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Social critics have long lamented America’s descent into a “culture of narcissism,” as Christopher Lasch so lastingly put it fifty years ago. From “first world problems” to political correctness, from the Oprahfication of emotional discourse to the development of Big Pharma products for every real and imagined pathology, therapeutic culture gets the blame. Ask not where the stereotype of feckless, overmedicated, half-paralyzed millennials comes from, for it comes from their parents’ therapist’s couches.
Rethinking Therapeutic Culture makes a powerful case that we’ve got it all wrong. Editors Timothy Aubry and Trysh Travis bring us a dazzling array of contributors and perspectives to challenge the prevailing view of therapeutic culture as a destructive force that encourages narcissism, insecurity, and social isolation. The collection encourages us to examine what legitimate needs therapeutic practices have served and what unexpected political and social functions they may have performed. Offering both an extended history and a series of critical interventions organized around keywords like pain, privacy, and narcissism, this volume offers a more nuanced, empirically grounded picture of therapeutic culture than the one popularized by critics. Rethinking Therapeutic Culture is a timely book that will change the way we’ve been taught to see the landscape of therapy and self-help.
About the Author
Timothy Aubry is associate professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY. He is the author of Reading as Therapy: What Contemporary Fiction Does for Middle-Class Americans.
Trysh Travis is a cultural and literary historian who teaches in the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research at the University of Florida. She is the author of The Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey.
“Engaging and thought-provoking, the seventeen essays included here do a fine job of suggesting that the therapeutic is indeed best understood as a uniquely American culture—one where institutions and individuals come together to shape values and ideals. An impressive array of topics is covered by well-known scholars who each help to explain why and how this therapeutic ideal has become embedded in American culture. Rethinking Therapeutic Culture strikes exactly the right tone to raise cogent questions about the meaning and context of therapeutics in the twenty-first century.”
— Wendy Kline
“Rethinking Therapeutic Culture offers an elegant array of insightful commentary on contemporary therapeutic culture that moves beyond routine culture-bashing. With perspectives on everything from Big Pharma to blogging, its cast of important critical thinkers is clearly up to the task of examining the how that culture shapes our view of ourselves and the world.”
— Dana Becker
“Rethinking Therapeutic Culture holds the ambitious promise of its title: it breaks new ground in an over-analyzed terrain and offers a thrilling variety of perspectives on the role played by psychology in a number of crucial social arenas: race, left-wing ideology, feminism, mental harm, pain and suffering, and testimony. Written consistently clearly and engagingly, it provides a deep understanding of some of the crucial changes of the post-World War II era.”
— Eva Illouz, author of Hard Core Romance: Explaining the Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon
“The modern American saga of better living through self-discovery stretches roughly from the turn of the twentieth century until today. Of course, the deeper roots of self-cultivation reach back to European soil—the liberalization of the Catholic Church; the rapid spread of Protestantism, mysticism, and evangelicalism; and the rise of science-based rationalism and mind-body dualism. But their manifestation in the crowded spiritual marketplace of the postwar world is what Timothy Aubry and Trysh Travis call, in their 2015 book, Rethinking Therapeutic Culture, ‘an especially American phenomenon.’”