Frontier Struggles: Rollo May and the Little Band of Psychologists Who Saved Humanism

A soon-to-be-released book in the Center for the History of Psychology book series will interest AHP readers. Written by James Schlett Frontier Struggles: Rollo May and the Little Band of Psychologists Who Saved Humanism is described as follows:

A quarter century after Sigmund Freud ineffectually attempted to save psychoanalysis from being “swallowed up by medicine” by penning The Question of Lay Analysis, the task of broadening that goal to include psychotherapy fell on a small band  of psychologists in New York. In the early 1950s, these psychologists found themselves up against what was then the nation’s most powerful lobby – organized medicine – and having to annually beat back legislative attacks in Albany that would have handed physicians and psychiatrists control over  psychotherapy.

Leading this band, formally known as the Joint Council of New York State Psychologists on Legislation, was Rollo May. Guided by his theories on anxiety that would later shape a new American existential psychology, May emerged as a leading voice against the “making of man over in the image of the machine.” He inspired his fellow pioneering psychologists to withstand the “overwhelming power” of organized medicine and see their profession through its “frontier struggles.” Further, in addition to defeating organized medicine’s attempts to amend New York’s Medical Practice Act and give M.D.s control over the diagnosis and treatment of mental and nervous disorders, the Joint Council helped lay the legal framework for the humanistic psychology movement that emerged shortly after the enactment of a law regulating the psychology profession in the Empire State in 1956.

Frontier Struggles reveals the untold conclusion to Freuds 1926 book, The Question of Lay Analysis. It provides the first behind-the-scenes look of the political maneuvers, espionage, infighting, and inspirational fortitude that enabled New York’s psychologists to open the door to the regulation of their profession in New York and beyond.  From the alliances the psychologists forged with leading physicians and psychiatrists and even Freud’s nephew, to the strategies the Joint Council deployed to sway legislators and the general public, Frontier Struggles follows the crisis that, in May’s words, marked “the change of psychology as a profession in this state from its adolescence to its manhood.”

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.