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Parsons, T. (1949). Psychological Medicine: A Study of the Sick Society: By James L. Halliday, M.D. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1948. 278 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 18:243-245.
(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:243-245
Psychological Medicine: A Study of the Sick Society: By James L. Halliday, M.D. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1948. 278 pp.
Review by: Talcott Parsons
As a social scientist rather than a physician, the reviewer is not competent to judge the technically medical parts of this interesting and suggestive book. Dr. Halliday's emphasis on the great importance of the psychosomatic 'affections', as he calls them, seems, however, to be in line with much of the most significant development of medical science in the last generation. That psychosomatic illness, as well as the neuroses, is a highly significant and sensitive index of the 'state of the social system', is very much in line with the development of thought in social science circles in recent years. Dr. Halliday's book is an important contribution to the rapidly growing literature of this interstitial field.
There is a contribution of many acute observations both from the author's own extensive clinical experience and from other sources. A thoroughly justified emphasis is placed on the importance of age, sex and status distribution of the different psychosomatic disorders. The book, however, reveals the woefully fragmentary character of anything which could be called exact knowledge of these important facts. This is a particularly fruitful field for empirical investigation.
Dr. Halliday also strongly emphasizes the importance of the declining birth rate in Western countries as a symptom of the 'sickness' of society. This view agrees with the predominant opinion of social science experts. His treatment of this problem, however, serves to raise quite acutely the question of the general adequacy of his approach to analysis of the relations between the medical and social fields. We can agree that a population which as a whole falls markedly short of reproducing itself is in some sense functionally inadequate. However, it may be noted that Dr. Halliday fails to mention that this need not apply to individuals, or subclasses, of whom many of the most creative, and by any definition socially desirable, have been childless. Nor, curiously, does he even mention that over most of the world today the 'sickness' has exactly the opposite symptom, for surely by almost any criteria a population which produces children far in excess of the numbers who can possibly be cared for or supported would not seem to be entirely 'healthy'—for instance in India.
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