Opinion | Does Therapy Culture Help or Hurt Us?

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To the Editor:

Re “Hey, America, Grow Up!” by David Brooks (column, Aug. 11), about how an emphasis on trauma makes adults immature:

As a psychiatrist, I feel that Mr. Brooks makes several valid points regarding trauma but fails ultimately to thread the needle.

A good psychiatrist or therapist identifies the real trauma in a patient’s past — typically from events in childhood at the hands of parents or other family members — while simultaneously discouraging the kind of victim mind-set that displaces past pain onto present-day scapegoats.

The goal is to illuminate the real trauma, which requires re-evaluating what is often an idealized remembrance of one’s upbringing, so that the patient can stop projecting malice onto anyone and instead regain a sense of agency. As the saying goes, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

If we fail as a culture to acknowledge the well-established long-term consequences, both physical and psychological, of legitimate trauma, we will wind up creating more people who identify as victims, not fewer.

Christopher Bailey
Kirkland, Wash.

To the Editor:

One thing David Brooks’s good column leaves untouched is how much resistance to the hyperinflation of “trauma” there has been among psychotherapists themselves.

In 1967, Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, wrote that the concept had become so “carelessly used” that its “blurring” could lead to “abandonment and loss of a valuable concept.” In 1978, psychiatrist Henry Krystal, an Auschwitz survivor and founder of contemporary trauma theory, said flatly that the use of the term “has become so loose that it has become virtually useless.”

Of course, “trauma culture” has a life of its own, independent of psychiatric or psychological knowledge. And no small number of therapists have fully cashed in from Trauma, Inc., which is, indeed, big business.

But my sense is that, even in the culture at large, “trauma” hype may have run its course. What follows may be greater “maturity,” as Mr. Brooks and many others would hope, or it may be just the next form of mishegoss.

Henry Greenspan
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The writer is an emeritus psychologist at the University of Michigan.

To the Editor:

Wouldn’t it be nice if David Brooks’s ideas about how people should “throw off some of the tenets of the therapeutic culture” and “weave their stable selves through the commitments to and attachments with others” in order to build a culture of maturity were realistic?

But try telling that to people who have grown up in poverty, who have never had adequate health insurance or medical care, who grew up in families rife with violence and abuse, who live in communities with chronic gun violence, and who have to drop out of high school to give birth to a baby.

What can you weave in there? And who can you attach to when your life and the lives of those around you are a mess, and you live in a world that you have little hope of escaping?

Debra Kuppersmith
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
The writer is a psychoanalyst.

To the Editor:

David Brooks made some excellent observations about our country’s growing narcissism. But he missed a key prescription for change: helping Americans develop a sense of purpose.

This starts with treating challenges as temporary setbacks and harnessing our talents and efforts in the service of something bigger than ourselves. We need to lose the “me” and find the “we.”

Studies show that people who feel a sense of purpose in their lives — through family, friends, work or community — are overall more resilient and report a greater sense of well-being. This message feels especially urgent for adolescent girls in America who are experiencing record levels of isolation, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Until Americans commit to a purpose-driven mind-set, we will continue to wallow in our current obsession with victimization and search out cheap ways to validate our self-worth.

Suzanne Chazin
Chappaqua, N.Y.

Trump Pardoning Himself? An ‘Appalling Idea’

To the Editor:

It has become commonplace to suggest that one difference between a state and a federal conviction of Donald Trump is that Mr. Trump could not pardon himself from a state conviction if he is elected president, implying that he could pardon his own federal offenses. It’s long past time to stop giving this appalling discussion of self-pardons any air.

A president pardoning himself for his own crimes is the very definition of unchecked power. Revolutionaries called it tyranny, which in this context is a better word. The idea that our executive has so much power that the rule of law does not apply to him because he could forgive himself betrays what the Revolutionary War was about.

The Constitution separated the powers of the government into three branches. It empowers Congress with the legislative power and the courts with the judicial power. The idea that a president could make himself immune from both other branches — in the furtherance of a crime — is inexcusable.

Mr. Trump has floated this idea before and some allies are resurrecting it again. It’s born in the brevity of the Constitution’s pardon power. But it flouts both the rule of law and the separation of powers essential to the Constitution. We should be outraged.

Andrew J. Kennedy
Monroeville, Pa.
The writer is a lawyer.

Trump’s Weight

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Is Booked at Jail in Atlanta in Election Case” (front page, Aug. 25):

Donald Trump weighs only 215 pounds? Forget the mug shot T-shirts; his campaign should be selling whatever brand of scale he’s using.

Alan Rutkowski
Victoria, British Columbia

Improving Access to E-Books

To the Editor:

Re “What Does It Mean to Own a Book?” (Business, Aug. 13):

I would like to thank David Streitfeld for his piece shining a light on the innovative and visionary work done by Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive. In the discussion about the complexity of providing digital access, the work of our nation’s libraries and nonprofits like the Digital Public Library of America that support them should not be overlooked.

Public libraries across the country offered access to over a billion digital e-books and half a billion digital audiobooks in fiscal year 2021. They circulated 460 million digital items and spent nearly $600 million to provide that access. And these numbers continue to grow.

Mr. Streitfeld rightly points out that many titles are increasingly expensive for libraries to acquire, especially those from the “big five” publishers, which only offer licenses that are limited to a certain number of loans or length of time. However, the Digital Public Library of America works with hundreds of midsize and independent publishers to offer more reasonable terms including, for example, a perpetual one-user-at-a-time license that functions much like library ownership of a print book.

Right now, legislators in several states are working with librarians to draft legislation that would enshrine the rights of libraries to acquire digital content on reasonable terms.

Libraries need our support to ensure that as the transition into a digital world continues, access to knowledge becomes more and not less accessible.

John S. Bracken
The writer is the executive director of the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America.

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