From Freud to Dr. Phil, scholars analyze the rise of psychotherapy in America
Posted: February 17, 2009
Seven graduate students from a variety of disciplines sit around a u-shaped arrangement of tables. After a round of introductions, Abzug, the Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor of History and director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, grabs a marker and invites the class to participate in a brainstorm about the cultural meanings of psychotherapy.
After a few tentative suggestions of "treatment" and "couch," one student calls out "Woody Allen" and earns a few laughs. Now the ice is broken and words come faster. "New York." "Jews." "Dreams." "Sublimation." "Oedipus complex." "Ego trip." "Projection." "Transference." "Neurotic." "Repression."
Abzug continues the brainstorm until the whiteboard fills with words. After a quick glance at the collection, he makes a simple observation: though many therapeutic terms from the field of psychotherapy are part of the popular lexicon, no one suggested the word 'healing.'
"Why is that?" he asks. "Perhaps, it's because the psychotherapeutic mission of mental healing is so embedded in our culture we hardly even notice it anymore."
By Jennifer McAndrew
Public Affairs Specialist, College of Liberal Arts
Lead graphic photograph: Christina Murrey
Professor Robert Abzug
Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies
Department of Psychology