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Psychiatric Imperialism: DSM goes global

By Diane Cole

May/June 2010


Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche
Ethan Watters
Free Press. 306pp. ISBN: 9781416587088

In a strongly argued new book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, journalist Ethan Watters presents a disconcerting portrait of the latest incarnation of the Ugly American: as global shrink. Read it at the risk of hating yourself (or your colleagues, or Watters, or American culture and capitalism) in the morning. But don't read it and risk missing what our global cultural blinders may be preventing us from seeing.

Crazy Like Us is a withering indictment of America's role in spreading our own concepts of mental illness around the world—a form of American psychiatric imperialism, you might say. "The virus is us," he contends, and we keep on spreading it. (Whoa! See what I mean about hating yourself?!)

Okay, so does Watters have anything new to tell us beyond leftie America-bashing, which is tedious even for a bleeding-heart liberal like me? The answer is yes, but you have to sift through his political assumptions to find it.

To give Watters his due, he's clearly done his homework, researching the cross-cultural psychology literature and interviewing internationally recognized experts. He's traveled to Hong Kong, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Zanzibar, and uses case histories from each locale to illustrate the ways in which he believes we're "homogenizing the way the world goes mad" by…

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