The topic of this book is the widespread acceptance of therapy and credentialed therapists in our society, and how we in some ways take it too far. The authors assert that relying on therapy to provide healing for almost any human problem, all too often undermines the normal healing resources and relationships that have been successful through eons of human development. This book does not debunk therapy itself, but simply points out that excessive reliance on it can be contrary to common sense, real healing and the development of normal resiliency in the face of difficulties.
In the first chapter, the authors talk about the myth of the fragile child. This chapter refers to the studies and professionals that show the vast majority of our children are doing quite well in life and have a lot of resiliency, as opposed to a common popular view that virtually all children desperately need help at some time or other. Sommers and Satel deplore the fact that children being viewed as fragile drives vast industries with the perspective that therapy is vital to the well-being of virtually all children. The authors claim the misguided effort to emphasize feelings over all else creates armies of grief counselors after any traumatic event, or feeds the destructive "feel-good" self-esteem movement, or concludes that competitive sports must be eliminated from schools so nobody feels like a loser. They analyze and demonstrate how each of these, in their view, can harm children by denying or undermining the experiences children need to grow up properly.
In another chapter they talk about from "Sin to Syndrome," which says that religious moral attitudes are being replaced by psychological concepts of disorder and disease, requiring specialized and credentialed treatment for many normal human dilemmas. And again, in "From Pathos to Pathology," the authors criticize the tendency to diagnose that when somebody is uncomfortable, they need treatment.
Throughout, the authors take great care to acknowledge the real contributions psychology and therapists have to understanding and treating clinical disorders. Their problem is with a culture that has adopted therapeutic thinking to the extent that virtually all human problems are encouraged to be subjected to treatment and understanding. They see the result being that common sense is thrown out the window. They assert that this attitude has helped create the worst elements of Political Correctness, Multiculturalism and empty self-esteem, among other things.
On page 76, Sommers and Satel tell of a reported encounter between Mohammed Atta, the terrorist in charge of the September 11, 2001 terror attack and a US Department of Agriculture official.
According to the book, in May 2000, Atta approached the official demanding a loan of $650,000 to buy a crop duster. He became incensed when told the application would have to be processed. "He asked me what would prevent him going behind my desk and cutting my throat and making off with the millions of dollars of cash in that safe." The official politely explained there was no cash in the safe.
He then tried to buy an aerial photograph of Washington D.C. hanging behind her desk. When she refused he asked, "How would America like it if another country destroyed the city and some of the monuments in it?" He then asked about security around the World Trade Center and other landmarks.
When asked what she was thinking at the time of this exchange, the official responded "I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from. I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could."
This example shows how far the mental health helping attitude takes people totally out of touch with common sense in their attempt to be "supportive, nurturing and nice."