Shrink: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in America


“Psychology has stepped down from the university chair into the marketplace” was how the New York Times put it in 1926. Another commentator in 1929 was more biting. Psychoanalysis, he said, had over a generation, “converted the human scene into a neurotic.” Freud first used the word around 1895, and by the 1920s psychoanalysis was a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the United States. How it gained such purchase, taking hold in virtually every aspect of American culture, is the story Lawrence R. Samuel tells in ...

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Shrink: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in America

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“Psychology has stepped down from the university chair into the marketplace” was how the New York Times put it in 1926. Another commentator in 1929 was more biting. Psychoanalysis, he said, had over a generation, “converted the human scene into a neurotic.” Freud first used the word around 1895, and by the 1920s psychoanalysis was a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the United States. How it gained such purchase, taking hold in virtually every aspect of American culture, is the story Lawrence R. Samuel tells in Shrink, the first comprehensive popular history of psychoanalysis in America.

Arriving on the scene at around the same time as the modern idea of the self, psychoanalysis has both shaped and reflected the ascent of individualism in American society. Samuel traces its path from the theories of Freud and Jung to the innermost reaches of our current me-based, narcissistic culture. Along the way he shows how the arbiters of culture, high and low, from public intellectuals, novelists, and filmmakers to Good Housekeeping and the Cosmo girl, mediated or embraced psychoanalysis (or some version of it), until it could be legitimately viewed as an integral feature of American consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
New York Journal of Books - Liana Giorgi

"The distinctiveness of Shrink lies in its focus on popular culture. . . . An American book on America and psychoanalysis would not be complete without the extras: the retelling of horror and wonder stories that made news in the 1950s–1970s; the review of the popular terms that emerged to capture the psychoanalytic moment—from getting "psyched" in the 1920s to "hitting the couch" in mid-century; the discussion of films dealing with psychoanalysis; the treatment of the topic in women’s magazines, etc. etc."—Liana Giorgi, New York Journal of Books
Library Bookwatch - James A. Cox

"A fascinating history."—James A. Cox , Library Bookwatch
Foreword Reviews

"Lawrence R. Samuel successfully explores the role psychoanalysis has had on shaping the country's consciousness overtime. Samuel delivers a powerful narrative of the discipline's ups and downs, packed with lively quotes, anecdotes, and fascinating historical tidbits."—Foreword Reviews
Stephen J. Kraus

“A fascinating, funny, and fast-paced exploration of how psychoanalysis has become subtly but deeply ingrained in everything from American art and advertising to our aspirations and identities.”—Stephen J. Kraus, author of Psychological Foundations of Success: A Harvard-Trained Scientist Separates the Science of Success from Self-Help Snake Oil
Therese Ragen

“An exceptionally well-researched, accessible book that will undoubtedly appeal to both professionals in the psychoanalytic field and the interested lay reader.”—Therese Ragen, author of The Consulting Room and Beyond: Psychoanalytic Work and Its Reverberations in the Analyst’s Life
Michael Mongno
“Samuel expertly reveals the impact of the new ‘mind science’ and traces its evolution in areas as disparate as the arts, the social sciences, architecture, and the law. Fascinating and compelling, Shrink should be required reading for anyone who is a student of psychology, a practicing clinician, or currently in treatment.”—Michael Mongno, psychoanalyst and founder of Present Centered Therapies
Library Journal
Cultural historian Samuel (The American Dream: A Cultural History) has collected excerpts from U.S. newspapers and magazines to illustrate Sigmund Freud's influence on popular culture in the United States. He hasn't conducted a scientific study or provided an explanation of Freud's theories; rather, he documents the rise of psychoanalysis as portrayed in the media beginning in the 1920s. His psychoanalytic pastiche ranges from serious stories, plays, and movies to cartoons illustrating the bearded analyst on the couch. Freudian analysis has had a notable impact on American life despite its shaky scientific underpinnings, but Samuel's claim that it is the cause of "our me-based, self-absorbed culture" and "an integral part of who we are as a people" is a stretch. VERDICT The dozens of entertaining anecdotes here provide as much insight into the nature of the press as into psychoanalysis. Not serious sociology, the book blurs the boundaries between the relatively few certified Freudian analysts and a much larger group of mental health professionals. A worthwhile read, however, for a historical tour of an important innovation in the human dialog.—E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
A cultural historian chronicles the dominant role that Freudian psychology has come to play in our culture. "From the early 1920s through the early 1960s, psychoanalysis helped to reprogram the American mind by shifting our orientation from civic interests to personal ones in all spheres of everyday life," writes Samuel (The American Dream: A Cultural History, 2012, etc.). As sources, the author relies primarily on films, magazine articles, newspapers and popular literature. He cites a 1925 description of Edward Bernays by the New York Times, in which he was called the "father of public relations." Freud's double nephew, Bernays orchestrated many lucrative advertising campaigns. One of the most famous, undertaken for Lucky Strike cigarettes, involved New York City debutantes smoking in public during the Easter parade. In its early days, following World War I, psychoanalysis was restricted to members of the social elite able to afford the time and money for up to six sessions per week, but its influence spread. Evident in such films as Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), its popularity was amplified when Cary Grant, Marlon Brando and other celebrities endorsed it. The human potential movement of the 1960s reshaped Freudian psychology for a broader audience, with offshoots such as group therapy, sensitivity training and the Esalen Institute's encounter sessions. In the author's view, the dominance of consumerism in our society ensures its place in our "cultural vocabulary," even though it is no longer dominant in therapeutic practice. A lively, if narrow, look at the American century that underplays other aspects of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803244764
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence R. Samuel is the author of several books, including The American Dream: A Cultural History and Freud on Madison Avenue: Motivation Research and Subliminal Advertising in America.
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