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March 23, 2012 at 5:02 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Mad Men on the Couch - New Book Offers Insight Into The Drama

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Id and Ego Blog Series

After 18 long months away, the long-awaited premier of Mad Men’s new season is just two days away. Accordingly, the entertainment world is being flooded with speculation –

“Will the Megan thing stick?”

“Will the kids be okay?”

“Does Don play out his mother issues in a paradoxical fashion of seduction and abandonment?”

… okay. Maybe a few less people are asking the last one. But at least one person is and as both an avid psychology and Mad Men fan ( Just to give you an idea - I own every season on DVD and recently, my first time inside a salon in many years, when asked "How can I help you?" I replied with "I want hair as red as Christina Hendricks!") I couldn’t be more excited to hear her insights into this deeply conflicted cast of characters.

 “All of these people are interesting because they’re so torn and ambivalent, they’re all in so much pain” clinical psychology Stephanie Newman explained in an interviewon her new book Mad Men on the Couch.

Her second book following a work on the money and the recession, and her first authoring solo, Newman had to move fast after her initial pitch. In fact, she told a local news reporter that to coincide with the release of the new season, she had to write it in less than a year. “I began to think about the characters in the oddest places and at the strangest times…I could be in a social situation and would find myself wondering what Don Draper would think about something...”

It has been said before that a good portion of the show’s success is owed to the sometimes nostalgic, sometimes shocking view it offers us into the culture of 1960’s America. It was a time when manners were king - but female co-workers were also given a casual smack on the bottom, and people smoked and littered wherever they liked.

“I was most of all fascinated by the different family sensibility that existed during the Mad Men era. Today we tend to focus intensely on and revolve weekends around children's activities. Don and Betty would not spend even a minute standing on a soccer field—that’s just not how people lived. While child rearing takes up a lot of space in our millennial brains, it did not seem to be a preoccupation fifty years ago.”

But let’s get to the really fun stuff – what Newman has to say about the cast and their idiosyncrasies!


Don is the character Newman singled out as needing the most psychological help.

"I kind of see Don — and the reason he’s drawn to multiple women and prostitutes — sort of as a little, motherless boy... He plays out his longings, albeit in a paradoxical fashion, by seducing and then abandoning or being abandoned by a series of beautiful and exciting women."

Because of this, she says, he has control issues. He subconsciously chooses to reject others because he fears they'll reject him first and he wants the leaving to be his choice.


Think "daddy issues", it's the reason he and Don seem to have so much friction between them. 

"Pete acts unconsciously toward Don in ways that recreate Pete’s relationship with his father. We know Pete’s father is rejecting, belittling his job in advertising and berating him for doing nothing with the family name. Pete challenges Don and wants to replace him, yet he also idealizes him."

"It's called transference." Newman explains the phenomenon as one way we subconsciously attempt to overcome past hurt.


Ouch! When asked to describe Betty's mothering skills, Newman told reporters that professionals would call her a "wire monkey."

She's referring to the famous study comparing a baby's need for love and comfort with it's need for food. Monkeys were given the choice between a "mother" made of soft cloth - but without any milk or a cold, wire "mother" that could dispense food. They chose the cloth one every time.

"When these monkeys [with wire mothers] grew and reproduced, he noticed that many of them became abusive. One monkey bit off many of her infant’s fingers without provocation. It will not be lost on the astute observer that this tragic anecdote mirrors all too closely Betty’s threat to cut off Sally’s fingers after learning she has masturbated at a neighbor’s house."

For fans of the show, you'll know that when Betty talks about her own mother, while she speaks about her reverently and protectively, the image she paints is of someone quite similar to herself - harshly critical and demanding, obsessed with portraying the right image. It seems that while she may be a wire monkey mother, she was once a wire monkey child. Only time will tell if her own children can break free of this cycle.


Poor lonely child. With Don off on his own preoccupied with work and women and with Betty preoccupied with herself and her own issues, there's nobody listening to this girl! It's for that reason she's been acting so out of control says Newman.

"She’s hoping someone will say to her, ‘OK, what’s wrong?’ and talk with her about it as opposed to slapping her on the face or sending her to her room. She’s looking to be understood. She gets that from Dr. Edna — and so does Betty...Since the treatment began, Sally has gone from a lisping, confused girl to a tween who is figuring out herself, her body and her relationships with others."

I must say - I can't wait to both see what happens next and to pick up Dr. Newman's book for more insight into their mad world!


Photo Credits:

Christina Saint Marche,,,

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1 Comment

  • Interesting - I've never seen the show but I do know back in the sixties giving a child a spanking or washing their mouth out with soap was a "normal" thing. Also back in the day - the parents were more in control where as now days the children are in control and run the household! Okay not always but I here about it a lot.

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