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Ordinary People

One in four will seek psychoanalysis during their lifetime. Editor in Chief DREW GOWING recalls how the industry evolved and hit its stride.

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Ordinary People via Entertainment Weekly


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When it was determined I needed a psychologist (at the ripe old age of 8) my parents seemed oddly proud. It was Los Angeles, after all, and our community was immersed in something called the Pop Psychology Movement: ideas and myths that find credence with the populace. As a kid from LA, the term 'therapy' was both a verb and a noun and being in analysis or seeing a shrink was considered sort of a cool thing to do.

It's popularity, of course, was being driven by Pop Culture. "The Bob Newhart Show" set therapists up in fancy Chicago office space with a celebrity clientele, while Mary Tyler Moore leaned on the popular Dr. Wonderful to raise her troubled teenager in "Ordinary People." Even "Leave It to Beaver" had a school psychologist who did for parents what they could and should have been doing for themselves. Consequently, nearly 40% of Americans took therapy sessions during the 20th century, and when signing their kids up for sessions caught on the industry really hit its stride.

The American Medical Association never accepted Psychology as Science

The American Medical Association never accepted psychology as a science. Those who studied the mind, personality and behaviors were ostracized from the more respectable community of doctors who believed that health was a matter of science, not philosophy. When Dr. Carl Jung, the Father of Analytical Psychology, first began studying the sequence of dreams in 1900 he was considered more a voodoo practitioner than a practical physician [Then & Now, page 31]. Or when Virginia Woolf, one of the foremost literary figures of the twentieth century, dared to tackle the subject of depression in "A Room of One’s Own" her work was banned from bookstores throughout the remainder of her lifetime [You’ve Got Mail, page 31]. But as the century passed a working middle class emerged who predictably sought ways in which to separate, distinguish and promote themselves from whence they came. And it was precisely this rejection of psychology by the medical community that lit the middle class fuse. Health insurance didn’t come cheap, let alone compensate or cover the expense of treatment. It was an elective cost that warranted an expendable income that only the truly rich could afford.

Statistics, data and censuses about mental disorders has been collected in the US since 1840. But it wasn’t until World War II, when the US Army began noticing significant mental trauma among their soldiers, that the government began legitimizing the issue by enlisting psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to help solve the problem. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] was born in 1952 as a result, and though its undergone five revisions between then and now remains the veritable bible of mental health to this day. Homosexuality, for instance, was downgraded from disorder to disturbance in 1973, and ultimately removed altogether in 1986. Postpartum Depression, which effects 10-15% of all new mothers, was downgraded from mental disorder to a mood disorder in 1980 where it remains to this day [Ballet of Blues, page 24]. In short, as science and philosophy continue to put their heads together to cooperate and analyze the human condition, we are only now beginning to discover the merits and meaning between the two [Highway to Health, page 18].

He asked me to throw darts at a dartboard, as I recall, before the good doctor and me settled into our first and only session. “Tell me about you?” he asked, leading me into the murky inquiry of psychoanalysis. Leaning forward in my chair I explained, “I’m a bed-wetter, prefer to play with girls and, as you can see, have no penchant for darts.” And it was in that moment that someone actually saw me, not through the lens of our popular culture, but through the insight and compassion of an educated professional. Standing from behind his desk in white slacks and a conspicuously pink ascot he replied, “Okay kiddo, I think we’re done!” Whereupon he ushered me to the waiting room (and my parents to his couch) for the remainder of the hour.

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