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Review of "Care of the Psyche"

By Stanley W. Jackson
Yale University Press, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 7th 2004
Care of the Psyche

Stanley Jackson is best known for his authoritative history Melancholia and Depression.  His more recent book Care of the Psyche provides a history of broader scope, including not just depression and melancholy but all forms of psychological healing.  "Psychological healing" here refers to attempts to help people with their emotional troubles through listening and talking about the causes of those problems.  The chapters are organized into eight parts, which focus on five main methods of healing: the expression of feelings through catharsis and confession; consolation and comfort; the use of passion and imagination; mesmerism, persuasion and conditioning; and cognitive approaches.  Although the book is over 500 pages long, each particular approach is discussed in less than one hundred pages, and covering hundreds or even thousands of years  within that space means that each particular historical period is discussed quite briefly. 

For example, in the chapter on catharsis, a couple of pages are devoted to Aristotle and then the discussion moves quickly to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The next chapter, on confession and confiding, gives a history of the use of confession as a method of healing within the Judeo-Christian tradition and then draws links to more modern theories of psychotherapy.  There is considerable overlap between these chapters, and one needs to read both to get a more rounded picture.  Indeed, one also needs to read the following chapter on consolation and comfort, since one of the functions of confession is to provide comfort. 

So the overall effect of reading through Care of the Psyche is to approach the same history again and again through a number of different perspectives.  The advantage of this is obvious: one can dip into the book and find a discussion of the history of a particular approach to psychological healing in a reasonably concise form.  The disadvantage is that the book is rather fragmented in its form, and there is considerable repetition and cross-reference from chapter to chapter. 

This fragmentation is ameliorated by the presence of the second section of the book, entitled "The Bedrock," which in three chapters covers the whole history of the healer-sufferer relationship, the listening healer and the talking cures.  These chapters, especially the first of them, are probably the most interesting from a conceptual point of view in helping to formulate the history of the changing understanding of psychological healing through the centuries.  Many readers will probably be satisfied with reading this part of the book and then dipping into a few other chapters to get more detail about particular issues. 

The great value of Care of the Psyche is in its drawing links between modern psychotherapy and practices in medicine and religion that anticipated our current psychological theories.  Very few other books provide any similar breadth of approach, although many do provide more detailed accounts of particular periods of history or movements within clinical psychology.  Jackson's book will be a valuable resource for academics and could also serve as an introduction to the area for the interested general reader. 


© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.