Children of Crisis
by Robert Coles
Atlantic-Little, Brown, 401 pp., $8.50
The Americanization of the Unconscious
by John Seeley
International Science Press, 456 pp., $6.50
The Healing Partnership
by Bernard Steinzor
Harper & Row, 264 pp., $5.95
It is difficult to believe that three men wise and humane enough to have written these books should have survived in our world at all, let alone flourished personally and professionally. That they should so largely share a set of values, and that those values should have led them to common concerns about the fate of human beings in our society is itself an important social datum. All three authors are fundamentally concerned with the loss of community in our society, and with the way that loss affects what we may become. Yet they occupy different positions, and have very different responsibilities. Their agreement, then, on a common evaluation of our social circumstances and of the difficulties those circumstances create is reassuring evidence that the loss of community cannot be total and may not be irredeemable. We still have enough root-stock to grow what we need, if only the climate permits.
Robert Coles is well known both as a psychiatrist of exceptional range and humaneness and as a “participant observer” in the civil rights movement. In this book, he brings his training and experience to bear on the individuals, of all ages and mixed motives, whom he came to know through his work in the South. John Seeley, a Canadian sociologist now serving as a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, is the senior author of Crestwood Heights. Of all sociologists now working in the popular field of community studies, he is easily the most explicitly concerned with social values. He is less explicit, however, in focusing on specific social situations or institutions in the thirty-three short essays that comprise this book: which makes his writing harder to follow than that of Coles or Steinzor, and his thought more difficult to summarize.
Bernard Steinzor is a practicing psychotherapist, trained by Carl Rogers, refined by years of Freudian analysis, and strongly influenced by Thomas Szasz. What saved him from wandering eclecticism is his unswerving emphasis on what he and his client experience in the therapeutic session and his often unhappy awareness of how this experience is limited by the technical prescriptions peculiar to each school of psychoanalytic thought. This has brought him and Seeley to highly complementary positions; for just as Seeley is “psychoanalytically oriented” in his interpretations of how social institutions like schools, suburbs, and especially psychiatry itself function, so Steinzor has come to perceive the formal therapeutic devices of his profession as, for the most part, social artifacts that reinforce the unexamined assumptions and hang-ups of the culture that has brought the patient to the couch—and decreed it to be natural that he should lie there, with his healer unseen and largely unheard behind him.
ALL THESE BOOKS are engrossing; but Coles has the advantage of some of the most fascinating human case material available to the general reader since Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood. He shares with Capote the virtue—essential to the humanist these days but nevertheless rather …