This essay investigates how radicals in the 1960s and 1970s sought to use various forms of therapy to combat the emotional ills wrought by a society they believed had itself gone insane. Across the United States, radicals established “counter-institutional” therapy rap centers as a way to break down the power hierarchy between client and counselor. These centers emphasized the group encounter—which was also identified as one important key to the processes of making progressive social change. From the radical perspective, mainstream therapeutic tools served to trick oppressed individuals by suggesting offers of material and psychic rewards if they abandoned their activism. From a feminist perspective, mainstream (and overwhelmingly male) psychiatrists were agents of adjustment whenever they stated the answer to women’s problems in terms which were private and individual, rather than social and interpersonal. Both perspectives ultimately remained hopelessly confounded on the core question of how best—or even if—the many varieties of radical therapy could ever result in meaningful social change. Yet this essay contends that the impact of radical therapy on mainstream therapy would ultimately be profound.
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