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Postmodernist Psychobabble: The Recovery Movement for Individual Self-Esteem in Mental Health Since World War II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2011

Hamilton Cravens
Affiliation:
Iowa State University

Extract

By the middle 1990s the recovery movement for personal self-esteem and, thus, mental health for the individual, had reached a new level of penetration into American culture. Many commentators and interpreters of contemporary affairs judged the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, a potential recruit. As the archetypical adult child of an alcoholic parent—the product of a dysfunctional family if there ever was one, according to the movement's clerics-Clinton seemed lacking in selfesteem. His painful childhood was the culprit. And recovery was the solution. In a word, he was too anxious to please his critics—the classic trademark of the adult child of an alcoholic parent. Contemporary therapists taught that such persons were placaters of their critics because of the emotional abuse that their parents had inflicted on them, often for no apparent reason. The damaged child, regardless of his or her chronological age, could not, without appropriate therapy and personal “recovery,” ever get over such incidents, which were seared into their psychological and neurophysiological apparatus.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 1997

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References

Notes

1. On the recovery movement, see Kaminer, Wendy, I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions (Reading, Mass., 1992)Google Scholar. I would like to thank Professors M. Susan Lindee and Charles E. Rosenberg of the History and Sociology of Science Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Professors Michael Dietrich and James R. Griesemer, of the History and Philosophy of Science Program, University of California, Davis, for inviting me to give early (and crude) versions of this paper and for their hospitality. I would also like to acknowledge, with gratitude, the constructive criticisms and questions that they and their students so graciously offered me.

2. John Bradshaw is the current guru of the inner-child ideology. See, for example, his Healing the Shame That Binds You (Deerfield Beach, Fla., 1988).Google Scholar

3. Verhovek, Sam Howe, “In Texas, Pistol Packers Must Know Psychology,” New York Times, November 8, 1995, A1, C23.Google Scholar

4. On Alcoholics Anonymous, see, for example, Anonymous, Alcoholics, The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (San Francisco, 1987).Google Scholar

5. See Marcus, Alan I and Segal, Howard P, Technology in America: A Brief History (San Diego, 1989)Google Scholar, for a highly creative interpretation of American culture as being constituted of different epoches or eras, each with its own sense of the order of things.

6. Much of the subsequent discussion is based on Hunt, J. McVicker, Intelligence and Experience (New York, 1960)Google ScholarPubMed, and on my Before Head Start: The Iowa Station and America's Children (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1993).Google Scholar

7. Lasch, Christopher, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (New York, 1977).Google Scholar

8. See my “Behaviorism Revisited: Developmental Science, the Maturation Theory, and the Biological Basis of the Human Mind, 1920s-1950s,” in Benson, Keith R., Maienschein, Jane, and Rainger, Ronald, eds., The Expansion of American Biology (New Brunswick, N.J., 1991), 133–63.Google Scholar

9. Fass, Paula S., The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s, (New York, 1977).Google Scholar

10. See, for example, Gilbert, James B., A Cycle of Outrage: America's Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s (New York, 1986)Google Scholar; Graebner, William S., The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s (Boston, 1991)Google Scholar; Graebner, , The Engineering of Consent: Democracy and Authority in Twendeth-Century America (Madison, Wis., 1987)Google Scholar; Graebner, , Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era (Philadelphia, 1990).Google Scholar

11. See, for example, the contrast between Wittke, Carl, We Who Built America? The Saga of the Immigrant (New York, 1939)Google Scholar, and Handlin, Oscar, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migration That Made the American People (Boston, 1951).Google Scholar

12. Cravens, Before Head Start, 151–261; Gould, S. J., The Mismeasure of Man (New York, 1981).Google Scholar

13. Herrnstein, Richard J. and Murray, Charles, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York, 1994)Google Scholar; Fraser, Steven, The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America (New York, 1995).Google Scholar

14. Lazar, Irving and Darlington, Richard et al. , Lasting Effects of Early Education: A Report from the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 47, nos. 2–3 (Chicago, 1982).Google Scholar

15. Birch, H. G., “Sources of Order in Maternal Behavior of Animals,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 26 (1956): 279–84.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

16. Dennis, Wayne, “Causes of Retardation Among Institutional Children,” Journal of Genetic Psychology 96 (1960): 4759.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

17. In general on these points, see Hunt, Intelligence and Experience, 35–363; Koehler, Wolfgang, The Mentality of Apes (New York, 1925)Google Scholar; Harlow, Harry, “The Formation of Learning Sets,” Psychological Review 56 (1949): 5165CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Hebb, D. O., The Organization of Behavior (New York, 1949)Google Scholar; Osgood, C. E., Method and Theory in Experimental Psychology (New York, 1953)Google Scholar; Newell, A., Shaw, J. L., and Simon, H. A., “Elements of a Theory of Human Problem-Solving,” Psychological Review 65 (1958): 151–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18. Penfield, Wilder, “Memory Mechanisms,” American Medical Association Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 67 (1951): 178–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Harris, Thomas, I'm O.K., You're O.K. (New York, 1969 [1967]), 1178.Google Scholar

19. Burnham, John C., “Psychoanalysis in American Civilization Before 1918” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1958).Google Scholar

20. Sears, Robert R., Survey of Objective Studies of Psychoanalytic Concepts: Committee on Social Adjustment, Bulletin no. 51, Social Science Research Council, New York, 1943Google Scholar; Cravens, Before Head Start, 237–38.

21. Berne, Eric, Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships (New York, 1991 [1971]).Google Scholar

22. As cited in Harris, I'm O.K., You're O.K., 34–35.

23. See Bradshaw, Healing the Shame That Binds You.

24. Deming, W. Edwards, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, Mass., 1989 [1982]).Google Scholar

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