Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945-1970

Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945-1970

Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945-1970

Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945-1970


Therapeutic Revolutions examines the evolving relationship between American medicine, psychiatry, and culture from World War II to the dawn of the 1970s. In this richly layered intellectual history, Martin Halliwell ranges from national politics, public reports, and healthcare debates to the ways in which film, literature, and the mass media provided cultural channels for shaping and challenging preconceptions about health and illness.

Beginning with a discussion of the profound impact of World War II and the Cold War on mental health, Halliwell moves from the influence of work, family, and growing up in the Eisenhower years to the critique of institutional practice and the search for alternative therapeutic communities during the 1960s. Blending a discussion of such influential postwar thinkers as Erich Fromm, William Menninger, Erving Goffman, Erik Erikson, and Herbert Marcuse with perceptive readings of a range of cultural text that illuminate mental health issues--among them Spellbound, Shock Corridor, Revolutionary Road, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden --this compelling study argues that the postwar therapeutic revolutions closely interlink contrasting discourses of authority and liberation.


The cultural history of mental illness in the United States since World War ii is marked by both progress and stasis. This doubling is perhaps best illustrated by a brief opening discussion of the anti-stigma campaigns of 1999—a year that witnessed the first annual report on mental health by the us surgeon general and, on 7 June, a White House Conference on Mental Health. the opening speaker, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, argued that such a conference could not have happened a decade earlier, let alone in the 1960s or 1970s; she thanked the vice president’s wife, Tipper Gore, for her energetic work in the field of healthcare, and called for a national antistigma campaign to dispel some of the deeply ingrained myths that continued to inform contemporary conceptions of mental illness.

The White House initiative was an extension of the “Open the Doors” campaign of three years earlier, when the World Psychiatric Association had begun a global program against stigma and discrimination, providing a transnational framework for Tipper Gore and the American Psychiatric Association to argue strongly for parity legislation for the treatment of physical and mental illness. This liberal agenda also chimed with Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala’s claim that “mental health is absolutely essential to achieving prosperity.” Rather than reinforcing the hegemony of the pharmaceutical industry, Shalala argued in 1999 for the need to combine “safe and potent medications” with “psychosocial interventions” to “allow us to effectively treat most mental disorders” and to educate professionals, mental health sufferers, and the public alike. This agenda was also evident in a spring 2001 conference sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and a campaign by the World Health Organization in the same year. These initiatives were part of a wave of activity at the turn of the millennium, of which the White House Conference was the most public face.

Despite the historical importance of the 1999 White House Conference, government agendas do not always—and perhaps rarely—map neatly onto social realities. in September 1993 the New York Times proclaimed that President Bill Clinton’s health security proposal was “Alive on Arrival,” only to backtrack a year later, and President Barack Obama has had to deal with as many thorny political and public issues in the move toward national health insurance as Presidents Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Clinton before him. the post–World War ii story of American medicine is associated closely with presidential attempts to offer a model of responsible governance for healthcare; however, the oscillation between idealism and realism, dreams and pragmatism is woven into the fabric of American life, often creating a . . .

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