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Ellen Herman. The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995. xiii + 406 pp. Ill. $35.00.

This book documents the explosive growth of psychology and psychiatry since World War II. Herman explains this growth as the outcome of successful professionalization strategies of psychological experts. According to her, psychologists and psychiatrists forged a successful and highly lucrative alliance with the federal government during the war, which they were able to greatly expand after hostilities ceased. As a consequence, she suggests, psychology acquired a pervasive cultural authority during the 1950s.

Herman begins her account by showing how the psychological profession offered its services to the federal government just before the outbreak of World War II. Behavioral scientists hoping to further the national interest undertook research geared toward practical applications such as bolstering army morale, monitoring and influencing public opinion, interpreting the enemy mind, and determining the nature of racial prejudice at home. Military funding for behavioral research continued to grow during the Cold War years, as American political agendas favored the prediction of counterinsurgency in developing countries as well as the containment of racial unrest at home.

Herman shows how psychologists and psychiatrists used their connection with the federal government to increase their professional power and influence. Behavioral scientists gained power in the form of appointments on government committees and funding for academic research. As Herman herself acknowledges, it remains questionable whether psychologists gained influence as well: they continually, and rightly, questioned whether policy makers actually listened to what they had to say.

The book also documents the enormous growth of clinical psychology after the war. The successful treatment of war neuroses led to an increase in the self-confidence of psychiatrists in their therapeutic ability. The National Mental Health Act of 1946 embodied these new ideas and led to the establishment of [End Page 181] community mental health centers all over the country. The reaction of the women’s liberation movement to the psychotherapeutic establishment illustrates the ambiguous nature of the cultural dominance of psychology: feminists criticized psychotherapists for pathologizing women’s complaints, and yet they adopted some psychological techniques, such as consciousness raising.

Herman’s historical research focuses mostly on the professionalization strategies of psychologists and the activities of policy makers. The chapters on behavioral research are the most original and form an addition to the existing literature in the history of American psychology. Unfortunately, the consumers of psychological expertise, be they politicians or people in psychotherapy, hardly enter the picture. Herman concludes that psychology has to be viewed both as a tool of liberation and as a tool for social control in the hands of an elite of experts. This thesis would gain in strength if a consumer’s perspective were taken into account more fully.

Hans Pols
University of Pennsylvania
...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 181-182
Launched on MUSE
1997-03-01
Open Access
N
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