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Development of Psychology in the US

Info: 2017 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 18th May 2020 in Psychology

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The increase in America’s pscyhological field could be compared to the rate of growth in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, by being capable of creating more laboratories that were designed in experimental psychology in 1900 than there being more departments of psychology in Germany. (Ward, 139, Modernizing the Mind) An observable growth and interest in psychology in World War II-rather than I- was the incentive for a reemergence in mental health research and treatment in the United States. Where World War I’s effects are thought of as a progenitor of the atrocities commited in World War II, so did the lessons and methods learned in the first war, become amplified and reinvented for use in the second war. Before the United States became a leading power in mental health services, Europe was the ideological hub of psychological studies, where often, environments became hostile to complete research, and many experimenters fled the contintent in hopes of their research becoming profitable elsewhere. The United States learned from the errors of these European scientists, and sought to use these studies in wartime to prevent the distress the Great War brought to soldiers and their countries. Mental health became an objective for the medical community as it resulted in new discoveries through federal funding and social awareness. World War II altered the United States’ interest in psychology resulted to a change in the public’s perception of the field- including a renewed interest in studying the self and an increased awareness of community involvement in the field. 

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The ending of World War bolstered the country’s interest in psychology, which not only increased the country’s academia, but also its citizens’ curiosity. In January 1957, Life magazine released Ernest Havemann’s article titled “The Age of Psychology in the U.S.,” in an inconspicius section mixed with food products and home appliances. Havemann’s article tells of  the period which they were in, writing of  “the age of psychology and psychoanalysis” (Havemann, The Age of Psychology) and compares it to the likes of mixing “chemistry and the atom bomb”. In the article, he differentiates the different roles of various psychiatric health care workers, and in a tibit to the readers- quizzes them of their knowledge on the field of psychology. Within a short time, the once limited knowledge on the field had explanded considerably enough that weekly magazines were able to confirm and clarify any misconceptions that readers had of the field. This resulted in these magazines acquiring large profits from the viewerships that readers subscribed to. By conveying research of psychology to the everyday citizen, the studying of psychology became universal, and the American people gradually grew accepting of the psychological research granted by mass media, rather than scholars of the field itself.

Alluding to an earlier point, as European psychologists fled from a war-torn continent, they sought work and training in the United States. Americans soon found themselves operating in the field that was of interest to them —“Freud couldn’t conquer America, but America would conquer Freud,” (Sanford, 1956). In his research, he proposes that America’s individuality and inquiring interests in the field encouraged much research and little debate. By focusing on the post-war economy’s effect on the middle class, Sanford reasons that this growth led to new opportunities for social mobility that all Americans could use to achieve success. (Sanford, 4) This success, coupled with America’s booming entrance into the world-stage, the nation found itself maintaing an internal growth. Industries that were marketed to individuals to promote self-growth and the community around these industries, experienced exponential growth like none before. Different genres of media like literature, advice columns and radio stations appealed to the audience with their message of “self approval.” It seems that the psychological aspect offered by these services became a much profitable and interpersonal aspect of American society. (Cushman, 603).

As further research was conducted involving the study of the mind, some medical industires advocated for a more hands-on and practical approach to informing people about their health. Academia and Healthcare industries worked together to immunize their citizens during war time. In World War I, where flu outbreaks accounted for almost half of the casulties rates for American soldiers in Europe, the United States recognized the threat that infections could bring to the public. (National Archives, Influenza Epidemic) In 1941, the first flu vaccine was in its developmental stage, when specialists from top universities, public health centers, and private foundations, conducted various surveys and studies to recede the spread of the virus in the country. These governemental programs differed greatly from the traditional scope of dysentery, typhus and syphilis. With the leadership of virologist Thomas Francis Jr, the flu commission was able to gain approval of the vaccine by the FDA in under 2 years, whereas in most scenarious it takes over a decade to design a vaccnie and administer it to the general public.  These programs broadened their reach of diseases and brought more inquiries of the effects vaccines have had on the civilian population of the country. Although the vaccine still needed additional tweaking to keep it up to date on a person’s health, it is still impressive tht that such a feat was able to be achieved.
 The mental health problems developed during the War, was counteracted by the prescence of an understanding and well-wishing community of people who have endured the war, indirectly. Chief Suregon of the European Theater of Operations,Gen. Omar N. Bradely, was tasked in directing the United States’ Divsion of Medicine which oversaw the affairs of the Veterans Administration. Under Hawley’s leadership, more than 5,000 doctors partnersed with the Adminstration to establish new medical schools that were affliated with the Veterans’ hospitals. The effects of of this program could be seen in pensions and disability insurances covered by the program for over half a million veterans.

In regards to the social aspects of psychology in society, following the 2nd World War, there arose questions of the extent the government would take in solving issues regarding the psychiatric community as a whole. With the war’s aftermath, as American soceity became more concrere in maintaing its pre-war community demographics, activists felt that policymakers were not addressing the concerns of the psychiatric community. Through demonstrations, and legislations, Americans adopted a more active role in defining their own impressions of psychology. Under President Kennedy, the signing of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 brought significant change to the ethics surrounding medicine. Before the Act’s passage, state-sponsered outpatient facilities were used regurarly in treating patients. This care was not efficient as care had to be reduced in order to meet the needs of all the patients seeking healthcare for that day.(Prioleau, 2013) With the fast-paced style of care, there were often inadequate treatments given to these patients. However, with the bill’s passage, there now exists presently hundreds of outpatient, clincal-based facilities in many forms- in contrast to the state hospitals and in-patient care. Interestingly, this stigma surrounding these state hsopitals, led to deinstitutionalization in state hospitals in the 1970s and 1980s, with great losses for the mentally ill community. It can even be seen today with the large rate of mentally-ill patients in incararcertion rather than in hospital.(Prisoner and Mental Health Diagram)

Finally, a major social development in pscyhiatric care was the gradual depathologization of homosexuality. Prior to 1974, homosexuality was thought of a pscyhiatric ailment. In that same year, members in the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in the  DSM-II and to no longer regard it as a behavioral abnormality. With this removal, many regarded this as the major point of the progressive acceptance of LGBT people for the next coming decades.

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The imapct of psychiatry following World War II resulted in America’s changed views of psychology and subsequently, its view on mental health. Although America’s optimism and spirit was an explanation for the shifting of psychiatric resarch from Europe to the United States, the aftermath of World War II itself resulted in America’s interest in the field of psychology. Pscyhoanalysis- thought of as the study of the behaviors of the mind- facilitated the atmosphere the American people had after the War. Psychology’s development in America had an overall aim of serving both society and the individuals inhabiting it. With this adaption, America had become more psychologically-inclined and more dedicated in stimulating social and scientific progress that is still valued and improving today. As this is still in use today, people may find that as America became more interested in pscyhology, psychology had become more Americanized to the extent that both components have perfected the others’ flaws. This valuing of psychology is understood through the values Americans have created for themselves- autonmy, freedom, and individualism. Such values have been granted the opportunity to flourish in the field of pscyhology with its behaviors, contradictions, and catalysts only adding more allure to the field, and understanding to its observers.


  • Amadeo, Kimberly. “Learn About Deinstitutionalization, the Causes and the Effects.” The Balance, The Balance, 25 June 2019, https://www.thebalance.com/deinstitutionalization-3306067.
  • “Community Mental Health Act.” National Council, https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/about/national-mental-health-association/overview/community-mental-health-act/.
  • Cushman, Philip. “Why the self is empty: Toward a historically situated psychology.” pg. 603. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/19707854/Why_the_Self_Is_Empty_Toward_a_Historically_Situated_Psychology
  • Ernest Havemann, “The Age of Psychology in the United States,” Life, January 7, (1957), 68. Retreived from https://books.google.com/books?id=8lYEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA68&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false
  • Havemann, E. (1957). The age of psychology. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=8lYEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA68&lpg=PA68&dq=%E2%80%9Cthe+age+of+psychology+and+psychoanalysis%E2%80%9D&source=bl&ots=H7fPvavg5J&sig=ACfU3U12cpzAFdqlO8N_51ygHTodBUwuZQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj9yJay3JrlAhWXGjQIHRE-An0Q6AEwAHoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9Cthe%20age%20of%20psychology%20and%20psychoanalysis%E2%80%9D&f=false
  • Laura.gates. “JFK’s Legacy of Community-Based Care.” SAMHSA, 19 Apr. 2016, https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/jfk’s-legacy-community-based-care.
  • National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/.
  • Sanford, “Psychotherapy and the American Public,” 4
    Steven C. Ward, Modernizing the Mind: Psychological knowledge and the Remaking of Society (Westport: Praeger, 2002), 138


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