CONSTRUCTING THE SELF, CONSTRUCTING AMERICA by Philip Cushman

CONSTRUCTING THE SELF, CONSTRUCTING AMERICA

A Cultural History of Psychotherapy
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A scholarly, demanding work--aptly described by its author as a ``strange, unorthodox book''--that examines the complex interaction between psychotherapy and culture by placing American psychotherapy within the context of the nation's larger history. Cushman (History/California School of Professional Psychology), a psychotherapist in private practice in northern California, sees American psychotherapy as a cultural artifact rather than a universal truth. To understand it, he looks closely at its historical antecedents, economic components, and political consequences, examining the 19th-century world into which psychotherapy was born and then showing how it has developed since 1900. The asylum movement, Freud's theories of the unconscious, mesmerism, and the interpersonal psychiatry of Harry Stack Sullivan are all covered. However, Cushman pays closest attention to the theories of Melanie Klein, asserting that her ideas about the inborn psychic structure of the self paved the way for new psychoanalytic theories emphasizing self-development and freedom that conformed to the social trends of the second half of the 20th century. The author argues that the post-World War II era has been marked by a pervasive sense of personal emptiness and a commitment to self-liberation through consumerism. While psychotherapy's role is to treat the unhappy effects of this emptiness, Cushman believes that its philosophy of individualism and emphasis on the self have in fact reinforced consumerism. The task now, he says, is to replace this solipsistic configuration with a new, socially cooperative and morally superior one, and he urges psychotherapists to become actively involved in this process. To promote the necessary dialogue, Cushman includes an appendix describing some of the many alternative configurations of the self that have existed during the past 2,500 years of Western civilization. A deeply moral work that engages, informs, and persuades- -recommended to anyone concerned about the evolving American psyche.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-201-62643-8
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995