Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche

A successful virus is adaptive. It evolves as needed to survive and colonize new hosts. By this definition, contemporary American psychiatry is a very successful virus. Exploiting cracks that emerge in times of cultural transition, it exports DSM depression to Japan and posttraumatic stress disorder to Sri Lanka.

Journalist Ethan Watters masterfully evokes the heady admixture of moral certainty and profit motive that drives U.S. clinicians and pharmaceutical companies as they evangelically promote Western psychiatry around the globe. On the ground in Sri Lanka following the tsunami, for example, hordes of Western counselors hit the ground running, aggressively competing for access to a native population "clearly in denial" about the extent of their trauma. Backing up the foot soldiers are corporations like Pfizer, eager to market the antidepressant Zoloft to a virgin population.

Watters has done his homework. Each of his four examples of DSM-style disorders being introduced around the world is rich in compelling historical and cultural detail. Despite their divergences, each successful expansion hinges on the mutual faith of both the colonizers and the colonized that Western approaches represent the pillar of scientific progress.

My review of Crazy Like Us, an engaging and enlightening book that I highly recommend, continues HERE.

Watters' Jan. 8, 2010 essay in the New York Times, "The Americanization of Mental Illness," is HERE.

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