ABSTRACT

Building on Fisher’s 2020 publication “Tearing Down the Self, or Transforming It? Est as Uncertain Gestalt,” this article tracks the emergence of a full-fledged critique of therapeutic culture, emanating from both American journalists and academic social critics in the mid-1970s. Since Erhard Seminars Training (est) and its founder, Werner Erhard, continued to attract media attention, it was often a focal point in this critique. While it drew on earlier criticisms of the human potential movement (HPM) that had centered on Frederick (Fritz) Perls, Esalen, and Gestalt therapy during the 1960s (detailed in Fisher’s 2017 “Gestalt Pathways of Dissemination, Part III: The Media Firestorm”), the 1970s critique of therapeutic culture branched into a wider mode of attack against both the founders and their legacies. Central to this critique was the concept of narcissism, which wedged itself in the pages of popular magazines and highbrow academic journals alike by 1976. In tracing this history, we see the roots of an ongoing cultural debate about the meaning and value of therapy, as well as the connections between individual pursuits of growth and the social conditions that frame them.

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