‘Mother's Little Helper’: The Crisis of Psychoanalysis and the Miltown Resolution



This paper examines the discourse surrounding the release in 1955 of Miltown, America's first psychotropic wonder drug. According to many histories of psychiatry, Miltown heralded the arrival of a new paradigm in treating psychiatric patients – as a drug that operated on a neurochemical level, it was argued to replace a psychoanalytic approach with its focus on the mother-child relation. Between 1955 and 1960, articles about pharmaceutical miracle cures for mental illnesses filled mass-circulation news magazines and top fashion magazines. Through analysis of these representations, this article shows how the newly discovered pills came to be associated with existing concerns about conditions problematically referred to as ‘maternal conditions,’ ranging from a woman's frigidity, to a bride's uncertainty, to a wife's infidelity. Using these representations, the paper demonstrates how in American popular culture, psychoanalytic notions of motherhood prevalent in the 1950s shaped early understandings and uses of psychotropic drugs.