example, don't justify drawing broad, philosophical conclusions about the biology of the mind. Fancher notes that all healing methods are equally effective in practice but that none work as well as we would like. AS a society, says Fancher, we should demand of the mental health professions truthfulness about the validity of their notions about health, sickness, and cure, as well as a greater intellectualism -- that is, a broader understanding of ethical, religious, and social issues. And we should engage the mental health professions in a conversation and examine their claims carefully. An appendix shifts the focus from society to the individual, offering advice on how to choose and evaluate a therapist. For the layperson, argot-free and persuasive; for the mental health professional, challenging, in both senses of the word.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995


Page Count: 350

Publisher: Freeman

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995