Psychiatry in the 60’s: the New Candy Pink Stove? Or the Start of Something Bigger?

The great Roger Sterling once said, “Psychiatry is just this year's candy pink stove.”

But how factual was the infamous Mad Man’s comment? Was psychiatry really just a housewife in the 1960’s vied for? Or was it the beginning of a serious discipline that millions of people would use to their advantage in years to follow? The history of psychiatry is an extremely rocky one that almost agrees with Roger’s comment.

In the 1960’s psychiatry was brutally attacked. According to Gerald Grob, in his article The attack of psychiatriclegitimacy in the 1960s: Rhetoric and reality, everyone was a critic of the new science. Both sides of the political spectrum actually agreed that it had no legitimate scientific or medical benefit for patients. One of the biggest and most well known sharpshooter was Thomas S. Szasz. He believed there was no such thing as a mental illness; this to which today we all know is extremely inaccurate. People who tried to explain mental disorders were typically liberals. This is due to the decline after World War 2 in Anti-Semitism, there was a rise in Jewish people pursuing careers in psychiatry.

Although psychiatry was on the rise, it was also under attack. Many books were published in the 1960’s that had an immediate negative effect on the discipline. The book Asylums, written by Erving Goffman, was written in 1961. It looked at institutions and presented the ability to generalize in a unique way. An example Goffman provides is slightly paradoxical. For example, patients would be hostile towards the hospital, which showed why they were there in the first place. But these hospitals were staffed in order to maintain the look of the medical service model. Basically Goffman in his book says that mental hospitals are only serviced to keep good face, yet they keep good face because the patients need to be in an asylum.

What were the effects of the attack on psychiatry? Grob concludes they were positive. Because of the constant critiques, psychiatry went through an internal change. Where psychiatry was weak, in areas such as psychodynamic psychiatry and psychotherapy, they influenced other types such as biological psychiatry.

So was Betty Draper following another trend? In the 1960’s it would have looked so. In today’s era we understand that mental illness is a serious issue. Psychiatrists have become much more legitimate, the science has been improved on, and society views it in an accepting way.

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