Psychology Today

When did Psychology Today become a chick mag? Why wasn't I notified? And who's to blame for this genre-migrating fiasco?

I grabbed the publication's April issue expecting the usual cursory explanations of why I do the many, many stupid things I regularly do (absentmindedly stapling the webbing between my thumb and forefinger, etc.). I imagined that I'd be treated to pointed looks at any number of personal compulsions, with every piece of advice firmly grounded in research and coherent thought. I assumed the words "passive" and "aggressive" would somehow figure in the conversation.

What I got instead was Allure, minus the shoes. Over the last year or so, Psychology Today has apparently devolved into a quick-fix, flighty service book whose last claim to intellectual pretense resides in its misnomer of a title. Whereas the magazine used to mine the mind's nooks and crannies for insight, it now offers flaccid Q&As with private dicks and primers on animal mind-melding. In short, for those of you who haven't taken a gander at Psychology Today in a while, now ain't the time to start; the mag's warp-speed thrust towards general-interest purgatory will give you whiplash.

Really, I blame myself for the lofty expectations, as the cover lines should have tipped me off to what lay ahead. "Extra! 22 New Pages to Transform Your Life," "Love and Longing: What Your Dog Really Feels" and "How Setbacks Make You Stronger" don't exactly shriek "deep thinking contained herein!" The cover image serves up additional clues as to Psychology Today's new direction, depicting a blissed-out, thin (of course) hippie chick grinning beatifically against a backdrop of clouds. Her dress says "thrift store," her glowing visage adds "but the wardrobe folks scrubbed out the pong of patchouli, which was very considerate of them."

The front-of-book "Insights" section highlights nearly all of what Psychology Today does wrong. Rather than legit insights, the mag serves up generic health tips (eat your grains, Grandma), overreported statistics (42 percent of Americans have high-blood pressure) and pointless one-pagers (a who-cares profile of the typical tax cheat). Even when the section hits on a potentially intriguing factoid--apparently people who take their work home with them experience higher levels of family conflict--the mag doesn't bother to delve deeper. In its quest to be blurbier and more service-oriented, the title has shed about 75 points of IQ.

The mag's regular "Solutions," "Relationships," "Personality" and "Health & Happiness" sections offer more middlebrow thinking under the guise of expert advice. A self-described "industrial designer" recommends florescent-orange suitcases and extravagant annual dance parties; a story on the practice of gratitude imparts nuggets like "be creative" and "share the love." Even when one of these items connects--Bruce Kluger's recollection of the importance of communicating with his male friends during a time of personal crisis - Psychology Today finds a way to diminish its impact, running a story-like ad for alongside it.

The April issue fares slightly better with its features. The "Hidden Side of Happiness" cover story suggests that one cannot truly be happy until one has experienced sadness and loss (oh, really, Oprah?), while the aforementioned animal-psychology magnum opus notes that elephants can grieve (elephants: they're just like us!). The mag does earn real props for its report on emotional adultery, however, which explores how and why unconsummated flings can wreak as much havoc as consummated ones. In this story alone does one get the sense that the writers and editors are willing to break a sweat from time to time.

In these dopey reviews o' mine, I try to avoid statements like "X is bad" or "Y is good," partly because simplistic opinions are for simplistic people and partly because passive verb tenses piss me off. But I don't know how to end this epistle any other way than by saying that the April issue is a trite, boring mess. Psychology Today no more concerns itself with the workings of the human mind than Parenting does with raising orchids. A name change could not be any more seriously in order.

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