Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




In the history of the United States, dominant conceptualizations of mental illness and wellness have been informed by scientific discourses situated in somatic and psychogenic-based paradigms – each affecting parenting, pedagogy, and education policy. From the late nineteenth through twentieth century, the field of psychiatry would come to endorse a primarily psychogenic rather than somatic-based approach to mental health, conceiving of the mind rather than body as the primary locus of illness and wellness. This resulted in a shift from a problem-focused paradigm of mental illness to prophylactic-focused paradigm of mental wellness. Secondary scholarship on the history of psychology and psychiatry in the United States has signaled a more recent, less studied shift from the late twentieth through early twenty-first century: the transition from a focus on wellness to the “better than well” individual and society. This study sought to determine whether there was evidence of a “better than well” cultural ideal with reference to early twenty-first century American parenting and schooling. If so, where and how did this evidence manifest? How has a “better than well” cultural ideal affected parenting and schooling in the United States; how might it still? Employing the methods of conceptual historical research, history of ideas, and discourse analysis, I analyzed American parenting books, education journal articles, and federal education policies and concluded that emotional hygiene has become conceived of as a primary locus of illness and wellness of the late twentieth through early twenty-first century. Emotional hygiene has been articulated as simultaneously of the body and mind, affect and cognition, and representative of a plausible means by which to synthesize the historically polarized somatic and psychogenic-based paradigms of mental health. Emotional wellness and empathetic competency have been coupled with “a better than well” cultural ideal. Whether phrased as empathetic competency, emotional intelligence, social and emotional competency, or social and emotional learning, the ability to monitor, regulate, and adapt one’s emotions has been positioned as a cardinal means of “betterment” or “optimization” across the corpus of literature that I examined and viable pathway to actualizing a “better than well” cultural ideal.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.