Americans used to be resilient. Little things didn’t get them down. What didn’t kill Americans used to make them stronger. Now if one’s feeling a little blue, it’s off to psychiatrist who prescribes one of a myriad of medications and all is well, or at least, calm. Therapism for one and all. The psychiatric industry is turning America into a bunch of whiny, self-absorbed wussies.
One in ten Americans is taking medication for psychiatric disorders.
What happened? Whose fault is this? Forget Freud, according to Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, M.D., Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are at fault. In their book One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance, they point out that Freudian psychoanalysis is just too time consuming and expensive. That’s for the rich and famous. To pull the middle class into the psychiatric treatment tent, there must be another way.
Of course 15 minute sessions and trips to the pharmacy for prozac, paxil, and who-knows-what-all turns psychiatry into a growth business. And everyone is a potential client as we are all trying to achieve the pinnacle of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ pyramid. A person requires high self-esteem to achieve maximum creative and moral development. So it is the authors’ view that Maslow and Rogers (the “Father of Self Esteem”) influenced an entire generation into believing that success in life begins with self esteem, when it’s the other way around.
Having used Maslow’s hierarchy as a framework to illustrate why the worst get to the top in politics, I have a bit more sympathy for Maslow than Hoff Summers and Dr. Satel have. But even they admit he was a “thoroughly decent man and a cultivated, imaginative, and serious thinker.” The problem is that Maslow devotees have applied his theories in ways he regretted.
The book’s high point questions “Emotional Correctness” in chapter four. Individuals deal with loss and tragedy differently, but the psychiatric industry, like the government, seeks to force itself into people’s lives when any opportunity presents itself. Obama ex-chief of staff and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” and the grief industry springs action to throw a warm blanket around those who are mentally suffering, whether its those who lived through the Columbine High School shootings, or employees who’ve taken a beating in their 401ks.
“The commodification of grief also proceeds apace,” the author write. “There are ‘healing puppets,’ chat rooms, bereavement books, workshops, and certification programs. It is through such programs that the grief industry perpetuates itself.”
But studies show that not everyone grieves the same and that it is not “professional” counselors that provide the best support for grievers but family, friends and colleagues.
So it will be following the Connecticut school shootings.
In the wake of 9/11, nine thousand counselors raced into lower Manhattan, advocating, “intervention for any person even remotely connected to the tragedy.” One magazine called it the “National Guard of Therapists.” One New York psychiatrist believed the 9/11 attack would result in “huge increases in the prevalence of traumatic grief, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse in the New York City metropolitan area at the least…[the] psychiatric toll will be enormous.”
But it didn’t work out that way as Hoff Sommers and Satel point out. Not only wasn’t there widespread psychiatric armageddon, some people used the tragedy as a catalyst for bigger and better things: “post-traumatic growth may actually be the more common outcome,” write psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun.
When one reads that 18 veterans commit suicide each day and that more soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan killed themselves than were killed by enemy fire, you start taking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) seriously. The numbers appear to be irrefutable and provide more damning evidence that America’s policing of the world must stop.
But Satel and Hoff Sommers seem to lack a caring bedside manner for vets. They see PTSD as a political issue. Plenty of lobbying was done to make it an official mental disorder in 1980. And its wasn’t just for veterans. Football players, battered wives, and abused children could suffer from PSTD.
Most people get over their bad memories and should be encouraged to forget, not talk, talk, talk, in what the authors call the PSTD echo chamber. Yes, sometimes memories linger; “But this happens in a minority of victims; most people are not clinically traumatized by extreme events,” write Hoff Sommers and Satel.
The authors go as far as to contend that veterans “coveted the PSTD diagnosis. It bolstered their image as wounded warriors, helped them make sense of failures, and allowed them to attach meaning to pervasive feelings of demoralization, apathy, or irritability.”
The authors don’t mince words. The PSTD diagnosis has created perverse incentives. “It is an open secret that some veterans seeking ‘total and permanent’ disability payment for PSTD are not as sick as they claim to be.”
They don’t mention the outbreak of veteran suicides.
Plenty of depressed Americans have done great things. There would be no “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Raven” if Edgar Allan Poe had been on Prozac. The list of famous, accomplished, depressed people is too long to even mention. Numbing drugs would likely kill their creativity.
The authors say, using Don Imus’s words, that Americans need to “cowboy up.” Therapism can’t replace ethics, religion, and the support of family, friends, and community. Psychic pain is not a pathology that must be cured.
If your doctor is quick to want to medicate your or a loved one, and you’re not sure; or especially if the local school district wants to medicate your son for merely acting like a boy, this is a book for you to read. You are not crazy and you’re not alone.