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December 13, 1995

Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy

Author Affiliations

Kansas University Medical Center Kansas City, Mo

JAMA. 1995;274(22):1814-1815. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530220080047

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This is an ambitious book. It seeks to describe the manner in which the concept of "self" has been defined and experienced in various historical eras in America, to explain how psychotherapy contributed to this concept, and finally to criticize psychotherapy's contributions and argue that it needs to change direction. The author is not completely successful in all these endeavors, but he does succeed in producing an interesting, contentious, and clearly written book.

Cushman, a historian and practicing psychologist, lays out his major themes and biases in his first two chapters, which can be summarized by the following passages: "over the last 150 years, American history has become a history of the modern ills of isolation, uncertainty and doubt"; "the current configuration of the self is the empty self... characterized by a pervasive sense of personal emptiness and... committed to the value of self liberation through consumption"; "There seems little

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