'Renegade Psychologist' dukes it out with feelings folks
By Mark Sauer
STAFF WRITER Union-Tribune
November 25, 1997
Set aside for a moment the nutty stuff, like repressed memory therapy and multiple personality disorder, past life regression therapy and the search for the inner child.
"I'm less worried about these crazy aspects of psychotherapy, the things we're laughing about," said Tana Dineen, known in her native Canada as the Renegade Psychologist, "than I am about the things we're not laughing about -- trauma counseling, grief counseling."
Grief counseling? Just a second.
Everyone knows that when a tragedy occurs -- a shooting in a school, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Challenger disaster, the death of a child -- psychologists must be brought in to help people cope. Right?
Not according to Dr. Dineen.
"Just as I was finishing my book, a friend called from a rural town to tell me a teen-age girl had been killed and everyone was taking up a collection to buy grief counseling for her parents," said Dineen, who earned her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Saskatchewan and practiced and taught psychology for 22 years in two Canadian provinces.
"I asked her, 'Why?'
"Of course we feel terrible when such a tragedy happens and we want to do something. But what does it say about our society when we can't put our arms around a neighbor and comfort them as well as somebody who's got a piece of paper framed on the wall?
"Besides, we have no solid evidence that grief counseling actually helps. Can you imagine putting drugs on the market without any studies, without control groups? But that's what we've done with grief counseling and a whole host of other so-called therapies."
Dineen's book, "Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry Is Doing to People" (Robert Davies Publishing; $16), is an extensively researched, devastating attack on her former field and former colleagues.
Blasting psychology is not new. Several psychologists and journalists have tried to police the chaotic realm of psychology, whose scientific foundation -- according to many critics and a seemingly endless stream of malpractice lawsuits -- is shaky at best.
For example, Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington and Richard Ofshe of UC Berkeley have each co-authored books exposing the fallacy of repressed memory therapy, and journalists, notably documentary filmmaker Ofra Bikel and writers Mark Pendergrast and Lawrence Wright, have chronicled the withering effects misguided psychotherapy has had on individuals and families around the country.
But no one has gone as far as Tana Dineen.
Fear tactics, guilt
Predictably, her book is causing a stir in what Dineen derisively refers to as a pseudo profession intent not on promoting mental health through scientifically sound techniques, but rather generating phony illnesses and phantom cures in an endless quest for profit. "Over the years, I have seen my profession, which used to ask fascinating and important questions, simply provide answers without bothering to verify whether there is any scientific basis to those answers," Dineen said during a recent visit to San Diego from her home in Victoria, British Columbia.
Two decades in the field, including several years as treatment director of a large Ontario psychiatric hospital and several years as a practicing psychologist, were enough for Dineen.
Deeply concerned about how the personal beliefs of psychologists and other mental health "experts" (like licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family counselors) affect the treatment of their patients, Dineen argues that we are being turned into a society of victims by a Psychology Industry (she insists on the uppercase).
Using fear tactics, guilt and the promise of a utopian existence, Dineen said, this Psychology Industry preys on a gullible public -- especially women.
"We have to challenge psychologists' ideas, challenge the assumptions," Dineen said. "That has broken down to such an extent that I view it unethical to practice psychology."
Dineen points out that the field of psychology is barely a century old and was not even considered a profession until the 1950s, when practicing psychologists gained standing in the medical world over the objection of physicians.
That's when legislators quit paying attention, she says, and state licensing boards sprang up.
"The idea is that licensing boards are there to protect the public from charlatans," Dineen continued. "But as watchdogs, they are toothless. Rather, they merely serve to give credibility to therapists, to give us credentials to put on our walls."
Patriarchy in drag
Exposing herself to the wrath, not only of psychologists but also of feminists, Dineen argues that it's mostly women who naively buy into the traumas, disorders, syndromes and therapies promoted by psychology these days: AWorking women who have affairs aren't guilty of betrayal; they're suffering from "stress-induced straying." New mothers aren't merely exhausted and struggling to cope with profound life changes, they're victims of "post-traumatic stress disorder."
"We used to call it life," Dineen scoffed.
"At the turn of the century, women were said to be hysterical; now we suffer from stress and trauma. We had to be protected then; we have to be protected now," she continued. "The women's magazines are full of this stuff. It's terrifying to me.
"I see the return of patriarchy: 'Women are children,'" said Dineen. Noting how more women are therapists now than ever before, she added, "But let's not assume that the new patriarchy can't wear skirts. I call it patriarchy in drag."
But women have plenty of company in their gullibility, said Dineen, reserving particular scorn for the judicial system.
"Judges assume this stuff has a scientific basis, that it's like medical testing and gets verified using the scientific method of double-blind studies," Dineen said. "They should be checking this out -- where's your proof?
"I think it's past time that judges started kicking these idiots out of court."
So what should be done? While harsh critics like Loftus and Ofshe fret about the damage even deserved criticism of psychology might do to the profession, Dineen harbors no such concern.
"Some of my serious colleagues do grapple with 'let's not destroy psychology.' I'm afraid the answer I give now is that I'm not worried anymore about psychology being destroyed. I'm worried about how much damage it's doing to people."
Copyright 1997 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.