In Thrall to 'Therapism'; Book Decries Blurring of Psychology, Philosophy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

In Thrall to 'Therapism'; Book Decries Blurring of Psychology, Philosophy


Byline: Amy Doolittle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In "One Nation Under Therapy," Christina Hoff Summers and Sally Satel decry America's reliance on psychiatry and confront the myth that everyone needs a therapist. The book argues that much of America's "need" for help is created by hypersensitive parents, educators and psychiatrists. The following are excerpts from an interview with Mrs. Hoff Summers in her office at the District-based American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

Q: What inspired you and Sally Satel to write this book?

A: I wrote a book called "The War on Boys," and as I researched it, I discovered that there was a lot of concern that boys were insufficiently reflective and not in touch with their feelings. There were massive efforts funded by different schools that claimed that they were in crisis, that the average boy and man were in crisis because they were estranged from their deeper selves.

So, we looked for evidence that this was true, and I couldn't find any. Suddenly, I realized there were a lot of assumptions in the world of pop psychology that needed to be questioned. We're not against psychology as a branch of medicine. But as a philosophy of life, as an ethic, as a replacement of religion - it's dangerous.

Q: Do you consider psychology a religion then?

A: Yes. For many Americans - we call it "therapism" - it's a worldview, a philosophy. You don't really think of right and wrong; you think of affliction and disorders, and you think of human beings as people who need emotional counselors to take them through the ups and downs of life.

But in reality, people are amazingly resilient, especially Americans. It's part of our background, our heritage. [Ms. Satel and I] see therapism as an effort to overthrow the traditional creed.

Q: Do you consider "therapism" inextricably linked to the New Age movement?

A: Well, the New Age movement also took to heart the idea that through this kind of process of self-discovery you could find happiness and fulfillment. And, as a philosopher, I am very skeptical that you can find that beyond ethics. I think for kids in the classroom, it's important to emphasize ethics.

Q: Why did you decide to team up with Ms. Satel for this book?

A: I wrote a book called "Who Stole Feminism?" and a good deal of the research for it was examining feminist data. That was like shooting fish in the barrel, really. The arguments were very weak, and you didn't have to be a Harvard statistician to deal with the data. I was dealing with statistically challenged feminists.

But for this, the literature was more serious. And I felt, as a philosopher, I wanted someone who was a clinician to weigh in. At the same time, much of the book is philosophical, so it balances out, really.

Q: What, then, is wrong with therapy in America today? What is this "therapism"?

A: For the middle class [who are] raising children, therapism has become the standard approach. Many parents view their child as little hothouse flowers that need to be protected from harm. …

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