Personal Perspective: Vintage items offer a novel therapeutic boost.
This story originally ran in Psychology Today and is reprinted with the author's permission.
Posted February 26, 2023 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
By Dr. Barry Lubetkin / New York City
When you grow up as the son of a Greenwich Village antique dealer, as I did, it seems only natural that I would develop an interest in vintage objects myself. I would help my dad out in his shop, called the Ye Olde Treasure Shoppe, on 8th street, and was constantly amazed at the variety of objects that antique “pickers” would bring in to sell.
What made working there even more exciting was that it was a shopping destination for many members of the Beat Generation. I met Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others who helped define that important cultural movement in the 1950s and early 60s. Even Eleanor Roosevelt would stop in occasionally to view my father’s wonderful collection of artifacts.
Over the years, as I developed my own interest in collecting, I must have visited hundreds of flea markets, antique stores, and, more recently, online venues for antiques. It became clear to me that there were many items available that represented the jobs and professions that evolved in the United States over many years.
For example, there were giant depictions of eyes that served as trade signs for optometrists, antique representations of the caduceus for physicians, oversized teeth that would welcome patients to a dentist's office.
I observed, however, that there were hardly any vintage items for sale that reflected the professions of psychology or psychiatry. Perhaps this was so because they were relatively new professions, or quite possibly trade signs for those professions might embarrass or discomfort patients arriving at their offices.
In any event, I took it upon myself as a personal mission to seek out vintage items related to the mental health professions. And thus, my collection of psycholectables was born!
A number of years ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) heard of my collection and dispatched a video team to the Institute for Behavior Therapy in New York City to record many of the items that were displayed in my professional office. Since that recording was made and posted on YouTube (google: Barry Lubetkin APA), the collection has quadrupled in size. Even The Antiques and Arts Weekly magazine interviewed me about the collection for their September 10, 2021 edition.
Some of the most interesting items include Sigmund Freud's visiting card with his signed notation of his patient's next appointment; many paintings and sculptures depicting therapists treating their patients; vintage psychological tests; a collection of old phrenology books; a giant steel sign with the words MIND HEALER that hung over a psychic's booth in Coney Island in the 50s; a signed article by William James stating his awareness that since he embraced behaviorism, he would lose his popularity among colleagues; a very early (1940s) illustration of the first weight-control center in America; and an LP record titled LSD by Timothy Leary as well as an official notice of his escape from a California jail!
For many years, I delighted in sharing my collection with my patients, who often remarked that they were inspired to develop their own hobbies and interests when they observed the passion that I felt for my collection. And particularly during the pandemic, several patients told me that their new hobbies helped them immensely to fight boredom and depression during long stay-at-home days.
Who could have ever imagined that sitting in my father's store all those years ago and dusting off antique items would provide me with a new technique for helping patients!
Barry Lubetkin, Ph.D. is the co-director and co-founder of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in New York City. The Institute for Behavior Therapy is the oldest private cognitive behavior center in the United States.