BOOK: One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance
AUTHOR: Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel M.D
"Does encouraging citizens to use counseling services signal to them that policy-makers, health officials, and politicians lack faith in their capacities? Does this, in turn, erode their trust in themselves? Does the overestimation of a population's need for help contribute to collective anxiety? When does consulting an "expert" about distress provide useful support, and when does it deprive the client of struggling, often in novel ways, to master his trials? These are hard questions to answer- but steeped as we are in therapism, we must be reminded even to ask them."
In an attempt to de-stigmatize mental illness (including addictions), therapy attendance has become de-rigour for the American public. Ask any ten of your closest friends and I'd wager at least eight are currently in -or have been in the past - some type of therapy or analysis. In addition to the sheer number of people seeking it out, the shroud of secrecy has been lifted. Today's culture has added therapy to the list of self improvement activities of daily life; it's seen as no different than going to the gym, practicing yoga or eating healthily.
The obvious assumption is that this mainstreaming of psychiatry would produce a nation of sane, well adjusted and productive citizens. However, as Sommers and Satel point out in length, this is not the case by far. In many instances the exact opposite is true. The belief in and reliance upon psychotherapy has produced a nation of coddled and inoculated citizens who display mild to moderate signs of incapacity to function without a "life coach." Additionally, this coddling has made us into a nation of self obsessed creatures; constantly looking inward and analyzing ourself in-depth - thereby lessening our capacity or motivation to concern ourselves with the lives of others. The patholigizing of uncomfortable feelings has turned almost every one of us into a patient; a victim of mental illness.
Sommers and Satel start right at the beginning with an exploration/expose of the therapism of elementary schools and the myth of self esteem. The discussion proceeds into a fascinating - yet disturbing - discourse on the insanity plea in the criminal court. If all misbehavior is a sign of mental illness, no-one can be held legally and morally accountable for their actions. The job of the law is to protect the innocent, yet with lawyers who are all too familiar with the opportunities to free their defendants with the claim that they are victims of an illness and cannot control themselves, who exactly is protecting the innocent?
Sommers and Satel devote multiple chapters into a critical discussion of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The chapter opens with a look at Vietnam vets and closes with those affected by September 11, 2001. Once again, their findings are fascinating yet disturbing.
The authors are by no means positing that legit mental illnesses do not exist - they are simply exposing the myths and deceptions we use to label an entire nation.
Upon completion of this book, it is hard not to look at the world of psychotherapy without a degree of skepticism. As someone who has spent over a decade in therapy, I can relate. And while I have no intentions of ceasing my work in the therapeutic milieu, I do possess a deeper understanding of it's faults.