Shrink: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in America

Lawrence R Samuel, Author
Lawrence R. Samuel. Univ. of Nebraska, $34.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-8032-4476-4
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Samuel (The American Dream: A Cultural History) takes psychoanalysis off the couch in this fascinating history of the growth of Freud’s brainchild. Significantly, the author moves the discussion away from the discipline’s effectiveness, and focuses instead on its endurance in the collective not-so-sub-consciousness. Analysts may counsel in private, Samuel argues, but their presence permeates pop culture, from film to art to literature. He claims that psychoanalysis possesses a unique disciplinary versatility that, along with our collective preoccupation with the self, affords the profession a longstanding place in our cultural landscape. The book is organized chronologically as Samuel takes readers on a tour of psychoanalysis’s history, one decade at a time: from Freud’s initial philosophy regarding the treatment of nervous disorders to a movement with followers whose numbers have, at times, rivaled those of organized religions. But its reputation is inconstant—over time, the practice has counted as many foes as fervent followers: accusations of fraudulence, the opposition of religious groups (including, most notoriously, Scientologists), and competing fields of psychology have all threatened the movement. Samuel’s narrative is clear and consistently engaging, and while some of his evidence for psychoanalysis’s prominence is debatable (e.g., the frequent appearance of psychoanalysts in the New York Times obituaries), this compelling study will appeal both to proponents and detractors. (Apr.)
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