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Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche
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Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  1,215 ratings  ·  165 reviews
It is well known that American culture is a dominant force at home and abroad; our exportation of everything from movies to junk food is a well-documented phenomenon. But is it possible America's most troubling impact on the globalizing world has yet to be accounted for? In "Crazy Like Us," Ethan Watters reveals that the most devastating consequence of the spread of Americ ...more
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published January 12th 2010 by Free Press (first published December 7th 2009)
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Kudos to my friends on goodreads who feel inspired enough to write full-fledged reviews; I simply can't muster the energy.
However, this book enraged me in a way few do and I feel compelled to share at least some of my thoughts. Watters caught my attention with the pot-shots he threw at the DSM in the NYT magazine earlier this year and I approached the book with cautious optimism. "Crazy Like Us" follows along the same lines as his initial article, providing four examples of what anyone who has
Well, this was certainly interesting. From studying anthropology to working in international public health to studying psych nursing, this is right up my alley. I appreciate some of what he is trying to say, in that transcultural treatment options are often not adequately tailored to each new specific culture. To some degree, I also believe that mental illness is culturally determined, or at least expressed in the particular symptom pool of a time and place. But I also have seen that medication ...more
Kater Cheek
I read a lot of books about psychology and mental illness, but this book took what I already knew to a new level. It discusses four different illnesses in four different cultures: anorexia in Hong Kong, schizophrenia in Zanzibar, PTSD in Sri Lanka, and Depression in Japan.

One of the fascinating premises promoted by this book is that when Western psychologists describe a typical western mental illness to another culture, their incidence of that illness morph into a version closer to ours. I don't
So it's basically pop psychology/anthropology and as such lacks a certain depth. However, this is an interesting and convincing book about the cultural specificity of mental illness and the imperialism of a specifically Western, radically individualist, medical model of mental suffering. I've been pretty persuaded by the idea of symptom pools (that each culture has its own pool of legible ways to express psychic distress, subconsciously taken up by sufferers) since I first read about them in 200 ...more
A very readable and very interesting read (I also heard the author in a radio interview you can find here: It had never occurred to me that HOW mental illness and distress expresses itself is very tied in to one's culture, so that the same event (a flood, a death, whatever) requires different treatment, ritual, etc depending on one's culture. The USA has pushed western psychiatry's (and psychology's) theories all over the world, but done next to nothing ...more
When you first read about the Western trauma groups competing with each other for Sri Lankan tsunami patients (telling children in one camp not to play with kids in "the other therapy group" for fear of ruining their own progress), you can't think that highly of Western psychologists and their ilk. But that would be missing the point.

Watters is trying to introduce a new way of thinking (pun!) about psychology. To Watters, mental illness is like a language. The individual unconsciously picks sym
Lorin Kleinman

A woman tries to walk across a room, but collapses. Another suddenly goes blind, for no obvious physical reason. Victorian hysteria, clearly a product of a time when women lived highly constricted, repressed lives. A veteran suffering from PTSD, on the other hand: doubtless a real disease, immutable, applicable in all situations and cultures. Not so, says Ethan Watters, who convincingly argues that all mental illnesses are circumscribed and molded by the cultures in which they occur. A person wh
Bryan Kibbe
This book offers a fascinating series of accounts of how Western (i.e. American, European) understandings of mental health have and are being exported to cultures throughout the world, often in ways that are profoundly at odds with deep cultural practices and traditions that understand the mind in fundamental different ways. Watters in engaging narrative form, carefully chronicles the rise of anorexia in Tokyo, PTSD in Sri Lanka, schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and depression in Japan. At the heart o ...more
Alex Templeton
This book reminds me of why I enjoy reading, and why I miss college: there are so many fascinating ideas out there, just there for the taking, if we are only exposed to them! This fascinating mix of anthropology and psychology examines how American notions of mental illness are beginning to shape their counterparts around the world. The idea that there are differing conceptions of mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia around the world is fascinating; it makes one's head kind of e ...more
May 27, 2010 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
About ten years ago, I read an article in the Atlantic called A New Way to Be Mad, which asked whether people learning of a psychological diagnosis can actually make it contagious. The article discusses what is now known as body integrity identity disorder (people who want to amputate their limbs) and discussion of it on the Internet. Later, I read Fasting Girls which asks similar questions about Victorian sufferers of anorexia nervosa. Both pieces edged towards the idea that mental illness mani ...more
Ethan Gilsdorf
Making the rest of the world crazy

By Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe Correspondent | January 24, 2010

Americans are a generous people. We donate riches to needy countries. We send our troops abroad. We have exported some of history’s most influential cultural, scientific, and social inventions: democracy, fast food, and Britney Spears.

Whether that generosity is helpful to other nations is another question. And so it goes with mental health. According to Ethan Watters in “Crazy Like Us: The Globaliza
Rather hit-or-miss writing. Out of four major chapters, I found one very well written and quite convincing, another one pretty good, and two rather weak (especially because the author's conclusions in these two chapters seem to be based on the work of one or two individuals). I do agree with his central point--that cultural bound syndromes exist all around the globe, especially in the field of mental health, and we need to be careful in exporting our definitions of mental illness to other places ...more
I think this book is a better read for those who have background in psychology/social work/counseling/etc. more so than for those who don't. It would still make sense if you had no idea about anything going in, but it makes several references to existentialism, Cartesian ideas, etc etc - things laymen don't tend to know. BUT! As someone WITH background, this book is good. I tend to think I'm pretty culturally sensitive, but this book points out things I hadn't really thought too much about until ...more
Chelsea Owens
As someone embarking on a career as a clinical psychologist, this read definitely proved to be interesting and informative. While it's true that the Western world of psychology/psychiatry tends to disregard the nuances of cultural and environmental influence on social structures and the human mind...I found Water's indignance towards Western mental health treatment to be a bit annoying and redundant.

The best lesson any mental health practitioner can glean from this book is to administer sensiti
A wonderfully skeptical look at the well-intentioned but imperialistic spread of Western theories of psychology.
This is an excellent book: extremely engaging, very well researched and, in spite of it's dour and grumbling voice, it is not without hope. The author, Ethan Watters, makes his position clear at the outset : "The premise of this book is that the virus is us." But Watters later confesses that his wife is a psychologist, and the psychologists, therapists, and researchers he interviews a
The author, Ethan Watters, brings to light the study of cross-cultural mental health. Symptoms of mental health differ across cultures but the treatments for local versions are being supplanted by the US treatments. This is not only ineffective, but it is actually influencing the mental health of the other cultures. From the data, it seems clear that the US has exported anorexia, depression, PTSD (my personal least favorite), and more along with our "treatments" of the same.

I'm reminded of "One
The idea is that diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses are neither static nor universal. They change with time and by culture. By applying the DSM globally, the United States is influencing how mental health is viewed and treated in other cultures, as well as interfering with the ways these cultures have developed to deal with mental health issues. The premise was interesting enough, but I just couldn't stay interested. I'm glad I read what I did, though, because this issue is addressed in th ...more
Linda Quinton-Burr
This author is right on when it comes to mental illness. The DSMIV (now V) tells the whole world what to look for and what symptoms or history must be present for a certain diagnosis. Clinicians look for those symptoms and history in order to pigeonhole a patient. It is badf enough that this is done within the culture that mandated the DSMV, but cross culturally it is totally absurd. Yet as we export our t.v. shows and our music groups and our numerous other "must haves," we also export our psyc ...more
If you work in or are interested in psychiatry or mental health, READ THIS BOOK! This insightful read will make you ask bigger picture questions about the field, about how the work we do and the words we use have a far-reaching impact. I've never considered how much we define mental health diagnoses and treatments based on the terms of our own culture. But context is crucial. Always. Even well-meaning actions can lead to inadequate or inappropriate treatment, worsening existing health issues or ...more
I hate the title of this book so much, its sensational, stupid, and a total misnomer. Its not just the "American psyche", its Western medicine in general.

Regardless, I enjoyed this book. It's another journalist-as-expert situation which can be annoying, since Watter's qualification to report on global mental health is that his wife is a psychologist. Sure. Watter's is not the best writer, nor do his arguments totally make logical sense all the time, but I think the material is so strong it can
This is the type of book that will make you look at the world differently. Although it is pretty obvious that Americans tend to find themselves in the business of other nations, this takes it to another level of arrogance. It just further confirms how some of us like to believe that we’re the saviors of the world and that we surely must have all the answers.

Even though I am sure Ethan Watters could of written a much larger book on the subject, he decided to focus on four very specific parts: ano
Morgan Dhu

Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us

In Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, journalist Ethan Watters investigates the cultural meanings of mental illness from an anthropological perspective and traces the ongoing superimposition of American theories of psychology on other systems of understanding the mind.

"Over the past thirty years, we Americans have been industriously exporting our ideas about mental illness. Our definitions and treatments have become the international standards. A
Olga Werby
“Crazy Like Us” is an amazing book. Ethan Watters, a San Francisco native, researched the impact of globalization of mental health care and the perception of psychological disease and diagnosis on the patients and their community. Walters examines several cases: instances and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder post 2005 tsunami; cases of Anorexia in the East; treatment of depression in Japan; and living with schizophrenia in Africa. In all of these situations, there has been a cultural ...more
Brin Bailey
Ethan Watters provides an expansive illustration of how globalization has "Americanized" how the rest of the world experiences and views mental illness. Crazy Like Us brings the reader on a journey around the world to see how the the Americanization of mental health intervention has changed the face of anorexia in Hong Kong, PTSD in Sri Lanka, Schizophrenia in Zanibar and depression in Japan. Furthermore, Watters moves beyond simply providing a characterization of mental illness in these countri ...more
I found this book interesting in its concept but there a came a point where I felt like the author really was beating a dead horse and did not need to keep repeating his main point over & over. I have actually talked about this book quite a few times in my conversations recently on mental health & overmedication so despite the lulls in this book, I do recommend it.
As a psychiatrist I have had a hard enough time keeping up my my field in my own country and often ignored cross-cultural work. This book changed my opinion about that. If you have any interest in mental health, I suggest you read this. You might think twice about sponsoring mental health "rescue" efforts overseas.
This book was okay. It was interesting to see his global, transient perspective and it definitely made me think a lot more about mental illness and how ideas about it are spread, but at times the writing felt more anecdotal than authentic. Which I know is what sells books, but it was still annoying.
This book is fantastic. Very eye-opening to the fact that we think as American's that the lives we live enable us to give something amazing to other cultures, while maybe what we have to offer is limited or practically non-existent.

The section on the spread of depression in Japan was appalling, and I ended this book with a bit of a rage against billion-dollar drug companies that manipulate pharmaceutical evidence about the effectiveness of SSRIs.

A new look on how American psychology is most def
Jan 10, 2010 megan marked it as to-read

Wow! This book will be coming out the end of January, so I haven't read it yet, but the article in the NYT was fascinating! Can't wait to get ahold of it!
As a thought-provoking essay on how we need to rethink the global exportation of our culturally constrained mental health disorders and treatment, this book excels. It brings up some excellent points about the assumptions we make, the arrogance of our beliefs about the superiority of our own mental health system, the imperialistic nature of forcing those ideas on others, and the absolute necessity to take cultural practices and beliefs into account when working outside our own. It also raises co ...more
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Ethan Watters is a free lance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Discover, Men's Journal, Spin, Details, and Wired. A frequent contributor to NPR, Watters' work appeared in the 2007 and 2008 Best American Science and Nature Writing. He co-founded the San Francisco Writers Grotto, a work space for local artists. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.
More about Ethan Watters...
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“Because our culture so highly values an illusion of self-control and control of circumstance, we become abject when contemplating mentation that seems more changeable, less restrained and less controllable, more open to outside influence, than we imagine our own to be. — Judi McGruder” 4 likes
“Even anthropologists, who diligently train themselves to be nonjudgmental observers of cultural differences, have trouble when it comes to recognizing and allowing for cultural differences in emotions. Because our emotions come into our consciousness unbidden and often surprise us with their intensity, we often assume that they are not influenced by cultural cues or social scripts. But with careful study, anthropologists have learned that emotions are not like muscle reflexes; rather, they are communications with deep and sometimes obscure meanings. Cultures differ not only in their response to specific events... but also in more global ways.” 0 likes
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