A gauntlet-throwing assessment of the culture of therapy.
Sommers has made a career out of slaying sacred cows, trashing second-wave feminism, and arguing that boys get the short end of the stick in American schools and society (Who Stole Feminism? 1994; The War Against Boys, 2000). Part of her and Satel’s take now on the culture of therapy is historical. If “therapism”—a phrase the authors borrow from British satirist Fay Weldon—gained ascendancy in the age of tell-all talk shows, it still isn’t wholly new, with roots lying in the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. But the heart of Sommers and Satel’s approach is a scathing assessment of contemporary life. The authors scrutinize everything from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to grief counseling. Americans, they claim, now cast everything in therapeutic terms, unwilling even to describe serial murderers as evil, but chalking up their heinous deeds to a generic version of “battered-child syndrome.” Addicts avoid personal responsibility for drinking or shooting up by characterizing addiction as a disease. Sommers and Satel are especially concerned about therapy’s effects on children. Indeed, their examples of its invasion of childhood can be breathtaking: that Girl Scouts can now earn a “Stress Less” badge by burning aromatic candles and practicing meditative breathing, or that numerous schools have discouraged dodgeball because throwing a ball at a child might make him feel besieged. Sommers and Satel contend that this pandering to children’s feelings “pathologizes healthy young people” and is good neither for kids nor society. The authors, though, are long on critique and short on suggestions for change: they advocate reticence instead of wholesale openness and sharing, and urge parents to demand more homework—and the return of dodgeball. But readers are likely to wish for a chapter or two of more concrete proposals.
Neither wholly original (the authors cite Wendy Kaminer) nor wholly surprising, yet certain to spark reflection and conversation.