Book Review: American Therapy: The Rise Of Psychotherapy In The United States

Well, it’s here folks. Akin to the movie reviewing I would like to talk about some of these books I have been reading. In the past 6 months I have been reading a lot. Men To Boys was kind of in the middle of the reading spree there in November but more recently I have finished this great book by Jonathan Engel.

I read most of this on my vacation to Orange town a month ago. A few reasons to read. First, I need to preface this whole post with my own story. I am not going to tell it but I plan on posting this very soon because its been a 4 year tale of much turmoil in the area of sleep and medicine. If you follow my poetry I have written multiple times about “sleeping pills” in this ethereal way and I mean it literally because I have been there and done that. My prompting in reading this book has been my own curiosity and my inclination to want to help others sort through mental illness. Now, I am not a doctor and I am dying in my psychology class right now. So, this is a just a stepping stone into learning. I also recommend that we become students of the culture. The culture we live in and the influence it has on us. It’s not just for purposes of theology, although God and culture must be studied for sure or not just the arts. That is my area of interest. How films reflect society and human nature. But to simply not live ignorant or passive. It’s very clear to me that even my teen years(only 10 years ago I was 16) was a different era in life. Pre-facebook and all that stuff. Life is always changing and real crisis is coming to this land. So education does aid us in the way that we live.

The Book. This book is about one thing: therapy. Who thought of this concept? Jonathan Engel has a PhD in healthcare and very smoothly coaxed over the culture and mostly the past 100 years of the rise of this upsurge of therapy.

psychology is a science. It is Godless. It has to be because science and faith have to remain separate. So, bear with me. I might not sound Christian in this post but I will mention how God has to be involved on the quest for peace in the mind. That is a must. Sigmund Freud is the man behind psychotherapy. He kind of invented this idea of seeking someone to sit and discuss your issues. I am sure it existed before him but he came up with some interesting theories of what is called “repression.” Others might say “displacement.” It simply goes to say that in our lives and mostly in childhood we suppress memories and bad experiences. We do so because we essentially don’t have the tools to deal with certain situations. I always mention this notion of anger in my childhood. In But I Wish I say it a lot. Because that anger as a kid and as a teen affected the way I thought and still think to this day. I am not fully confronting those memories daily but it is presently there and its possible, if we believe Freud, that those memories catch up to us and thus change our behavior.

The cliche popular beliefs is to say that the past regulates the future. If you were abused then you will abuse. If you have gaping father issues you will find a way to get the affirmation you never had as a kid. Women will be seductive and use their sexuality to get men to love them. Or the guy will always be impressing others. But the problem is that we don’t know how to discuss these matters with others. We usually don’t trust very easily. Because of rejection and further fear of rejection. So, the rise of therapy has been created to serve these repressed memories and uncover the past. This is a part of it but certainly a motivation. To quote:  “If mental illness was the product of dysfunctional social norms, then the committed healer must treat more than the patient; he must treat society itself.”

So, the rise of Freud, who died in 1939 and carried on by Anna Freud who agrees with her dad pretty solidly. To summarize Freud(from the book): That there were components of the patient’s mind and memory that were unavailable to her in normal waking state, which Freud dubbed the unconscious; that disturbing thoughts, feelings, and emotional reactions lying dormant in the unconscious were capable of creating mischief within the conscious realm of the brain without the patient’s knowledge; that the very frightfulness of these thoughts and feelings had forced the patient to repress them—that is, to drive them into the unconscious; and that only through bringing these unconscious thoughts forward into the realm of consciousness could anxieties be resolved, neuroses salved, and depression alleviated.


“Anxiety(as well as depression) was the inevitable result of repressed thoughts and feelings struggling to be heard from the unconscious.”

Here is to summarize the first 100 pages of the book. Freud dies and therapy takes off but what and how we deal with these repressions is unclear. There is science in intention and religion in speculation. Basically, self-help is not good enough but uplifting the self is the focus. Getting better and being the best American you can be seems to be the rise of this new approach to therapy. As the chapter in narcissism describes: “Therapists, not priests or popular preachers or self-help gurus or models of success like the captains of industry, become his principal allies in the struggle for composure; he turns to them in the hope of achieving the modern equivalent of salvation, “mental health.” Therapy has established itself as the successor both to rugged individualism and to religion; but this does not mean that the “triumph of the therapeutic” has become a new religion in its own right. Therapy constitutes an antireligion, not always to be sure because it adheres to rational explanation or scientific methods of healing, as its practitioners would have us believe, but because modern society “has no future” and therefore gives no thought to anything beyond its immediate needs.” (From Christopher Lasch)

Here is the problem. Humans are incredibly complex. The science to understand us is endless. So, its not dumb that we ask questions, we have to. As the society point was dully noted we need to look at the culture but if we are not looking at God and trusting the science then I think we are missing something.

The rise of therapy took hits with addicts and alcohol rising and all the horrors of that. But what shifted everything was medicine. Prozac on the rise in the 90’s with its infamous catch phrase: one pill a day, forever!.” Became an epidemic almost. As the documentary Generation RX(which I highly recommend watching) tells us that multiple incidents of suicide connected to the SRI’s was pretty horrific. The pharmaceutical industry has made 59 billion dollars in the past 30 years give or take. That has come down to $130,000 an hour(or something like that).

Medicine has treated the symptoms and fixed it for a minute but like a band aid in water it has not become a resolution. Suddenly therapy, again, changed its format and conformed to the need to respond to the common pathologies of the day. Hence, bipolar and the rise of Lithium and Zanax. Klonapin(been on this) treating the anxiety of Freudianism. But now we are here, its 2012. I guess this book was written in 2008.

What is the conclusion. Here is my favorite quote at the end:

Psychotherapy has become mainstream. No longer the province of effete East Coast intellectuals passionately focused on their own self-knowledge, the practice has become less dogmatic and intimidating, more pragmatic and accessible. To a large degree William Menninger’s vision has been achieved, with tens of thousands of licensed psychotherapists of all denominations ministering to a broad swath of Americans willing to shoulder the expense and effort to alleviate their own unhappiness. Psychoactive medications, far from drawing people from therapy, have actually pushed more people toward it as their success has fostered the understanding that mental illnesses are just that—illnesses.

In my opinion, we have to seek the Lord about the insanity of medicine sometimes. I have to say I am not a doctor and I am also not saying meds are bad. That would be a very incorrect statement. Medicine is great but the degree to which we have given it out has to be regulated with much research and wisdom. Religion has become separated from the process I think because we do let our emotions take over. We do say: this is what I believe and its right. And we could be right but in our minds it feels something else is taking place.

I love God. I love Jesus, they are the same. I did not sleep for 3 weeks back in 2007. I loved God while that happened but clearly something mentally was taking place. Probably was demonic but there was a point of stopping the rebuking and putting away the phrases of DELIVER ME! There was medicine that got involved and some of it worked and some did not and it all was horrible and was super painful but I have made tremendous progress. I sleep well now but not because some spell casting pop psychologist but because of Jesus. This is the missing element. Trust is undermined because we do it so rarely. We live for ourselves and medicine is very helpful for you! It’s very selfish sometimes. I feel pain so therefore I am going to make myself feel better. That’s not to say when you are sick don’t go and get healthy but what is the intent of the heart to get better. And I am Godless all the time which throws me at the feet of Jesus daily. Death to ourselves can’t be overlooked. Its very essential to success in the Lord. And then if you are not dying then there could be something wrong in your approach to the Lord. Trust is essential and I appreciate this book because it gives the facts of what is out there. You know 740,000 doctors in America and that is helpful but how do we move forward and use science to help us while also believing for the power of God to heal as well.

So, read this book and also let us contend for revival in the mental world.

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