Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self

Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self

by Jessica Grogan
     
 

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A dramatic narrative history of the psychological movement that reshaped American culture

The expectation that our careers and personal lives should be expressions of our authentic selves, the belief that our relationships should be defined by openness and understanding, the idea that therapy can help us reach our fullest potential—these ideas have become

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Overview

A dramatic narrative history of the psychological movement that reshaped American culture

The expectation that our careers and personal lives should be expressions of our authentic selves, the belief that our relationships should be defined by openness and understanding, the idea that therapy can help us reach our fullest potential—these ideas have become so familiar that it's impossible to imagine our world without them.

In Encountering America, cultural historian Jessica Grogan reveals how these ideas stormed the barricades of our culture through the humanistic psychology movement—the work of a handful of maverick psychologists who revolutionized American culture in the 1960s and '70s. Profiling thought leaders including Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, and Timothy Leary, Grogan draws on untapped primary sources to explore how these minds and the changing cultural atmosphere combined to create a widely influential movement. From the group of ideas that became known as New Age to perennial American anxieties about wellness, identity, and purpose, Grogan traces how humanistic psychology continues to define the way we understand ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rising out of the tumultuous political and cultural climate of the 1960s, humanistic psychology, an approach centered on self-actualization, burst onto the scene in the latter part of the decade; the charge was led by psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, and though the movement sharply declined at the end of the 1970s, Grogan, an American studies scholar, shows that it had a dynamic effect on its cultural moment. As the concept gained momentum, it broadened to include not just the individual but the community as well, culminating in Esalen, a free-thinking enclave on the Pacific coast whose ethos embraced encounter groups, an approach intended to help individuals work through issues, connect with others, and engage in productive introspection, but which soon morphed into a means to feed one's ego at the expense of others with the expectation of self-actualization in a weekend's time. Grogan insists that the era of humanistic psychology has had a profound impact on the American psyche, even as Rogers acknowledged in 1986 that "a lot of the kooky aspects... have fallen by the wayside." Spot-on reporting, an unbiased presentation, and an admirable attention to detail make this a valuable resource for psychologists and scholars of American counterculture movements. (Jan.)
Shelf Awareness
Encountering America weaves together a tapestry and history of a humane ideal for living that continues to define our societal world view. It is a work of deep cultural understanding that breaks down complex issues in a coherent manner, bursting with oversized personalities and thought-provoking ideas.”
Pasatiempo
“Clear and insightful book…Grogan’s well-written and well-researched book is as much a cultural study as it is a psychological one. While mapping the movement’s rise and decline, she makes a case for its legacy.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A] disciplined and persuasive defense of the movement... Grogan eloquently insists that humanistic psychology subtly revolutionized Americans’ conception of the self and the role of therapy.”
Kirkus Reviews
Grogan reveals the seminal, but frequently overlooked, influence of the postwar humanistic psychology movement in creating what is sometimes described as today's "therapy culture," which includes employee retreats, seminars on sensitivity training, the proliferation of support groups and more. The author traces the movement back to the enhanced role of psychologists during and after World War II, when they worked with the military to profile recruits and deal with problems faced by veterans. They were unwilling to take a back seat to Freudian psychoanalysts, who dominated the practice of psychotherapy, and the empirical behaviorists, who were hegemonic in academic psychology. Pioneers in the field of humanist psychology, such as Abraham Maslow, advocated an alternative approach that was "oriented around ideas of personal growth and the infusion of values" into therapy. Grogan shows how the perception of alienation in the social climate of the 1950s, as exemplified by David Riesman's widely read The Lonely Crowd, supported their critique. At the same time, Carl Rogers revolutionized the practice of nondirective therapy by engaging in a dialogue with patients that emphasized their ability to achieve personal growth. The influence of the movement was enhanced in the '60s when humanist psychologists initially joined Timothy Leary in endorsing the use of LSD, the encounter-group therapy practiced in California's Esalen Institute, meditation and spiritual practices as valid avenues for self-actualization. The women's liberation movement also owes a debt to humanist psychologists, who pioneered techniques such as consciousness-raising--although Maslow expressed doubts about their goals. An illuminating cultural history.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061834769
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
12/26/2012
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
412
Sales rank:
658,394
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

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Meet the Author

Jessica Grogan has a PhD in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She has taught courses on American history, culture, and psychology at Southwestern University, the University of Texas, and Mount Holyoke College. This is her first book.

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