A blue and white striped straightjacket sits on an average-sized bust inside a glass case. The sleeves, crossed loosely through the loops on the front of the jacket, aren’t tied around the back. More glass cases along the walls contain lobotomy picks and an electroconvulsive therapy machine. An enclosed wooden crib, which looks like it could have contained a wild animal, shows one method of restraint for mental patients in the mid- to late-19th century.
At the far end of the room, a therapist’s couch awaits, covered with a soft blanket. There’s a chair at the head and a giant portrait of Freud on the wall behind it. Giant wall-Freud has watched the viewer ease her way through the room, stopping to watch videos of lobotomy patients, or look over floor plans of asylums, or read about the first antipsychotic medications. He’s ready to psychoanalyze her unconscious mind and help her deal with repressed trauma. A placard reads: “Photo Opp! Lie down and tell Dr. Freud about yourselfie. #nationalmuseumofpsychology.”
This is the first room in the National Museum of Psychology at The University of Akron’s Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology (CCHP).
The museum is huge, in size and scope. One could spend an hour or more in this room alone, reading through all the journals and floor plans, taking in all the information about the history of mental health, illness and treatment. But there is so much more to see and experience in this place than one would think upon first entering the museum.
From racial segregation in schools, to prison experiments, to laboratory testing on animals, there’s plenty to discuss, and interactive exhibits throughout stimulate the intellect and senses. So far, since opening at the end of June 2018, the museum has had a great response.
“At our opening, we were expecting maybe 100 people,” says Dr. Faye, assistant director at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology. “We were using a clicker to record the number of people that were coming, and I think we ended up somewhere around 400, which was a really great surprise.… The sheer number of people has been fantastic.”
Dr. Faye says the quality of feedback has been good, and even kids seem to like the museum, especially the interactive exhibits.
“One of the things we were trying to accomplish was to build a museum for anyone, not just psychologists. Not just people who are familiar with psychology, but really anyone. And that to me has been a success…. I feel like anyone can walk into the museum and have a really good time.”
The museum is on the first floor of CCHP, and it spans 8,500 square feet, divided into three main sections: Psychology as a Profession (which includes mental health and illness), Psychology as an Agent of Social Change and Psychology as a Science. The museum’s mission is to show psychology in all of its forms.
“So, one of the things that happens, I think, with the general public is when they think of psychology, they think of therapy. They think of mental health,” says Dr. Faye. “ … We wanted to give them that whole section that looks at the history of psychology in relation to mental health treatment and illness. But we also really wanted people to understand that there’s a lot more to psychology — that it’s all around them, every day, in every way.”
Dr. Faye says that while the public is most familiar with the typical story about psychology, like asylums and Freud, most people don’t think of the role psychology has in professions that apply psychological research, such as vocational testing, advertising and marketing. Psychological research on our social world — in the areas of gender and homosexuality and race, for instance — also greatly impacts how our world changes.
“We wanted to show the sort of multi-faceted, multi-layered identity of the field, and to help people sort of see it in ways that are outside of common understanding of psychology.”
The main part of the gallery will be a permanent exhibit, and will remain the same for about five to seven years. However, there is a rotating gallery at one end of the museum that will change more often. The current student-curated exhibit in that space, “The Test of Time” will be on display until fall of 2018. The exhibit will be student-curated about half the time. The other half of the space will showcase some of the stories that couldn’t fit into the permanent exhibition.
There are three arms of the CCHP: the museum, the Archives of the History of American Psychology and the Institute for Human Science and Culture. The Archives, founded in 1965, constitute the largest collection of its kind in the world, containing about 10,000 linear feet of materials such as artifacts, psychologists’ personal papers, records of psychological organizations and various types of moving and still media. The museum houses about 1 percent of the CCHP’s entire collection. Some of the other 99 percent will eventually make its way into the rotating gallery in the museum, but it’s also possible for anyone with an interest in psychology to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the archives and reading room by scheduling an appointment with the reference archivist.
Soon, the institute arm of CCHP will also open to the public. Currently under construction, the third and fourth floor galleries, which could open in late 2019, will focus their collections around CCHP’s tagline, “Exploring what it means to be human.”
“ . . . The Institute is sort of our interdisciplinary place where we get to play with and collect and exhibit and do educational activities with materials that extend beyond psychology into art, anthropology, religion, all these other areas.”
Dr. Faye has really enjoyed hearing how visitors relate to different stories in the museum, the connections they make, and how those stories spark conversation between friends. She says the interactive exhibit on intelligence testing at Ellis Island prompted visitor conversations about their own relatives who would have undergone such testing, while also igniting discussions about contemporary immigration issues.
“It’s just really nice to see that these exhibits have become a space where people can have these kinds of conversations that they might not otherwise have. And they’re personal conversations. But the exhibits give people this opportunity to sort of open up about it in a different kind of way, it’s a prompt that encourages people to talk with their friends about these things, and I love that.”
The National Museum of Psychology
73 S College St
Tues – Weds, Fri – Sat: 11am – 4pm
Thursday: 11am – 8pm
Admission: $10 for adults; $5 for children (12 and under); and free for all UA students, faculty and military personnel with a valid ID.
Metered parking on College Street, or park in Lot 30 at the corner of E Market St and S College St.
(Photos courtesy of The University of Akron Communications and Marketing)