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An Unscientific, Inconclusive, And Entirely Inconsequential History of the Popular Acceptance Of Psychology


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By Alyce Barry

If you used magazine articles to research a high school or college paper before 1990, you probably used the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Your library may even still have these thick green volumes. They're the color of forest leaves in late summer that are no longer nourished by the tree's sap but aren't completely dead yet.

FROM INTROVERT TO EXTROVERT

Once upon a time, I was an introvert who wrote historical essays and loved spending my free time in libraries. At that time, the Reader's Guide was my good buddy. It indexed a dazzling variety of periodicals, from news magazines to literary journals, financial digests to religious and scientific weeklies.

Recently, I turned once again to the Reader's Guide to research books and articles published on Jungian psychology. I discovered that I'm a lot more extroverted these days and needed something to keep me interested. And the Reader's Guide obliged. In the titles of articles over the last 30 years, I found a quick-and-dirty, and thoroughly entertaining, history of articles written about psychology.

Please note that I haven't claimed to have read all of these articles. I haven't, not by a long chalk. I only followed the footprints of history through their titles.

THE 70S

In the volumes from the 1970s, I find most of the kind of articles I'm seeking under the heading PSYCHOLOGY. Yet, at that time, skepticism reigns about the value and integrity of psychology as a discipline.

"Is psychology today sweet or sour?" asks one writer in 1974. Scientific magazines in particular are trying to make a point. "Ethics of psychiatry: who is sick?" asks Science News, and "How accurate is psychiatry?" asks another.

"Thirty-year follow-up: Counseling fails!" is followed in 1978 by "Study of the mind is often no more helpful than consulting a sheep's entrails." U.S. News & World Report reports, "Psychiatry runs into an identity crisis." Science News is asking, "Would you buy a new psyche from this person?"

In 1978, the work of poet Robert Bly begins to appear. In 1980, he publishes a poem called "Grief of Men" in the New Republic, and a collection of his work is reviewed in the Holy Grail of all book review publications, the New York Times Book Review.

THE 80S

During these years, Carl Jung is mentioned only rarely, and sometimes disparagingly, as in an Art in America article on the painter Jackson Pollock, that Jung's ideas are "not much help in myth-making."

Skepticism notwithstanding, by 1981, psychology seems to be making inroads, because the magazines are reacting to its terminology. The New Republic publishes "Psychobabble: my word," and Glamour's contribution is, "Space, needs, conflict, intimacy — the language of feelings has turned sterile and meaningless."

On one hand, the U.S. Olympic team is considering adding psychologists to its medical staff, and Ladies Home Journal is publishing "You can change the way you feel." On the other hand, Vogue still thinks it appropriate to ask, "Psychotherapy: Does it really help?"

By 1986, even Rolling Stone magazine is curious about Jung. It interviews an elderly member of Jung's circle, analyst Marie-Louise von Franz, making the inevitable pun that she is "Jung at heart."

In fact, magazine writers in general are in a joking mood about the psyche, with an article in Discover entitled "Read all about it! Breakthrough study of fidgeting!" and a review called "Gunfight at the I'm O.K. corral: M. Scott Peck duels with the Devil." A writer in Esquire describes his psychoanalysis in "Confessions of a head case" and in Psychology Today we find, "Rx: Two self-help books and call me in the morning."

By the late 1980s, the business community is beginning to take psychology more seriously. The Reader's Guide heading for PSYCHOLOGY, INDUSTRIAL grows to more than a column in length, listing articles about how psychology might contribute to the bottom line. At about this time, the New York Times Sunday Magazine offers a survey in "Therapies, a brief history."

THE 90S: A TURNING POINT

Then, in the winter of 1989-1990, things really start to take off. Back in 1984, Robert Bly gave Esquire an interview on fathers and sons. Now he's written a whole book about and for men, Iron John, and he's giving interviews to just about everybody, from Mademoiselle to Christian Century. Another seminal book in the men's movement, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette's King Warrior Magician Lover, written in a more scholarly style, appears to ride on Bly's coattails and gets reviewed as well. U.S. News & World Report is "Stalking the unconscious," and The Atlantic Monthly offers "What dreams are (really) made of."

NEW HEADINGS, AND BACKLASH

Under the PSYCHOLOGY heading is now a subheading for PARENTS, though I'm very sorry to say most of the entries blame it all on the kids: "How to love an unlovable child" and "Inflexible kids."

In 1992, Bly, Moore and Gillette begin to get some backlash from women writers: "Enemy of the mother" in Ms., and "Why Iron John is no gift to women" in the Times. The Christian lobby, somewhat surprisingly, lines up behind Robert, and offers "Hairy Christians for Bly" in Christian Century.

By now, however, the corner's been turned, and women who dislike Robert Bly are apparently outnumbered. Author Paul Theroux is reviewing Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, and Newsweek's movie critic is reflecting on the psychology of not-so-happy endings.

A HAIR IN THE OINTMENT

Then, in 1992 and 1993 arises the specter of "false memory syndrome," in which practitioners are accused of brainwashing their clients into believing they were abused at an early age. "Does psychotherapy work?" asks U.S. News & World Report, which up to this point has been a quiet advocate, and American Health adds, "Talk therapy: ready for the trash heap?"

EMOTIONS TAKE OVER

By 1995, there's a heading in the Reader's Guide that's more important than PSYCHOLOGY, and that's EMOTIONS. Beneath it is a staggering list of other entries to look under: anger, anxiety, bashfulness, crushes, crying, disappointment, disgust, embarrassment, empathy, enthusiasm, envy, fear, grief, guilt, hope, horror, hostility, humiliation, jealousy, joy, love, mind and body, moods, pleasure, pride, regret, resentment, security and insecurity, sensitivity, shame, smiles, sympathy, temperament, wonder, and worry.

That same year, Occupational Outlook Quarterly is announcing, "Beyond psychobabble: careers in psychotherapy," and Good Housekeeping is offering "A new look at therapies and therapists." The use of shame by judges in pronouncing sentence now rates news coverage in the National Review and Newsweek In 1996, articles appear commenting on the relationship between heart disease and suppressing emotions.

A LONELY SIGNPOST

With the 1996 edition, I decide to no longer bother checking the PSYCHOLOGY heading. For some time now, the number of "see also" entries has been increasing, so that the heading has become a kind of lonely signpost in the middle of nowhere. Articles on psychological aspects of life are by now so pervasive that they can be found under almost any topic. Examples include such well-defined topics as ATTITUDE and TOUGHNESS.

And now, I find at the bottom of the listing, that the Reader's Guide is surrendering entirely, suggesting that the reader "See also Psychology under various subjects."

The listings under EMOTIONS continue to grow, however, and by 1997, even the financial giant, Forbes magazine, is asking "What's your emotional bandwidth?" In 1999, U.S. News is publishing "Emotional America," and the next year the New York Times Sunday Magazine joins in with "What feelings feel like."

TODAY'S INNER CHILD

From the most recent articles, I learn something unexpected. I would have expected that the term "inner child" was now out of vogue. Not exactly! Over the past few years, articles have appeared in a stunning variety of magazines offering the inner child as the touchstone and advisor on topics from "choosing a new personal watercraft" in a boating magazine to "selling small cars" in an advertising journal.

A major newspaper reports that NFL player Peyton Manning "finds his inner child after record-setting win." Black Enterprise magazine interviews a TV producer who uses her inner child to design programming, and a business magazine for the media industry says, "Making time for play will help us discover our inner child." With the opening of an all-cereal restaurant in Chicago, a newspaper announces, "Call it flaky, but cereal fills a need to feed our inner child." Even the prestigious Christian Science Monitor, in reviewing the SpongeBob cartoon program, says "The big-screen version taps the inner child in everyone."

IN MEMORIAM

While it remains the best index of magazines articles from the pre-computer era, the Reader's Guide has been largely replaced by database collections and online sources.

The Reader's Guide is dead. Long may we live online!

 
Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach, and a writer, in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in October 2005. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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