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Constructing The Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History Of Psychotherapy Paperback – October 1, 1996


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this unsettling study, historian and psychotherapist Cushman maintains that each epoch produces a distinct configuration of the self?the "nondeep, horizontal, inclusive" self of the ancient Greeks; the communal self of the Hebrews, a partner with God; the crusading medieval Christian self, container for the immortal soul; etc. In modern times, the "empty self," marked by a pervasive sense of personal hollowness, is committed to self-liberation through consumption. Cushman, who teaches at the California School of Professional Psychiatry and the Saybrook Institute, argues that psychotherapy, permeated by the ethos of self-contained individualism, unknowingly reinforces the isolated, status quo-oriented empty self. After reviewing the theories of Freud, Jung, Harry Stack Sullivan, Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott, he urges therapists to acknowledge the importance of moral discourse with the patient and to adopt a perspective that recognizes the individual's links to society. This dense yet rewarding study delves into mental asylums, maladies of Victorian women, African American minstrel shows, mesmerism and advertising campaigns.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Taking complementary approaches, these two authors examine the interrelationship of psychology and American culture and come to different conclusions to explain psychology's preeminent role in American life today. A psychotherapist and a teacher at the California School of Professional Psychology and at Saybrook Institute, Cushman shows how psychotherapy developed here and how it influenced the way Americans view themselves. Herman (social studies, Harvard) accounts for the unacknowledged role of behavioral scientists in shaping political and social policy in the United States over the last 50 years. In a series of related studies, covering such diverse areas as minstrel shows, mesmerism, psychoanalysis, comic strips, and advertising campaigns, Cushman examines the evolving concept of the individual in the United States and Western European society. Demonstrating that each era defines its concept of the self, Cushman contends that psychotherapy supports the individualism characteristic of 20th-century Americans: an "empty self," alienated from society and preoccupied with fulfillment through consumption. Herman surveys the role of behavioral science in shaping U.S. public and foreign policy beyond World War II. Academics and clinicians, mobilized to assist the war effort, conducted research on human behavior. After the war, these experts continued their research, advising politicians on matters relating to domestic and foreign policy including Project Camelot, race relations, the Kerner Commission on urban riots, and democratic movements in foreign countries. Clinical psychologists guided the transition from military to civilian life, shifting psychology's focus in the public mind from treatment of mental illness to promotion of mental health. Both books are recommended for academic and large public libraries where there is a focus on the history of ideas, psychology, and American culture.?Lucille Boone, San Jose P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201441926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201441925
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Richard O'Connor on August 10, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book looks at American cultural history since the Civil War through the prism of historical changes in the field of psychotherapy--and at the same time puts psychotherapy in a historical context. It's simply the best cultural history of the US I've ever read. It traces the threads--primarily unbridled capitalism, rugged individualism, and the decline of the family and community--that have left us with the "empty self" which so many suffer from today. That is, a self that is depressed, anxious, psychosomatic, addicted--desperate to be filled up, by consumer goods, by peak experiences, by celebrity, by psychotherapy--without recognizing how much of our suffering comes from social change.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jimi Jr on August 12, 2002
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This is a fun and informative description of how history and psychology have influenced each other, resulting in a sense of self that shapes and is shaped by our culture. Many psychological approaches end up in navel gazing introversion. Cushman dispenses with these and paints a clear picture of history and psychology dancing together in an embrace that allows the self to be both a cultural artifact and a culture shaper. Ideas can change the world and Cushman's book is full of ideas that have changed history, for better or for worse. The combination of academic rigor, interesting anecdotal evidence and plain funny material are rare in a single volume. If you are tired of the standard psychological introspection, try this one for a refreshing perspective on the dynamics of history, culture and the self.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Secret Squirrel on March 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
A fascinating, entertaining book. I cannot recommend Cushman highly enough! It is truly disappointing that book has been overlooked by the discipline of psychology. However, the reasons it has been are obvious once you read it. Cushman details how psychology ignores its basic assumptions (e.g., about the self, the nature of understanding) and consequently perpetuates the problems it seeks to allieviate. This is a central point -- psychology is elevating a notion of self (i.e., the empty self) that is only filled by psychotherapy, not "cured". For those who are willing to reflect on how the profession is influenced by moral presuppositions, and political and economic factors - this is a must read. Moreover - Cushman offers solutions. For those who know of this book -- it is a hidden classic.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By david_tripp@antiochla.edu on November 5, 1998
Format: Paperback
I use this book as part of my "Politics of Psychology" course at Antioch University Los Angeles. Cushman provides a wonderfully idiosyncratic reading of the development of the discipline and practice of Psychology in the United States. Using a social constructionist lens he presents a strong argument intent on demonstrating the various ways in which economic, political and cultural concerns gave shape to the contemporary practice of psychology. Cushman's work is puncuated with interesting stories told in his warm and enriching style, but it also provides careful argument and analysis along the way.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TJ on September 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Constructing the Self, Constructing America is an excellent expose on the formation of modern psychotherapy. Cushman situates modern psychotherapy in its larger social-cultural history in order to show that 1. Psychotherapy is an evolving cultural artifact. As such, modern psychotherapy is far from being the platonic form of mind-science which many of its practitioners wish it to be. 2. Cushman argues that psychotherapy's view of the self, disease and healing has produced an "empty self" which has intensified the problems that psychotherapy has sought to solve. 3. Cushman believes that psychotherapy has inadvertently helped produce the consumerism (with all of is problems) one sees at the beginning of the 21st century. The book is easy to read. Cushman's sketches of people and movements keep the book interesting.
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