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  • America Analyzed
  • Jack D. Pressman (bio)
Nathan G. Hale, Jr. Freud in America, vol. 2. The Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States: Freud and the Americans, 1917–1985. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 476 pp. Appendix, notes, and index. $30.00.

In the 1960s, when Hale commenced his research on the history of psychoanalysis in America, the significance of the project was self-evident: “No other system of thought in modern times, except the great religions, has been adopted by so many people as an explanation of human behavior” (p. 3). Such grandiose assessments, Hale informs us, were typical of the time. Freud truly mattered. The first volume of Hale’s learned work, Freud and the Americans: The Beginnings of Psychoanalysis in the United States, 1876–1917 (1971), defined the field for the following generation. We now have the much awaited second half of the story. As Hale himself notes, however, a curious thing happened in the quarter-century that elapsed between the appearance of volumes 1 and 2. The air came out of the Freudian balloon. And with the apparent collapse of the psychoanalytic empire, the existing rationales for why its history was worth writing were similarly deflated. The matter of Freud’s importance within the American landscape is no longer something that can be safely assumed; it has become the central problem to be explored.

The book thus begins on a tone of wistful ambivalence. Obviously, for those individuals who have been personally invested in the fortunes of psychoanalysis, the turn-about has proven extremely discomfiting. Hale shares in some of this distress. His decades-long commitment to the project of reconstructing the history of American psychoanalysis—truly a Herculean task—clearly stems from an abiding fondness for the subject and a reverence for many of the movement’s leaders. (The book jacket notes the author’s membership in the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.) To Hale’s lasting credit, however, it is his instincts as a historian that have maintained the upper hand in this erudite and sweeping monograph. The second volume pays unwavering attention to the same question that structured the first work: namely, why was psychoanalysis so warmly received in the United States? It is from this intellectual vantage point, then, that Hale finds in the recent decline of psychoanalysis an opportune occasion for scholarship; the [End Page 476] contrasting state-of-affairs allows a close reading of what variables—professional, social, or political—were indeed relevant. The psychoanalysts’ pain is the historian’s gain.

To tell the story of psychoanalysis in America is necessarily a multifaceted enterprise. Hale has organized his project around three intertwined narratives: the history of a particular medical specialty as it grows from the first band of pioneers into a recognized and accepted field of expertise; the evolution of the intellectual beliefs and of the particular schools of thought and practice; and the popular reception afforded the enterprise, identifying which segments of society found the subject compelling and convincing. In overall structure, the book is divided into two sections, each comprised of ten chapters. The first part attends to the interwar period in which the profession of psychoanalysis coalesced and a clientele was captured. The second part deals with the decades following World War II, when the fortunes of psychoanalysis shone brightly and then declined. The numerous themes and issues explored by Hale can only be briefly touched upon here.

Hale begins the first section with the watershed events of World War I, in which the conspicuous appearance of “shell-shock” victims provided psychiatrists with a laboratory for the study of how humans break down, mentally as well as physically. Various forms of brief psychotherapy, the psychiatrists learned, were able to accomplish what the prior somatic treatments could not—namely, return ostensibly paralyzed, blind, or deaf soldiers back to the front lines. The success of the Army psychiatry program convinced many in the medical profession, as well as the general public, of the value of the new Freudian psychodynamics. The war popularized the ideas that unconscious emotional conflicts could result in physical symptoms, that mental disorders were not confined to persons of degenerate stock but might appear...

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pp. 476-481
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