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Emotionally Disturbed: A History of Caring for America's Troubled Children

Deborah Blythe Doroshow has recently published Emotionally Disturbed: A History of Caring for America's Troubled Children (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

Emotionally Disturbed examines the history of residential treatment, and the history of seriously mentally ill children in the United States. Before the 1940s, children in the United States with severe emotional difficulties would have had few options for care. As residential treatment centers emerged as new spaces with a fresh therapeutic perspective, a new kind of person became visible—the emotionally disturbed child.  Residential treatment centers and the people who worked there built physical and conceptual structures that identified a population of children who were alike in distinctive ways.

Emotional disturbance became a diagnosis, a policy problem, and a statement about the troubled state of postwar society. Over the next couple of decades, Americans went from pouring private and public funds into the care of troubled children to abandoning them almost completely. Charting the decline of residential treatment centers in favor of domestic care-based models in the 1980s and 1990s, Emotionally Disturbed is a must-read for those wishing to understand how our current child mental health system came to be.

Doroshow is a historian of medicine, mental health, and childhood. She received her PhD in history from Yale University and her MD from Harvard Medical School. Previous work has focused on insulin coma therapy in American psychiatry, the bed-wetting alarm and its role in the history of child rearing, and state laws mandating premarital syphilis testing.