In Search of Ourselves
In Search of Ourselves was an acclaimed national radio series that first aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Dominion network in the spring of 1948 and ran for over 6 years. It was a joint venture between the CBC and the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (later the Canadian Mental Health Association or CMHA). Each half-hour broadcast dramatized a particular mental health and/or relationship issue taken from actual case files.
The two 1940s radio plays re-enacted here take us into the heart of Canada’s first public mental health educational campaign. These dramas were part of the award-winning In Search of Ourselves series, designed to teach Canadians about good mental health, healthy child development, and appropriate family relations. There is weight placed on the importance of expert commentaries in the CBC broadcasts alongside a new understanding that Canadian citizens have a duty to educate themselves on the topic of mental wellbeing.
After every story, leading psychiatrists, psychologists or sociologists offered their expert interpretation of the case as a means of not only engaging listeners further but also of encouraging them to hear the intended message correctly. To extend audience participation bulletins and guides were produced and distributed across the country. You can look at one of them here. Study groups used this material to help them discuss the issues raised.
How were these broadcasts created? Taking direction from psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, CBC writer Len Peterson crafted dramatic sketches with provocative titles like, “An Adolescent Gang,” “What’s Wrong With the Child,” and “The Unmarried Girl Becomes a Mother.” The commentator in the two plays presented here was Dr. Jack Griffin, a psychiatrist and psychologist, and a key figure in Canadian mental health policy and practice from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Although In Search of Ourselves was not specifically part of the Indian Head experiment, townspeople would have come across it, both prior to and after the study, while listening to their radios. The Cummings likely perceived the CBC effort as linked to their own educational efforts to prepare Canadians in Indian Head and elsewhere for deinstitutionalization and the integration of people living with mental health differences into their communities.
Listen to two plays re-enacted from the In Search of Ourselves series and follow along with the discussion guides for both Day Dreaming and The Woman Who Turns Back. You can also hear exhibit creator Professor Kathleen Kendall’s comments on each play, highlighting their meaning and significance within 1950s Canada.
Radio Play 1 – Day Dreaming: Donald’s father is unfair and distant, and his mother undermines his sense of accomplishment and ability. No wonder the troubled teenager escapes into daydreaming, with tragic results.
Radio Play 1 – Professor Kendall’s Interpretation:
Radio Play 2 – The Woman Who Turns Back: Frances is a reliable young woman with a good job and a nice boyfriend. When her roommate Ruby recklessly quits her job and foolishly loses her boyfriend, she turns to Frances for support. Affection and disaster ensue.
Radio Play 2 – Professor Kendall’s Interpretation:
In Search of Ourselves was only one radio program among many developed by the CBC in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association and/or other mental health experts in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Similar programs during this time period included: ‘What’s On your Mind’, ‘Learning to Live’, ‘In Search of Mental Health’ and ‘Life with the Robinsons’.