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Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche Paperback – March 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If you thought McDonald's and strip malls were the ugliest of America's cultural exports, think again. Western ideas about mental illness-from anorexia to post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, general anxiety and clinical depression-as well as Western treatments have been sweeping the globe with alarming speed, argues journalist Watters (Urban Tribes), and are doing far more damage than Big Macs and the Gap. In this well-traveled, deeply reported book, Watters takes readers from Hong Kong to Zanzibar, to Tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka, to illustrate how distinctly American psychological disorders have played in far-off locales, and how Western treatments, from experimental, unproven drugs to talk therapy, have clashed with local customs, understandings and religions. While the book emphasizes anthropological findings at the occasional expense of medical context, and at times skitters into a broad indictment of drug companies and Western science, Watters builds a powerful case. He argues convincingly that cultural differences belie any sort of western template for diagnosing and treating mental illness, and that the rapid spread of American culture threatens our very understanding of the human mind: "We should worry about the loss of diversity in the world's differing conceptions of treatments for mental illness in the same way we worry about the loss of biodiversity in nature."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

During the last quarter-century, America’s cultural influence on foreign countries has become all too visible, with a McDonald’s opening on Tiananmen Square and remote African tribes sporting jeans and T-shirts. Perhaps less obvious, but no less worrisome, is the American exportation of mental illness documented in this unsettling expose by the coauthor of the recovered-memory critique, Making Monsters (1996). Watters emphasizes that different cultures have long had their idiosyncratic ways of handling stress that don’t necessarily conform to descriptions provided by the American Psychological Association (APA). Yet, because the APA’s treatment guidelines are increasingly being subscribed to and Western medicine’s recommended drugs prescribed by other countries’ health-care workers, such illnesses as anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are appearing in cultures previously unfamiliar with them. In making his case, Watters provides four carefully dissected case studies, those of anorexia in Hong Kong, PTSD in Sri Lanka, schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and depression in Japan. Ultimately, Watters argues, the loss of cultural diversity consequent upon this peculiar form of Americanization will be keenly felt. --Carl Hays --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416587098
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416587095
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ethan Watters is the author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. Before that he authored Urban Tribes, an examination of the mores of affluent "never marrieds" and coauthored Making Monsters, a groundbreaking indictment of the recovered memory movement. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Discover, Men's Journal, Details, Wired, and PRI's This American Life, he has appeared on such national media as Good Morning America, Talk of the Nation, and CNN. He is a co-founder of the San Francisco Writers' Grotto, a cooperative writing workspace in San Francisco.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Karen Franklin on December 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A successful virus is adaptive. It evolves as needed to survive and colonize new hosts. By this definition, contemporary American psychiatry is a very successful virus. Exploiting cracks that emerge in times of cultural transition, it exports DSM depression to Japan and posttraumatic stress disorder to Sri Lanka.

Journalist Ethan Watters masterfully evokes the heady admixture of moral certainty and profit motive that drives U.S. clinicians and pharmaceutical companies as they evangelically push Western psychiatry around the globe. On the ground in Sri Lanka following the tsunami, for example, hordes of Western counselors hit the ground running, aggressively competing for access to a native population "clearly in denial" about the extent of their trauma. Backing up the foot soldiers are corporations like Pfizer, eager to market the antidepressant Zoloft to a virgin population.

Watters has done his homework. Each of his four examples of DSM-style disorders being introduced around the world is rich in historical and cultural context. Despite their divergences, each successful expansion hinges on the mutual faith of both the colonizers and the colonized that Western approaches represent the pillar of scientific progress.

It is ironic that Americans are so smugly assured of the superiority of our cultural beliefs and practices, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Do we really want others to emulate a country with skyrocketing levels of emotional distress, where jails and prisons are the primary sites of mental health care? Does our simplistic cultural metaphor of mental illness as a "chemical imbalance, " with human minds reduced to "a batter of chemicals we carry around in the mixing bowls of our skulls," represent true enlightenment?
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73 of 79 people found the following review helpful By B. Allen on January 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Four thoroughly reported chapters make a devastating case. Many well-meaning people (who for instance flew to Sri Lanka right after the tsunami to help) and some straight-up money-driven forces (big pharma) have really failed to try to understand non-western ways that cultures deal with serious mental illness. It's a hubris very much in line with our other exports -- "democracy" to the Middle East, say -- but one that you'd think would be a little less egregious because of all the scientists involved. Hopefully this book, which was a smooth yet very detailed read, will spark a long-overdue debate. As a psychologist in training, I'm glad I read this book.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Jan B. Newman on February 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Crazy Like Us- The Globalization of the American Psyche

This is a well researched , well written expose of the repercussions and folly of well intentioned and not so well intentioned (big pharma) in changing the world view of the rest of the world out of ignorance and for profit.
This is an eye opening call to attention, must read for anyone who is interested in meme theory, psychologists, psychiatrists and anyone interested in the wealth offered by other cultures. This is psychiatry and medicine gone very wrong.

Watters begins with anorexia in Hong Kong. There is a western educated psychiatrist who notices that anorexia in Hong Kong doesn't match the Western paradigm. He presents the idea that there may be no value in categorizing a disease by its manifestations when there are different origins. He quotes another author about glamorizing a disease as it causes imitation which is what starts to happen. The Hong Kong psychiatrist Lee notes" the only hope lies in deep understanding of each patient's subjective experience". Unfortunately, he feels that the rest of the world is being steamrolled by DSM.
Next example was the well-meaning do-gooders who brought PTSD to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankans had coped well with adversity in the past. They understood things in terms of karma. They had their own ways of dealing with any aftermath. The Westerners came over with dubious therapies stomping on cultural sensitivities and most probably left Sri Lanka worse than it would have been. This chapter is particularly interesting in exploring the culture and beliefs of Sri Lankans.
Next is schizophrenia in Zanzibar and last and most frightening is depression in Japan which was literally a creation of big pharma.
The lessons of this book are profound not only in relation of the described events, but also how we can be manipulated by clever PR. Read it and shiver.
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190 of 252 people found the following review helpful By L. Post on January 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book brings up many thought-provoking points about the arrogance and in some cases, damage of the Western exportation of ideas about the orgins and treatment of mental illness. But one of the author's main premises is that mental illnesses are different in different cultures and in different times. That's not the case. Some of how they are expressed may be different, and there may be some different variants, but accounts from the classical age of the Greeks and Romans on down the line all report clearly identifiable symptoms that could be clustered into affective disorders (depression, bipolar, etc.), thought disorders (schizophrenia and subtypes), and stress reactions (from withdrawal to eating disorders to PTSD). Symptoms of depression, mania, paranoia, and mental confusion have been documented for centuries. There may be many different human cultures on the earth, but we all have human brains.

Another of the author's premises is that the Western medicine for mental illness doesn't work well in other cultures. That may well be true, but the author doesn't show examples of where it has worked or given us any kind of qualified evidence-based, broad-based comparative study; he has only selected anecdotes that support his thesis. I think any attempt to use Western medicine of any kind in a community that is not receptive to it, or for which the doctors ignore or dismiss cultural healing traditions, has potential for unforeseen and even disastrous consequences. But if done with cultural sensitivity and offering options rather than dictating treatment, it could be very helpful to people who are suffering greatly.
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