Book Reviews -- Constructing the Self, Constructing America. A Cultural History of Psychotherapy by Philip Cushman
Freud, Sophie, American Journal of Psychotherapy
PHILIP CUSHMAN: Constructing the Self, Constructing America. A Cultural History of Psychotherapy. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1995, 430 pp., $27.50.
Philip Cushman, member of the core faculty of the California School of Professional Psychology, Alameda/Berkeley Campus, has alerted us for some years to the extent to which psychological theories and ensuing therapeutic practices reflect the socioeconomic, historical, and above all, political context of the era in which they arise. His massive new book Constructing the Self, Constructing America, is devoted to this important subject.
The author draws a parallel between American socio-political history, mostly of the 19th and 20th century and its changing psychological theories and practices, which he views not only as reflecting, but also ultimately serving the needs of the political and economic power structure of each period.
Cushman's particular interest is in the many different possible constructions of the self of each period. Indeed, a highlight of the book, and in some ways a partial review of its themes, is the Appendix: The Self in Western Society (pp. 357-87). Starting with antiquity Cushman uses historical literature to illustrate the many steps that have only recently led to "
he masterful bounded self of today" (p. 357), "a self that needs to be 'therapied'" (p. 1) and one "with...many subjective 'inner' feelings..." (p. 357).
The whole book presents alternate sections of American socio-economic history and the corresponding psychic healing practices. The author demonstrates how Americans have constructed "the other," be they African-Americans, Native Americans or Communists to carry repudiated aspects of themselves. Cushman's purpose is to show the extent to which "most healing technologies in the United States have been subtly complicit in the sexims, racism, and economic injustice of their eras" (p.5). Psychotherapy, here, is not the scientifically based, value-neutral enterprise its practitioners claim it to be but instead, "a moral discourse with political consequences" (p. 281).
In the course of the book we learn about the history of healing practices in the last two centuries, from the establishment, reform, and decline of asylums, (Chap. 4, Healing through Self-Domination) to Mesmerism (Chap. 5, Healing through Self-Liberation) to the history of the mental-hygiene movement, onward to "the Americanization of Psychoanalysis" (p. 117) and beyond. Cushman makes an interesting contrast between Melanie Klein who would pave the way for Object Relations and Self Psychology with the location of psychic conflict inside the self, and Harry Stack Sullivan who situated social interactions and psychological problems in "the space between people" (p. …