Printer Friendly

Etiology replaces interminability: a historiographical analysis of the mental hygiene movement.

The mental hygiene movement, a dramatic extension of Progressive Era delinquency prevention into America's public schools, began to take form in the United States in 1908, catalyzed by the publication of Clifford Whittingham Beers' A Mind That Found Itself. That same year, Beers helped found the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene, the model for the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (NCMH). The NCMH was founded a year later and would serve as the steering committee for the mental hygiene movement. 1909 also marked Sigmund Freud's only visit to America. Adolf Meyer, a prominent psychiatrist, was in the audience at the Clark University Conference as Freud lectured on psychoanalysis.

Meyer was also involved in the founding of the NCMH and would intellectually influence the mental hygiene movement through his theory of psychobiology, which posited that personalities could be known through observing how individuals organized themselves. Mental hygienists accordingly sought to diagnose and treat poorly organized or maladjusted personalities, practices motivated by a progressive faith in the plasticity of personality development.

The following historiography analyzes this constellation of events, people, and theories that were behind the mental hygiene movement and argues that both hygienists and historians of the movement miss the lessons Freud was trying to teach his American audience. In addition to analyzing the problematic science upon which the mental hygiene movement was built, this analysis argues that historians of the movement continue to participate in the misappropriation of psychoanalysis by conflating its therapeutic and emancipatory projects. This historiographical argument requires reading the history of the mental hygiene movement through Freud's (1910; 1961) Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis in an effort to work through the lessons Freud was trying to teach the attendees of the Clark University Conference; specifically, those lessons which speak to how children learn to attach themselves to the external world and to associate with others.

Historians of the mental hygiene movement have demonstrated how it reflected the progressivism's contradictory tendencies of humanitarianism and positivism. Theresa Richardson (1989), for example, describes the mental hygiene movement as combining "nineteenth century child saving with the idea that the scientific promotion of well-being in childhood could prevent adult dysfunction" (2). The preventative focus of the mental hygiene movement stood in stark contrast to the essentialism of the eugenics movement, the countervailing Progressive Era approach to preventing adult dysfunction. Thomas W. Salmon (1913), the first Medical Director of the NCMH, while noting eugenics as an option for preventing the generational transmission of mental illness, advocated instead for "the education of defective children" because they "constitute a special class and should receive separate instruction" (311). Confident that they could mold good children, hygienists developed elaborate theories of personality development, which eventually found their way into America's public schools. Hygienists traced maladjusted personalities as the etiology of mental illness and believed that through the scientific control of individual personalities they could effectively treat social pathology. Indeed, Sol Cohen (1983) argues that it was the "assumed neutrality of the medical profession" and its "scientific sounding language of health and disease" that facilitated the mental hygiene movement's success (140).

The theoretical and practical underpinnings of the mental hygiene movement can be traced to the child studies of G. Stanly Hall and his 1904 magnum opus, Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relation to Physiology. In this work, Hall explicated the connection between biology and childhood development, much of which was informed by new scientific techniques and technologies that enabled human development to be viewed and measured microscopically. What resulted was an embryological view of childhood, the supersession of preformationist accounts of how children grew, and a dramatic alteration of the philosophy of child-rearing. As Joshua Garrison (2006) argues, no longer could education focus on "growing an adult," as preformationist had argued, but would instead have to attend to "developing a child" (13-14). If, as embryologists had microscopically observed, a fertilized egg did not in fact encase a miniature person, but instead an undifferentiated collection of cells that developed into a person, then certainly children developed similarly. Hall was quick to appropriate this developmentalist thesis into his study of children. What emerged was a theory of not only biological development but of social evolution as well.

That simple cell organisms grew into more complex organisms meant for Hall that simple societies evolved into more complex societies. As Garrison (2006) notes, at the turn of the twentieth century, then, "the natural laws operating within the biological realm offered human scientists formulae to explain the growth, development, and evolution of human phenomena" (11). The most detrimental of these explanations was the theory of recapitulation, which posited that ontogeny, or the organism, recapitulated phylogeny, or the species. More dramatic still, not only was the individual repeated in the social, as organs might structure an organism, but both the individual and society shared the same history. Children, as well as the colonized populations Hall described as "savages," were thus counterfactual living embryological evidence of a shared history from which adults and Western civilization had evolved. Adults and Western civilization were, in Hall's recapitulationist thinking, post-pubescent because they demonstrated secondary characteristics. Adolescence thus figured prominently for Hall as an essential evolutionary moment from which children would either evolve into adulthood (civilization) or retain their primary epochal form (savagery); or even worse, a moment children would revert back into if not properly educated. As such, Adolescence was an educational prescription complete with "progressive pedagogical and developmental regimens" designed to ensure "that individual growth unfolded in harmony with that of the world's superior races" (101).

Reflecting on Hall's recapitulation theory, Meyer (1951b) remarked that although Hall had succeeded in preparing "the American public for a growing liberalism and an increasing faith and eagerness in the direction of the study of man" he did not succeed in captivating public enthusiasm and was bound to arouse "a feeling of reserve and criticism among the critical conservatives" (520). Like Hall's theory of adolescence, Meyer's theory of psychobiology was also predicated on problematic biological assertions, which misappropriated psychoanalytic thought for behaviorist ends. While the founding document of the mental hygiene movement may have been Beers' (1908) confessional criticism of American psychiatry, the theoretical underpinning of the movement was Meyer's (1957) theory of psychobiology, which he summarized in series of lectures delivered in New York in 1932 honoring the life and work of Salmon. There are echoes of recapitulationist thinking in Meyer's theory, especially in his view of subject organization, which suggested that children with poor mental hygiene might fail to evolve from a state of savage-childhood into civilized-adulthood and which also relied on reductionist biological thinking that individual organs structured the whole organism.

Unlike Hall, however, Meyer (1957) focused on the plasticity of children's personalities rather than the epochal states of their development. Meyer's focus on the malleability of childhood was informed by Progressive Era notions that humans were whole, rather than dualistic, persons. In rejecting dualistic thinking, Meyer sought to create a third position between the introspective study of the mind and the anatomical study of the body. For Meyer, American pluralism and pragmatism were "liberating factors in throwing off dogmatic dualism and making unnecessary an ideal and forced monism which disregarded the specificity of many biological data" (47). Meyer also cited Charles Darwin's theorizing of emotions as biological, Ivan Pavlov's behaviorism, John Dewey's instrumentalism, and Hall's child studies as influential to his theory of psychobiology. These influences led Meyer toward theorizing man as an integrated whole organism, which meant distinguishing structural parts or organs from the functional whole personal unit.

"Psychobiology," Meyer (1957) argued, "in recognizing the distinction between unit function and part function, leads us without any arbitrary mutual exclusiveness to a perfectly natural defining of the related fields of all sciences dealing with man" (53). The sciences, like organs, have different structural functions, integrated within the whole person. Integration was not only about understanding the combined structural-functions of the body, but also the functional aspects of experience, which Meyer argued should not be consigned to the introspective domain of the mind. Integration, then, was functional-functional; that is, the subjective functions of experience helped determine the objective functions of the body. In integrating subjectivity and objectivity, Meyer posited psychobiology as a theory of biological subject organization in which "the human organism comes to work with the products of experience as well as those of heredity and growth" toward adaptive performances that "meet the needs and opportunities of the specific temporary environment" (60). Meyer analogized these adaptive performances to wearing dramaturgical masks, which changed according to the scene, just as our exhibited personalities change according to the situation. While individuals undoubtedly present situational personas, the goal of psychobiology was successful presentation, which necessarily meant that personalities that did not utilize one's assets and opportunities for progressive ends required guidance.

Freudian psychoanalytical thought was also influential to the mental hygiene movement, although there has been a tendency among historians of the movement to conflate what Peter Taubman (2012) parses as the therapeutic and emancipatory projects of psychoanalysis. The former project reflects the contradictory progressive tendencies of humanitarianism and positivism in the equal attention given to caritas (well-being) and logos (rationality) and focuses on "the practical and clinical and aspires either to scientific certainty, so that it can control if not predict its effects, and truth, so that it can rightfully persuade others of its ideals of health, normalcy, or political rectitude" (26). The latter project is interested in "all the ways we make sense of or try to understand our experiences, no matter how trivial or traumatic, and brings to bear on that experience and those meanings a particular theoretical orientation that continually puts itself and all else into question" (28). Taubman ultimately concludes, that American education has historically disavowed the emancipatory project of psychoanalysis and argues that the measure of this disavowal is evident in education's insistence on experimental cognitive psychology, psychiatry, and behaviorism.

In attempting to understand this disavowal, this historiographical analysis becomes methodologically linked with the emancipatory project of psychoanalysis; that is, the history of the mental hygiene movement becomes a way of understanding America's educative unconscious. As president of Clark University, Hall housed psychology and pedagogy under the same disciplinary roof, which was unusual at the time given that universities such as Harvard disciplinarily linked psychology with philosophy. What is perhaps ironic about the Hall's child studies is that Freud too understood psychoanalysis and education as methodologically similar, if not impossible, professions. Meyer, who gave the mental hygiene movement its name, would ultimately reject the incompleteness of psychoanalytic thought in favor of the possibility of rendering the causes of patient personalities knowable through direct observation. This hygienic quest for etiology resulted in perhaps the most important lesson of psychoanalysis -- the role of the unconscious in learning--being lost. The measure of this loss is evident in the mental hygiene movement's continued recapitulationist thinking in the direction of phylogeny, rather than understanding, as Freud had, that pedagogy requires moving ontogenetically backwards through repressions in search of the unconscious (Britzman 2011, 49-53). To be sure, this is a resistant, affective, and interminable journey, but it is a journey continually marked by learning rather than causes.

Freud's first lecture concerned the unconscious and argued first, that symptoms resulted from memories and that memories are remembered unconsciously; second, that the unconscious often unknowingly influences our daily lives; third, that the unconscious is structured through conflict; and finally, that only by reliving what is consciously repressed can the symptomatic manifestations of the unconscious be resolved. Freud maintained that much of this reliving occurred through analytic dialogue in which the analysand told the analyst whatever came to his or her mind without self-imposed restrictions. This "talking cure" is not only absent from hygienic attempts to diagnose and treat children, but is reversed; that is, rather than listening, hygienists told children, parents, and teachers about the correctness of their expert observations. In disavowing the unconscious, hygienists missed the fundamental point of Freud's (1910; 1961) first lecture: "Wherever there is a symptom there is also an amnesia, a gap in the memory, and filling this gap implies the removal of the conditions which led to the production of the symptom" (17).

Meyer (1957) insisted that he did not "start with the subconscious or the unconscious, either in the sense of non-awareness or in the specific sense of the repressed unconscious of Freudian analysis" so as to "avoid a hasty turning to any hypothetical constructs" (95). Meyer preferred "the common sense psychobiological approach which starts from what is accessible and views symptoms as a real part of an attempt at adjustment;" this starting point gave the physician "a chance to modify inadequate behavior indirectly as well as through a direct attack on the symptom" (105). While Meyer recognized that the unconscious was operative in "adjustive processes," he maintained that a person's dependability and continuity "can carry their full weight only in the limited range of what is possible in statu nascendi, within the relatively narrow span of attention" (62-63). Accordingly, Meyer concluded that "the great need of the day is for a sound concept of human living as a blending of plasticity and dependability within a biographical frame, with a sense for the prevailing factors, motives, and goals in terms of specific assets, opportunities, and concrete performances" (97).

Despite Meyer's attempts to exclude the unconscious from his theory of psychobiology, his efforts, according to Freud's second lecture, only confirmed its import. Repression was for Freud an impermanent act of excluding that which could not be consciously tolerated until, through analysis, the repressed was given up or sublimated. Despite its resistance to the unconscious, the mental hygiene movement was nonetheless motivated around notions of repression and sublimation. For hygienists, repression was evident in the overemphasis on knowledge in public education and the inattention paid to personality formation. Hygienists accordingly "condemned the academic subject-matter centered curriculum as a Procrustean bed, resulting in disaffection, failure, behavior problems, or personality maladjustment" and argued instead for more child-centered and permissive forms of schooling (Cohen 1983, 130). Sublimation, a process whose complications were not still understood even by Freud, was a central tenet of the mental hygiene movement and progressivism generally; indeed, the belief in the mutability and perfectibility of personalities necessitated an idea that dysfunction could be positively re-channeled. Hygienic demands for more child-centered and permissive curricula has led Cohen (1999) to disparage psychoanalysis rather than recognizing, as Freud (1910; 1961) had, that "the hypothesis of repression leaves us not at the end but the beginning of a psychological theory" (24).

Cohen (1999) argues that American progressive educators used European psychoanalytic thought to justify not only their child-centered and permissive educational policies but also to solidify their status as experts skilled in the new pedagogical language of the Progressive Era. In mapping progressivism and psychoanalysis onto each other Cohen suggests that the failures of psychoanalytic pedagogy and of progressive education to bring about an educational utopia were mutually reinforcing. There is, to be sure, a certain truth to this criticism as much of the progressive movement's utopian vision collapsed underneath its penchant for testing, measuring, and categorizing. There is nonetheless within Cohen's critique of European psychoanalytic pedagogy a certain Freudian straw man, whose changing attitudes toward permissiveness and repression "in retrospect help[s] explain why things went wrong in practice" (173). Cohen argues that Freud ultimately concluded that repression was not something by psychoanalytic pedagogy should work through, but was instead a civilizing force. Cohen's suggestion that, despite claims to the contrary, psychoanalytic pedagogues were controllers not liberators disavows the emancipatory project of psychoanalysis.

This disavowal is evident is Cohen's (1999) conclusion: "If Americans would give up the tendency to think of human perfectibility and of education in such idealized terms, then a step toward demystification would be taken, and a step from demoralization as well" (177). Importantly, Freud viewed education, like psychoanalysis, as an impossible profession and better suited toward gradual re-education than immediate scientific or medical interventions. As Deborah Britzman (2011) notes, Freud considered education and psychoanalysis to be impossible professions because each relied on bringing to the foreground memories and experiences which instruct us unconsciously in an effort to move through them toward new learnings. The impossibility of this task lies in the vicissitudes of human emotions and their various affective and resistive attachments, which can either enable or block new learnings. This meant that there were two important differences between psychoanalysis and mental hygiene. First, hygienists took for granted the naturalness of children's interests rather than attempting to "shed light on the desires behind those interests, how they were shaped, and how they might be over-determined by unconscious forces" (Taubman 2012, 85). Secondly, Freudian psychoanalysis contradicted progressive inclinations to posit a single etiology of individual maladjustment by insisting on the radical unknowableness of the unconscious and the interminability of the human condition. Parsing Cohen's holistic critique of psychoanalysis as a partial critique of its therapeutic project and a disavowal of its emancipatory possibilities helps explain the tension between progressivism's humanistic and positivistic misappropriation of repression and sublimation; correcting for the former being its humanitarian aim and channeling the latter being its positivistic goal.

Sublimation was never the primary goal of psychoanalysis, however, and attempts to correct behavior through sanctioned avenues of expression belied Freud's (1910; 1961) contention that "the repressed wishful impulse continues to exist in the unconscious" (26). This tension can be seen in hygienists' attempts to first diagnose and then treat children's personalities, such efforts simultaneously expressed concern for the well-being of children and enacted an instrumental rationality. Within this tension there is also a failure to account for the topics of Freud's third lecture --psychic determinism and the scientific and medical status of psychoanalysis. Toward the end of his third lecture, Freud argued that mental structures were not determined environmentally or hereditarily, but were psychically determined. This position arguably fueled progressive faith in preventative treatments aimed at altering the individual psychic structures of children--an individual or hygienic, rather than social or sanitary approach. From its beginning, however, psychoanalysis had expressed an ambivalence with its status as a scientific and medical profession. This did not prevent it from becoming, to borrow a term from Cohen (1983), "medicalized" by hygienists. As Taubman (2012) argues, "mental hygienists combined psychoanalysis, the child-centered strand of progressive pedagogy and what they considered Dewey's new methods, in hope of building a better society and a healthier person" (81).

The medicalization of psychoanalysis was fueled by attempts to bolster its academic and scientific legitimacy and out of a cultural demand for a teleological way of understanding the human condition. The move toward medicalization is evident in tensions that surrounded the publica tion of A Mind That Found Itself and the eventual professionalization of the NCMH. While Beers had been critical of professional psychiatry, he realized that if his experiential account was to be accepted, it would have to be endorsed by the same professionals he criticized. Towards this end, Beers sought the endorsement of a variety of established intellectuals including William James and Meyer, who would become an outspoken critic of Beers' autobiography and its call for a lay psychiatry. Conflicts with Beers over the direction and scope of the NCMH led Meyer to resign from the Committee in 1911 and to take up residency at Johns Hopkins University's Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. The tension between Beers and Meyer shaped the nascent mental hygiene movement. Where Beers sought to de-professionalize psychiatry, Meyer argued for its professionalization; where Beers sought to criticize psychiatry, Meyer sought to extol its scientific and therapeutic virtues; and where Beers sought a public movement, Meyer sought an assembly of medical professionals. Ultimately, "Beers' advocacy program for the insane was translated into conformity with an evolving new leadership in medicine and psychiatry and directed toward incorporating the idea of the prevention of mental illness as necessarily concerned with childhood" (Richardson 1989, 46). This was especially true as Salmon assumed leadership of the NCMH in 1913 as the Committee's first Medical Director.

Salmon's election as Medical Director usurped Beers' leadership, although Beers continued on as the Committee's Executive Secretary despite the position no longer being one of leadership. In his newly assumed leadership role, and until his resignation in 1922, Salmon oversaw the expansion of the NCMH and the completion of Beers' wish for a national movement, although with a dramatically different focus. Salmon advocated that the NCMH should focus on eliminating defective populations and preserving the health of normal children. Meyer's theory of psychobiology and Hall's child studies influenced these two prerogatives. Like Meyer, Salmon was concerned with adult maladjustment and conducted a number of child studies attempting to discover its etiology; unlike Meyer, however, Salmon was not opposed to making mental hygiene a public issue. Beers, of course, opposed the usurpation of his movement by medical professionals and following Salmon's election sent a letter to Charles

Eliot, Vice President of the NCMH and a member of the Rockefeller Foundation's General Education Board, urging his intervention to stop the medicalization of the NCMH (Richardson 1989, 54-55).

Beers had hoped that as a non-medical layperson, Eliot would be sympathetic to his complaint. Eliot's reply, however, solidified the mental hygiene movement's new medical focus as well as the Rockefeller Foundation's unwavering support of Salmon and his scientific initiatives. The Rockefeller Foundation's support of the NCMH was made even more permanent when Salmon became a salaried member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees in 1915 (Richardson 1989, 55). The fusing of the missions of the Rockefeller Foundation and the NCMH underscores the mutually reinforcing influences of philanthropy and the mental hygiene movement and marks a shift from investing in social reform toward funding individual prevention. Margo Horn (1989) argues that the history of the child guidance movement, the descendent of the mental hygiene movement, was informed by this shift, which made juvenile delinquency a medical problem and transformed the "hopeful environmentalism advocated by social reformers" into the treatment of "individual psychological change" (15). This shift is also evident in Beers and Salmon's competing visions of the NCMH.

Having suffered mental illness, which led to a suicide attempt in 1894 and subsequent hospitalization, Beers was acutely aware of the needed influence of laypersons in mental health. Speaking at the eleventh annual New York State Conference of Charities and Correction, Beers (1910) impassionedly argued that more attention be given to mental illness outside the purview of hospitals for the insane and that persons with mental illness should not be committed except as a last resort. Arguing that there were at least as many instances of mental disorder as there were cases of tuberculosis, Beers pleaded for mental health to receive similar public attention and concluded his lecture by insisting that "psychiatrists hold out little hope that a specific for any form of mental disorder will ever be found, ... but one thing, however, is for certain," he continued, "the burden of insanity can never be diminished except through education and the doing of intensive Social Service work" (3).

Beers not only differed from Salmon over who should intervene in treating mental illness and the form intervention should take, but like Freud was also pessimistic about the future of psychoanalysis if it could not find a home outside of medicine and as such hoped that lay analysts might stay the tide of medicalization. Freud had argued that lay analysts should not be required to attain medical degrees, but that they instead undergo analysis and develop "'a free human outlook' in part through study in the humanities and social sciences" (Taubman 2012, 79). Indeed, in his third lecture Freud (1910; 1961) argued that the hermeneutic distance between dreams and waking life equally astounded psychiatrists and laypersons and that the interpretation of the manifest content of dreams through analyzing their latent dream-thoughts, what Freud called "dream-work," was meant to exposes how mental life was determined by "several motives" rather than by "a single psychic cause" (40). The obsession with singularity is evident in state and national psychoanalytic societies throughout the 1920s and 1930s requiring medical degrees (Taubman 2012, 78-79). As professional licensure became more prominent, Beers' lecture offers a glimpse into what lay analysis might have looked like.

The professionalization of psychiatry increased dramatically following World War I, which although it temporarily stalled the efforts of Salmon and NCMH also gave psychiatry "a new professional identity" and proved that it was useful outside of hospitals and asylums (Cohen 1983, 127-28). As the war concluded, psychiatrists like Salmon were eager to ply their new skills in the social arena, particularly to the field of personality development. In 1915, Salmon had petitioned the Rockefeller Foundation for funding to study the correlation between criminality and mental illness. The study was of Sing Sing prisoners and was designed to operate in coordination with a New York mental clinic for children. The purpose of the study was to identify causal links between criminality and mental illness that relied on personality maladjustments rather than innate criminal instincts. This project was taken up again by Salmon following the war and succeeded in defining crime as a medical problem that psychiatry was uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat (Richardson 1989, 81-82). Salmon thus leveraged the study of adult delinquency into "the emergence of the subspecialty of child psychiatry" (Horn 1989, 26). In doing so, Salmon provided the impetus for implementing mental hygiene regimens in America's public schools.

In 1920, with knowledge of what adult criminality looked like from the Sing Sing study, Salmon proposed that the NCMH establish a division of delinquency to do field work on preventing juvenile delinquency. This division would leverage the medical science of psychiatry and work specifically with children. There were several advantages of working with children: complicating factors were not prevalent during childhood, because children lived with families inherited factors could be studied, and children's lower inhibitions made them more susceptible to treatment and treatment more likely to succeed (Horn 1989, 26). What resulted from Salmon's proposal was the Program for the Prevention of Delinquency, which "launched the child guidance movement, greatly stimulated the school social work or visiting teacher movement as well as the development of child psychiatry and psychiatric social work and became the spearpoint for mental hygiene penetration of the school" (Cohen 1983, 128). There are strong echoes of recapitulationist thinking in Salmon's move from studying adult criminality to juvenile delinquency; indeed, Hall had not only conflated criminals, "savages," and juveniles but through recapitulation had maintained that adult criminals had juvenile or "savage" attributes. Hygienists like Salmon thus echoed Hall's contention that criminality involved biological and social premises, which if not properly sublimated would preclude childhood development past "the 'criminal' stage of human history" (Garrison 2006, 143).

There is within Salmon's 1920 proposal a movement toward synthesizing environmentalism and heredity into a single holistic understanding of the individual. An understanding Salmon articulated in his 1924 book Mind and Medicine, which Meyer (1957) quoted in the introduction to his lecture on psychobiology: "'The way is rapidly being cleared for the concept of man as an organism acting, even in his most circumscribed mental or physical activities, as a whole'" (4-5). Ultimately, the lesson to be learned from hygienists like Meyer and Salmon is how the mind and body were integrated. The inability to predict psychic phenomena ran counter to the mental hygiene movement's teleological understanding of the human condition, which explains why hygienists remained skeptical of the emancipatory project of psychoanalysis and why they misappropriated psychoanalytic thought toward therapeutic ends--a misappropriation evident in how hygienists thought about the topic of Freud's fourth lecture, childhood sexuality. The question of sexuality was fundamental, Freud maintained, to childhood development not only in the movement from polymorphous perversity toward sanctioned libidinal expressions but also because behind children's questions about sex and reproduction are foundational questions about who children are to themselves and who they think others want them to be.

These questions remained largely unasked by hygienists, who were more concerned that adults might repress sexual inquisitiveness. Salmon (1913), for example, encouraged parents to discuss sexual difficulties with their children lest "they give rise to permanent moods or trends" (306). Meyer (1909; 1951a) showed an interest in studying childhood sexuality for its potential to "throw an important light upon peculiarities of makeup much more satisfactory and direct than the vague appeals to explanation by degeneracy" (607). Hall had likewise argued for honest discussions of sex and thought that children would learn to properly sublimate their sexual instincts toward higher ideals (e.g., love, art, altruism) unless adults prematurely repressed their instincts in which case adolescents would suffer from arrested development (Garrison 2006, 154-55). In misappropriating the idea of libidinal sublimation without asking children these questions, hygienists failed to gain an understanding of how children's personalities might unconsciously express their drives and desires. Freudian thought was instead translated into hygienic demands for child-centered and permissive education. This was, of course, not Freud's conclusion, who advocated instead that drives and desires are only understandable within "the complicated dynamic between culture, the unconscious, and the family" (Taubman 2011, 54). After discussing the existence of childhood sexuality, Freud (1910; 1961) argued that children identify a parent as an erotic object until they learn to transfer their affections extraneously. While any complete discussion of the Oedipal complex is outside the scope of this analysis, it does seem important to note, following Britzman (2011), that the significance of the complex is as much affective as it is pathogenic; that is, through identification, children unconsciously and affectively attach themselves to the external world and accordingly learn to associate with others (110-13).

The topic of Freud's fifth lecture involved questions of transference through which the analysand projects onto the analyst their unconscious loves and hates. The process of transference, Freud argued, allows the analyst to explore the analysand's unconsciousness by becoming an impermanent embodiment of their unconscious loves and hates. The other side of transference is counter-transference or the projection onto the analysand the loves and hates of the analyst. To avoid counter-transference it is important for the analyst to recognize the role they have assumed. Absent this recognition, the analyst has the power of suggestion over the analysand. This recognition is lacking both theoretically and practically in the mental hygiene movement, as is recognition of the paradoxical nature of transference--it is both created and destroyed through analysis. Transference raises questions of technique or how to practice psychoanalysis. Freud maintained that any technique of psychoanalysis necessarily involves resistance. During the process of analysis, the patient moves through old knowledge and experiences new knowledge and as a result comes to respectively hate and love both the analyst and analysis. The difficulty, then, if not impossibility, of psychoanalysis is that its greatest obstacle, the unconscious, is both proposed by and resisted within the process of analysis.

The paradoxical nature of psychoanalysis can also be expressed in terms of learning--there can be no learning without transference but transference is also an obstacle to learning. This paradox holds a theoretical dilemma for psychoanalysis: Unconscious resistance and affective attachment are part of learning. Rather than appreciating this paradox, hygienists focused on personality adjustment. In concluding his fifth lecture, Freud (1910; 1961) recalled a story from German literature meant to dissuade this focus. In the town of Schilda there was a horse who possessed enormous feats of strength, but who also consumed large quantities of expensive oats. Convinced that they could break the horse of its consumptive habit, the citizens of Schilda began successively decreasing the quantity of oats given to the horse each day until finally one day no oats were given to the horse. To the citizens' surprise, the very next day the horse was found dead. It would seem that in their desire to treat the horse's oat consumption the citizens had neglected the horse. Freud was warning his American audience to avoid "a great temptation to strive for greater cultural achievements by still further sublimation" (61). This lesson was lost on mental hygienists like Meyer and Salmon as adjustment became the watchword of the movement. As was the lesson of Freud's forth lecture: "You can, if you like, regard psycho-analytic treatment as no more than a prolongation of education for the purpose of overcoming the residues of childhood" (53). While these residues were perhaps psychosexual, it was their resistance and affective attachment that Freud regarded as important because these processes meant that learning was occurring and would continue to occur without end unless interrupted by etiological claims.

The consequences of viewing maladjusted personalities as something plastic to be adjusted was that children became constellations of behaviors, mental states, persona presentations, and psychobiological functions that could be known through observing their subject organization. This biographical approach also stressed diagnosing and treating individual personalities rather than addressing social conditions. What is lost in this emphasis is an understanding of how children learn to attach themselves to the external world and to associate with others. In analyzing the lessons missed by both mental hygienists and historians of the movement, this paper has explored the history of the mental hygiene movement with a view toward the emancipatory project of psychoanalysis. In addition to problematizing the behaviorist science of the mental hygiene movement, this paper has also argued that hygienists misappropriated psychoanalytic thought and that historians continue to do so by conflating its therapeutic and emancipatory projects. This conflation has historiographical and methodological consequences that way becomes of understanding America's educative unconscious not in terms of how to proceed, but in terms of what was left behind. To be sure, this is an interminable journey, but it also a journey that is hopefully marked by learning rather than etiology.


Beers, Clifford W. 1908. A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography. New York: Longmans, Green, and Company.

--. 1910. "A Society for Mental Hygiene as an Agency for Social Service and Education," Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene 3: 1-16.

Britzman, Deborah P. 2011. Freud and Education. New York: Routledge.

Cohen, Sol. 1983. "The Mental Hygiene Movement, the Development of Personality and the School: The Medicalization of American Education." History of Education Society 23: 123-48.

--. 1999. Challenging Orthodoxies: Toward a New Cultural History of Education. New York: Peter Lang.

Freud, Sigmund. 1961. Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. Translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Originally published as "The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis." American Journal of Psychology 21 (1910): 181-218.

Garrison, Joshua B. 2006. "Ontogeny Recapitulates Savagery: The Evolution of G. Stanley Hall's Adolescents." PhD dissertation, Indiana University.

Hall, G. S. 1904. Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Horn, Margo. 1989. Before, It's Too Late,: The Child Guidance Movement in the United States, 1922-1945. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

Meyer, Adolf. 1951a. "A Discussion of Some Fundamental Issues in Freud's Psychoanalysis." In The Collected Papers of Adolf Meyer, Volume, II: Psychiatry, edited by Eunice E. Winters, 604-17. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. Originally published in State, Hospitals Bulletin, 2 (1909): 827-48.

--. 1951b. "G. Stanley Hall, Ph.D., LL.D." In The Collected Papers of Adolf Meyer, Volume, III: Medical Teaching, edited by Eunice E. Winters, 519-21. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. Originally published in American Journal of Psychiatry 81 (1924-25): 151-53.

--. 1957. Psychobiology: A Science of Man. Edited by Eunice E. Winters and Anna Mae Bowers. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.

Richardson, Theresa R. 1989. The: Century of the Child: The Mental Hygiene, Movement and Social Policy in the United States & Canada. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Salmon, Thomas W. 1913. "The Prevention of Mental Diseases." In Preventative Medicine and Hygiene, edited by Milton J. Rosenau, 298-312. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Taubman, Peter M. 2012. Disavowed Knowledge: Psychoanalysis, Education, and Teaching. New York: Routledge.

Benjamin Kelsey Kearl

Indiana University

Benjamin Kelsey Kearl, Email:
COPYRIGHT 2014 Information Age Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:ARTICLE 4
Author:Kearl, Benjamin Kelsey
Publication:American Educational History Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:Homelessness in the U.S.: a historical analysis.
Next Article:The historical origins of social studies teacher as athletic coach.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters