A Brief History Of Psychotherapy

A Mosaic of the Psychotherapy Networker, 1982-2012

March/April 2012

For three decades, this front-of-the-book section—first called Around the Network, then Network Briefs, and later Clinician’s Digest—has camped out on psychotherapy’s frontline, providing easily digestible, short takes on breaking developments of interest to the field. Paging through this department today provides a fascinating form of armchair time-travel. These encapsulated reports document many concerns and controversies that now seem like distant echoes, reveal how little we knew about subjects we thought we understood at the time, and pinpoint those moments when the field first became aware of major, new findings, clinical innovations, and social trends, offering a summary of our collective learning curve as a profession over the last three decades. Here are a few excerpts documenting these stages in the field’s journey.

The Lessons of the Masters—1982

The early editions of what was then called Around the Network—in a publication then titled The Family Therapy Networker—reflected this magazine’s efforts to grasp what the exciting new field of family therapy was all about. Who were its leading lights? What set them apart? What could they teach the rest of us about the mysteries of therapeutic alchemy? Truth to tell, there was a lot of hero worship in the field in its infancy, as everyone looked hopefully to Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson, Murray Bowen, Carl Whitaker, and others to show them the way.

But ever the skeptic, Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman stood a bit outside of the profession’s collective enthusiasms, fads, and groupthink. He was our provocateur-in-residence and for 26 years, until his retirement in 2009, the author of Screening Room, his always-quotable, bimonthly review of the latest movie offerings. Here’s a nugget of penetrating wisdom from Frank that appeared, not in a film review, but as a Networker Quote of the Month in one of our 1982 issues:

I should not presume to explain the phenomenon of a master therapist like [Carl] Whitaker. But a master therapist is likely to be better at doing therapy than at explaining it. When any of us explains what we do as therapy, we may notice only those things we work at doing and may overlook those things that come naturally.

John Hinckley’s Leaving Home—1983

As the boomers swelled the ranks of the therapy profession and became the psychologically-minded consumers of the burgeoning profession of psychotherapy, our field received increasing mainstream coverage through the late ’70s and early ’80s. Then John Hinckley’s shocking assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan focused attention on the quality of treatment Hinckley had received and his therapist’s use of the “leaving home” strategy, commonly employed at that time with troubled young adults struggling to start a life independent of their parents. Bringing even more tension to the drama was the spectacle of every therapist’s ultimate nightmare—a malpractice lawsuit in the glare of national publicity.

Former Presidential Press Secretary James Brady along with the Secret Service agent and D.C. policeman who were also wounded in John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan have filed a 14 million dollar malpractice suit against Hinckley’s former psychiatrist John Hopper. The suit charges that Hopper misdiagnosed Hinckley’s condition (Hopper’s diagnosis was “acute anxiety”); provided treatment under which Hinckley actually got worse (Hopper prescribed valium and had his client go through biofeedback relaxation procedures), and should have hospitalized Hinckley (as his parents requested).

Commenting on the suit, Joel Klein, General Counsel for the American Psychiatric Association, maintained that if Hopper loses there will be a tremendous increase in the number of difficult patients who will be hospitalized by therapists out of “self-defense.”

–Katy Butler

[The case was ultimately dismissed on the grounds that Hopper couldn’t have known that Hinckley, who never threatened anyone, was capable of such violence.]

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