Encountering America: Sixties Psychology, Counterculture and the Movement That Shaped the Modern Self
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A dramatic narrative history of the psychological movement that reshaped American culture
The expectation that our careers and personal lives should be expressions of our authentic selves, the belief that our relationships should be defined by openness and understanding, the idea that therapy can help us reach our fullest potential—these ideas have become so familiar that it's impossible to imagine our world without them.
In Encountering America, cultural historian Jessica Grogan reveals how these ideas stormed the barricades of our culture through the humanistic psychology movement—the work of a handful of maverick psychologists who revolutionized American culture in the 1960s and '70s. Profiling thought leaders including Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, and Timothy Leary, Grogan draws on untapped primary sources to explore how these minds and the changing cultural atmosphere combined to create a widely influential movement. From the group of ideas that became known as New Age to perennial American anxieties about wellness, identity, and purpose, Grogan traces how humanistic psychology continues to define the way we understand ourselves.
feelings, ambiguity, openness, softness, depth and involvement, etc.”56 The renewed humanistic psychology that participants envisioned included a “systematization of subjective experience,” an “open, participating inquiry,” a moral, value-directed inquiry, and a unified view of human experience that would balance subjective and objective inquiry.57 For May, the need to address the theoretical shortcomings of the movement preceded the need to strengthen the movement’s scientific bases. He opened
business interests and invoked as a justification for drug abuse, infidelity, or narrow self-focus—they no longer embody the intentions or resemble the original forms from which they were born. Many Americans have some understanding of the extent to which our contemporary culture is a “therapy culture,” one in which we hold fast to notions of the self as changeable and redeemable and in which we have largely replaced more traditional structures of religion and morality with the values of
us toward growth, in the way Carl Rogers theorized and demonstrated, they may enable our fixations. And rather than modeling a healthy positive regard, they may merely display a begrudging tolerance. We encounter distortions of humanistic psychology in our daily lives, as well. Talk shows and self-help books, for example, often tout the importance of being true to our inner selves, even when it’s at the expense of our families or our community. In defiance of the intentions of Maslow and others
inherent actualizing tendencies.28 Goldstein’s work was part of a small but persistent current in psychology, one toward which Maslow increasingly turned, that pushed back against the taboos that positivists in general, and behaviorists in particular, had tried to establish against considering subjective reports and relying on personal deductions. “The fallacy of the behaviorist’s formula,” wrote one early one critic of behaviorism, “lies in the omitted terms with the result that, were he
closed.13 Tom Wolfe portrayed a similar scene in which a trainer was instructing the prone masses to take their fingers off the “repress button,” to “let all the vile stuff come up and gush out.”14 The emotional expulsiveness of these sessions had been parodied a year earlier in the popular film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The film opens with a confrontation between Bob and Carol, in the context of an Esalen-style encounter group, about the distance in their marriage. As Carol begins to weep, the