Therapism — The New American Religion

Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel have written a perceptive analysis of our contemporary culture in One Nation Under Therapy. It’s worth your time and attention. Sommers and Satel look at the contemporary scene and the ridiculous escapades of the psychotherapeutic devotees. The book will have you laughing and cringing from page to page.
The picture is bigger than that, of course. The therapeutic revolution has been one of the most significant mechanisms for the transformation of the culture into a world of autonomous individuals — each destined for nothing higher than his or her individual construction of happiness. Human problems are reduced to matters of victimization by psychological syndromes. Sin disappears and the horizon of meaning is leveled to a horizontal plane. Shame and guilt are seen as repressive rather than instructive, and the moral frame is reduced to meaninglessness. Everyone is mentally ill — or on the verge of being mentally ill — and therapy is the only means of recovery. Those who deny they need therapy merely give evidence of their repressed or unconscious need for the same. As the bromide accurately represents the concept: Everyone is either in therapy or in denial.
In this paragraph, Sommer and Satel get to the heart of their critique: Of course, we are not suggesting that everyone is perennially happy or possessed of an abiding sense of wellbeing. Many, if not most, human beings are mildly neurotic, at times self-defeating, anxious, or sad. These traits or behaviours are characteristic of the human condition, often emerging in different life circumstances – they are not pathological. And they are certainly not new. What we oppose is the view that Americans today are emotionally underdeveloped, psychically frail, and that they require the ministrations of mental health professionals to cope with life’s vicissitudes. The crisis authors offer only anecdotes, misleading statistics, and dubious studies for their alarming findings. Yet they are taken very seriously. Very seriously indeed.

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