University of Oregon, Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics

University of Oregon, College of Arts and Sciences Bray Fellowship

University of Oregon, College of Arts and Sciences Program Grant

University of Oregon, Department of History

University of Virginia, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture


Ellen Herman, Professor, Department of History, University of Oregon

After World War II, Americans and policymakers embraced psychotherapeutic diagnoses of, and prescriptions for, personal and social problems. The widespread acceptance of psychological language and perspectives—a phenomenon often referred to by scholars as the “therapeutic ethos”—increased citizens’ and public officials’ expectations of one another in the postwar period. As political activity at all levels became infused with therapeutic potential, the ways in which public policy was framed and the very meaning of citizenship changed dramatically. Policymakers catered to the emotional health of citizens at the same time citizens mined their emotions for political inspiration and meaning.

This conference will explore why psychological perspectives gained such authority and uncover the myriad ways in which policymakers and citizens alike wielded that authority in the post-1945 United States.

An undergraduate course, HIST 399, is being offered in conjunction with the conference.