Monitor on Psychology - January 2012 - (Page 32)

capsule tIme Go rest, young man In the late 1800s, anxious and tired male intellectuals (including Theodore Roosevelt) were sent West to rough ride, rope steer and bond with other men. BY ANNE StiLES hysician Silas Weir Mitchell is perhaps best remembered for his “Rest Cure” for nervous women, depicted by his onetime patient Charlotte Perkins Gilman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892). In the harrowing tale, the narrator slowly goes mad while enduring Mitchell’s regimen of enforced bed rest, seclusion and overfeeding. This oppressive “cure” involved electrotherapy and massage, in addition to a meat-rich diet and weeks or months of bed rest. Historians now view Mitchell’s “Rest Cure” as a striking example of 19thcentury medical misogyny. Less well known is Mitchell’s method of treating nervous men. While Mitchell put worried women to bed, he sent anxious men out West to engage in prolonged periods of cattle roping, hunting, roughriding and male bonding. Among the men treated with the so-called “West Cure” were poet Walt Whitman, painter Thomas Eakins, novelist Owen Wister and future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Although the Rest and West cures involved wildly different therapeutic strategies, both were designed to treat the same medical condition: neurasthenia. First described by American neurologist George Beard in 1869, neurasthenia’s symptoms included depression, insomnia, anxiety and migraines, among other complaints. The malady was not just an illness, he said, 32 p but also a mark of American cultural superiority. According to Beard, excessive nervousness was a byproduct of a highly evolved brain and nervous system. A “brain-worker” who excelled in business or the professions might experience nervous breakdowns if he overtaxed his intellect. His highly evolved wife and children could easily succumb to the same malady, particularly if they engaged in excessive study or “brain work.” While men and women could experience the same neurasthenic symptoms, the different treatments they received reflected cultural stereotypes of the day. The Rest Cure ensured that women remained in their “proper” sphere: the home. Mitchell and his medical peers discouraged female patients from writing, excessive studying or any attempt to enter the professions. Mitchell told Gilman, who underwent the Rest Cure in 1887 during a bout of postpartum depression, to “live as domestic a life as possible” and “never to touch pen, brush or pencil again.” By contrast, nervous men were encouraged to engage in vigorous physical activity out West, and to write about the experience. These activities would supposedly rehabilitate them for further success in commerce and intellectual pursuits. As Mitchell wrote in his 1871 book “Wear and Tear: Or Hints for the Overworked,” neurasthenic men could strengthen their nervous systems by engaging in “a sturdy contest with Nature.” Such a challenge would allow a man to test his willpower and reinforce his masculinity, which had been weakened by the feminizing effects of nervous illness. (Mitchell elsewhere lamented that under great nervous stress, “The strong man becomes like the average woman.”) The West Cure also promoted physical fitness, allowing patients to attain the manly, muscular build popular at the time. While the Rest Cure could be an unpleasant experience, West Cure patients typically returned refreshed and reinvigorated. This was particularly true of Eakins, who spent the summer of 1887 at a ranch in the Dakota Badlands at the advice of his friend Mitchell and his physician Horatio Wood. The painter had been suffering from depression after he was fired from his teaching position at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1886. Earlier that year, Eakins had caused a scandal by removing the loincloth of a male model in front of female students. The disgraced artist suddenly found himself ostracized by Philadelphia society, as he described in a letter to his sister, “For some days I have been quite cast down being cut deliberately on the street by those who have every occasion to know me.” Eakins had the time of his life in the Dakotas, where he herded cattle, slept on the ground, mingled with cowboys and wrote fondly of his experiences to his wife, Susan. He returned from his ranching expedition looking “built up M o n i t o r o n p s y c h o l o g y • J a n u a ry 2 0 1 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - January 2012

Monitor on Psychology - January 2012
President’s Column
From the CEO
Apa’s Statement on the Dsm-5 Development Process
Girl Scouts Badge Promotes Positive Psychology
Early Investments Pay Off for Poor Children, Study Finds
Apa Meets With Chinese Psychological Society to Further Interaction and Exchange
Unique Opportunity for Psychologists to Travel to Cuba
In Brief
Government Relations Update
On Your Behalf
Psychology’s Growing Library of Podcasts
Standing Up for Psychology
Judicial Notebook
Random Sample
Time Capsule
Science Watch
Beyond Psychotherapy
Perspective on Practice
Yes, Recovery Is Possible
Inequity to Equity
Making E-Learning Work
New Standards for High School Psychology
A Trailblazer Moves On
Psychologist Profile
Plan Now for Psychology’s Regional Meetings
New Journal Editors
Apa News
Division Spotlight
American Psychological Foundation

Monitor on Psychology - January 2012