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.
23. Heider, “HumPot Papers,” 47. 24. “Seminars,” brochure, Big Sur Hot Springs, Winter–Spring 1964. 25. Heider, “HumPot Papers,” 9. 26. Laura Perls as quoted in Kripal, Esalen, 161; Robert Shilkret, interview with author, South Hadley, MA, September 17, 2005. Professor Robert Shilkret of Mount Holyoke College remembers Fritz Perls’s appearance in 1966 as “very California.” Addressing a crowd at Boston University’s student center, Perls arrived unreasonably late and spoke for a very short time,
illusion was science.”39 Freud pursued his theory of psychoanalysis with a positivistic zeal, wrought from the formative influences of his medical school mentors (a physiologist, a brain anatomist, and an internist).40 Although he recognized that psychoanalysis was a young science requiring further testing, the acquisition of more data, and additional experimentation, he conceived of it as nothing but scientific. In contrast to James, who felt ultimately that men must surpass the limitations of
films, and public lectures. By the 1940s, most of the literate public was familiar with Freud’s ideas on the unconscious, defense mechanisms, psychological conflict, and the link between dreams and repression.46 His theories broadly informed child-rearing advice, progressive education, and criminology. Freud’s theories and techniques created both a small cult of analysis (comprised mainly of writers, intellectuals, and artists who were compelled by Freud’s colorful explanations of the psyche)
psychologist from Ohio State named George Kelly, again took up the argument for the necessity of the kind of pre-science Maslow was talking about.37 Scientists needed to be open-minded and flexible, he argued, rather than guided by rigid expectations. He warned against “the notion that we ought always to be right before we commit ourselves,” and advocated instead for the creation of an academic climate that would allow researchers to concede mistakes and revise their constructions.38 The
“hermeneutic mysticism” with Aurobindo’s ideas.14 Aurobindo, one of the first Indian mystics to develop a significant corpus of writings in English, had synthesized Eastern and Western philosophy, yoga, religion, literature, and psychology to propose a vision of man’s divine possibilities that resonated with the idea of human potentialities. “Everyone has in him something divine,” he wrote, “something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere which God offers him to