How can we understand the appeal of psychotherapy, widely recognized as the preferred antidote to human unhappiness and misery, and what does it offer that friends, family, self-help, and psychopharmacological remedies do not?
What does psychotherapy offer our distressed selves that friends, family, self-help, and psychopharmacological remedies do not? The demand for therapy is currently at an all-time high, bolstering its century-long hegemony as the preferred antidote to human unhappiness and misery, even as it is under sustained attack from critics characterizing it as self-indulgent as well as from platforms that would replace human therapists with chatbots, analysts with algorithms. This course explores the science and art, the conflicts and controversies, that have shaped today’s psychotherapeutic landscape, addressing questions concerning its present condition and future prospects. We will look at the development, methods, aims, efficacy, and limitations of a range of psychotherapeutic modalities from Freud’s time to our own—among them psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, manualized, evidence-based, and AI-informed treatments as well as family, sex, and group therapies. We will examine therapy’s long-overdue, on-going reckoning with racial issues, gendered identities, and access to treatment. We will explore the various modern selves envisioned by psychotherapy, from the highly relational to the independently sovereign. You will leave the course prepared to recognize and evaluate claims regarding therapy’s rationale and impact in a range of sites, from the clinician’s office to the modern workplace to the media, as well as to assess the ways in which happiness, contentment, and satisfaction in life are subject—or not—to therapeutic intervention. Do we suffer less and enjoy greater self-knowledge one hundred years after the invention of the talking cures?