Brainwashing: the power of the psychiatrist portrayed in 1960s visual media

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A comparatively neglected representation of the psychiatrist is that of coercive agent using drugs and behavioural psychology to serve a sinister goal. Rather than treat illness or relieve distress, psychiatrists undermine the mental health of an individual through “brainwashing” techniques, transforming the thoughts and actions of their subjects to devastating effect. Portrayals of psychiatrists as unsympathetic agents of the state or malevolent manipulators were popular in British film and television of the 1960s. Such characterisations are compared with historical experiences of “brainwashing” originating from the Korean War, examining their development and the possible reasons why they resonated so powerfully with contemporary audiences.

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