search by author or title

One Nation Under Therapy

How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance


Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally L. Satel, M.D. (View Bio)
Hardcover: St. Martin's Press, 2005.

One Nation Under Therapy

We live today in an era rife with grief counselors, workshoppers, self-esteem facilitators, and traumatologists—all steeped in "therapism." Therapism is a modern ethos which rests on several unfounded assumptions: that emotional self disclosure is crucial for mental health; that all people, even school children, need psychological help rather than ethical guidance; that all loss or defeat is a pathology in need of a cure; and that psychic vulnerability is to be valued over resilience. According to therapism, human beings are weak, dependent, and never altogether responsible for what they do. Drawing on extensive empirical evidence, centuries of western philosophy, and plain old common sense, philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers and psychiatrist Sally Satel debunk the excesses of contemporary therapy culture. The authors reassert the centrality to the healthy personality of self-reliance, of ethics, and of the ability to accept individual moral responsibility.

"Sommers and Satel's book is a summons to the sensible worry that national enfeeblement must result when therapism replaces the virtues on which the republic was founded — stoicism, self-reliance and courage." — George Will, The Washington Post

"Sommers and Satel have written an important book that should be widely read. Their analysis of the baneful consequences of narcissism and self-absorption is a powerful critique." — Diane Ravitch, author of THE LANGUAGE POLICE

"ONE NATION UNDER THERAPY is a strident wake-up call to Americans both stupefied and 'stupidified' by licensed psychology — the mental health industry's most zealous cult. Americans are brainwashed by psychologists, who sentence them to become lifelong victims of their own experiences and consciousness. This book offers paradigms that celebrate voyages of the soul, instead of diagnosing them as incurable 'illnesses'." — Lou Marinoff, author of PLATO, NOT PROZAC and THERAPY FOR THE SANE

"As they describe in their excellent ONE NATION UNDER THERAPY, a substantial portion of the 'helping culture' believes that events much less severe than 9/11 require therapeutic attention as well. According to some practitioners, most of the American population is emotionally damaged.... The authors [do not] doubt the benevolent motives of grief counselors and their ilk. But good intentions are not enough; they may even be dangerous.... Ms. Sommers and Dr. Satel make plain the threat that therapism poses to the American Creed, which they describe as a combination of 'self-reliance, stoicism, courage in the face of adversity, and the valorization of excellence.' There is nothing very helpful about a helping culture that would lead us away from such virtues." — The Wall Street Journal

"A gauntlet-throwing assessment of the culture of therapy.... A scathing assessment of contemporary life.... [Sommers and Satel's] examples of [therapism's] invasion of childhood can be breathtaking: that Girl Scouts can now earn a 'Stress Less' badge by burning aromatic candles and practicing meditative breathing, or that numerous schools have discouraged dodgeball because throwing a ball at a child might make him feel besieged.... Certain to spark reflection and conversation." — Kirkus Reviews

"[We] should be grateful that the book challenges such enshrined notions as: unbridled emoting shortens the grieving period; dodgeball, tag, and, indeed, any form of competition threaten children's tender psyches; adversity has no redeeming value; and grief therapists are among the most valuable players at a disaster site." — The Weekly Standard

"Sommers and Satel summon copious examples of the excesses of therapy and its related industries, from the tale of a research professor of psychology who had grief counseling foisted upon him by a funeral home to a school exercise that encourages children to share their fears about playing tag. They are also particularly astute when drawing the line between the idea of the self held by moral philosophers who 'attribute unacceptable conduct to flawed character, weakness of will, failure of conscience or bad faith' and the therapeutic idea of the self, where personal shortcomings are maladies, syndromes and disorders. This distinction is useful. We tend to forget that psychology is just another system of knowledge, like moral philosophy (or reality television). Like any other discipline or genre, it has limits, and it is worth remembering that there are other ways for us to think of what we are and what a self is." — The New York Times Book Review

"Philosopher-turned-controversialist Sommers and psychiatrist Satel argue as forcibly against contemporary psychotherapeutic notions and nostrums as Sommers did against radical feminism in WHO STOLE FEMINISM? (1994) and THE WAR AGAINST BOYS (2000). The American Enterprise Institute colleagues question five pet doctrines of contemporary therapy by presenting the research evidence for and against them. That is, they review the relevant literature, letting its conclusions speak for themselves; though they are critical of the five shibboleths, they don't have to apply spin to be convincing. Properly conducted research doesn't, they show, back up the fashionable dogmas that (1) children are psychologically fragile and mustn't be stressed, (2) self-esteem is the sine qua non of psychological health, (3) what moralists call sins are expressions of mental illness, (4) the emotional effects of trauma must be acted out, and (5) all war and disaster witnesses suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sure, some kids are hypersensitive, self-esteem isn't unimportant, PTSD is a real condition, and so forth. Folly and worse result, however, when the five dogmas are generalized as they are in current practice, a point Sommers and Satel drive home — anent dogmas 4 and 5, in particular — in the long sixth chapter, 'September 11, 2001: The Mental Health Crisis That Wasn't.' Well-written, well-informed public affairs argumentation." — Booklist

Up Back to Top