I was recently reading Dr Jessica Taylor’s latest book Sexy but Psycho: How the Patriarchy Uses Women’s Trauma Against Them. Taylor is a working class, radical, lesbian feminist who has a proven track-record working with traumatised women and girls. In this book she argues for a trauma-informed approach to working with women and girls and documents the long-standing tendency by the patriarchy (systems that uphold male power) to pathologise them as a result of their traumas, reframe them as mental illness, and unnecessarily medicate them for these ‘disorders’.
Pre-existing research shows that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety and somatic disorders, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, phobias, suicide ideation and attempts, postpartum depression and psychosis, eating disorders and PTSD (Riecher-Rossler, 2016). Furthermore, women are more likely to be diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders at one time (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2019).
In my earlier post, I told the story of To the Ends of the Earth, a docufiction hybrid about drug smuggling made with the assistance of Harry Anslinger. That movie’s production history includes Columbia Pictures and director Robert Stevenson, but the real engine behind the film was Jay Richard Kennedy, the credited Associate Producer. Born Samuel Solomonick, Kennedy was one of the twentieth century’s strangest and least-known charlatans. His bizarre career encompassed all manner of cultural phenomena: Hollywood, psychotherapy, drug and alcohol addictions, the Age of Aquarius, and, eventually, self-help cults. Like most self-aggrandizing fabricators, he kept focus on a single goal: the best way to manipulate American minds.
After his collaboration with Anslinger, Kennedy realized that mind control was not only possible with drugs and media. Another option was the talking cure. Kennedy’s wife, Dr. Janet Alterman Kennedy, was licensed in psychotherapy, and, like many therapists of her moment, Dr. Kennedy used psychodynamics, in which the interactions of the mind’s deepest energies were supposed to shape both the patient’s consciousness and reactions to other people. Kennedy found this irresistible. In 1949, a year after the release of To the Ends of the Earth, Kennedy wrote an article for the The Screenwriter arguing that the twentieth century’s two most important developments in constructive science and art were psychodynamics and film. Both, he wrote, served the “maximum function of revealing man to himself” .
These sentiments aptly summarized the later thrust of his life: that media and psychology were two sides of an instrument that ultimately promised control over others. As he had learned from Anslinger, mass media—like narcotics—were useful for tightening a grip on power. But without strict standards for both drugs and media, he believed, everyday Americans would become addicts and normal spectators would be transformed into madmen. Healing American society required specific approaches to addiction, governance, and media, and Kennedy knew the cure.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Lucas Richert and Erika Dyck, and was originally published on The 2×2 Project, an online journal from Columbia University’s Department of Epidemiology.
In February 2014, Scientific American surprised readers with an editorial that called for an end to the ban on psychedelic drug research and criticized drug regulators for limiting access to such psychedelic drugs as LSD (Lysergic acid-diethylamide), ecstasy (MDMA), and psilocybin.
A few months later, Science further described how scientists are rediscovering these drugs as legitimate treatments as well as tools of investigation. “More and more researchers are turning back to psychedelics” to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, various addictions, and other categories of mental illness.
Historians of medicine and drugs have long held a view that psychoactive substances conform to cyclical patterns involving intense periods of enthusiasm, therapeutic optimism, critical appraisals, and finally limited use. The duration of this cycle has varied, but this historical model suggests psychedelics are due for a comeback tour. It was just a matter of time.