Monday, August 13, 2007

Vanishing Erik

[posted by Callimachus]

Robert Fulford is right, if I'm any indication. Twenty years ago I used to have a couple of Erik Erikson books on my shelf. Now I had completely forgotten he existed till I read this article. I think Fulford's post mortem is mostly correct, too:

But by the time Erikson died (at 92, in 1994), his reputation had all but evaporated. What happened? His theories were often analyzed critically but it wasn't his critics who did him in. He was betrayed by history. For one thing, psychoanalysis went into decline everywhere, partly because of its dubious success record, partly because analysis cost so much and took so long, and partly because Freud and his followers presented themselves originally as scientists but never developed a scientific method to judge their work.

More important, as Burston says, the world changed, radically. Youth, Erikson's great subject, was transformed by the media, by new attitudes to sex, by changed views of authority -- and by prescription drugs. To Erikson's generation of therapists, an adolescent crisis offered a way to explore family history and social context, then carefully ease the patient back to health. "In that dimly remembered long-ago time," Burston writes, "psychotropic drugs were viewed as a treatment of last resort." Nowadays they are every MD's panacea. The chance to grasp what a disturbed adolescent is communicating can be drowned in pharmaceuticals.