One Nation under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance

Article excerpt

ONE NATION UNDER THERAPY: HOW THE HELPING CULTURE IS ERODING SELFRELIANCE. Christina Hoff Sommers & Sally Satel. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2005. Pp. 310. Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton (Evangel University/Springfield, MO).

"One Nation Under Therapy describes the incursion of therapism and the growing role of helping professionals in our daily lives" (p. 9). Both authors are scholars at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor, has written about such subjects as American adolescents and morality in America. Of particular relevance to the topic, Sally Satel is a psychiatrist and former Yale professor of psychiatry who has published in both academic and general venues. In their preface, the authors loosely define the construct, therapism by referring to ways in which a therapeutic ethos has run amok in American culture. Although they concede that medication, brain research, and talk therapies have real value, they contend that the excessive therapeutic approach to life problems is harmful rather than helpful. Each of the six chapters contains examples of the negative effects that therapeutic attitudes have had on a facet of American culture. Following a brief summary, the authors provide extensive documentation for their research (pp. 221-300) and an adequate index.

The Myth of the Fragile Child (chapter 1) focuses attention on examples of overprotection that prevent children from potential Stressors ostensibly found in standardized tests, textbooks, and competitive games such as Dodgeball. The authors cite evidence to bolster their assertion that most children are psychologically healthy and therefore do not need excessive limits on rough play and competition, experiences that blunt challenges to excel, or invasive programs requiring children to disclose intense personal feelings in the classroom.

In Esteem Thyself (chapter 2), the authors inveigh against the supposed salvific benefits of the human potential movement associated with such leaders as Maslow and Rogers. The authors view this humanistic influence as the basis for contemporary therapism and argue from dubious case examples that the movement was decidedly not salutiferous. Although some points may deserve consideration, the chapter fails to provide a balanced view of the contributions and limitations of the theorists. …