Creating a Mass Market for Psychology
By Robert Sibley
Books in Canada, July 2001 pp.38-39
"To be cured against one's own will of a state we do not regard
as a disease is to be put on the level of those who have not yet reached
the age of reason, or those who never will, and to be classed with infants,
imbeciles and domestic animals."
WHEN A TRAGEDY occurs at some school, office or worksite, policemen,
firefighters and paramedics will rush to the scene to provide much needed
services and save lives if necessary. Increasingly, however, we see another
"helping" professional, the trauma or grief counsellor who has
been called in to save psyches.
Somehow it is now the norm that after every school shooting (or threatened
shooting), car crash or airline disaster to call in the psychologists
who, in Moses-like fashion, are expected to lead survivors of tragedy,
or even tragedy's witnesses, to the promised land of "wellness."
Somehow in our fear-filled society we have come to believe that a stranger
with a few initials behind his or her name is necessary to attaining "healing"
or "closure" after we experience or witness violence or death.
Where does this notion come from? Where did we get the sentimental idea
that after every tragedy - a parent's loss of a child, for example, we
are supposed to be "healed"? In her book Manufacturing Victims:
What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People, Dr. Tana Dineen answers
those questions. And the answer is devastating. Well researched, sharply
focused and leavened with numerous examples, her analysis of the profession
of psychology should make you want to burn your self-help books and motivational
tapes or, as the case may be, cancel the rest of your therapy sessions.
The book's opening paragraphs succinctly sums up her argument: "Psychology
presents itself as a con-cerned and caring profession working for the
good of its clients, but the effects are damaged people, divided families,
distorted justice, destroyed companies and a weakened nation. Behind the
benevolent facade is a self-serving industry that offers "facts"
which are often unfounded, provides "therapy" which can be damaging,
and exerts influence which is having devastating effects on society
"This is the era of licensed, accredited, certified, proclaimed
or self-proclaimed psychologists. With degrees in psychology, medicine,
social work, and nursing or with no academic qualifications at all, the
expanding workforce of the Psychology Industry relies for its survival
and growth on its ability to create markets and manufacture victims. Specializing
in trauma, stress, abuse and addiction, an increasing number of psychologists
are competing for "victim fees." Few of them ask any questions
or show any reservations about their business. Most equate expert status
with their own adamant beliefs which, with no pause for critical thought
or responsible reflection, they present as "findings" and "facts."
Now that is a stinging indictment. And after reading Dr. Dineen's book
you will be hard pressed to argue it is entirely unjustified. To be sure,
Dr. Dineen is careful to acknowledge that in the hands of dedicated and
scientifically-grounded researchers, psychology remains a worthy and respected
endeavour. As she observes, not all psychologists allow themselves to
be "swept along by seductive theorizing and popular belief."
The focus of her scorn are those "psychologists" - whether
clinical psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, grief therapists,
mental health workers, high school counsellors, sensitivity trainers or
even hypnotherapists - who distort and misapply the research, reducing
it to ego-stroking psychobabble and feel-good placebos. Unfortunately,
she says, there are more and more of these kinds of psychologists and
few of the more responsible ones.
Dr. Dineen knows whereof she speaks. A PhD in psychology, she spent nearly
20 years in the field as a clinical psychologist, holding positions in
psychiatric facilities and counselling clinics in Ontario. She was also
a psychotherapist in Toronto for many years. But she packed in her career
in the mid-1990s. As she put it in a newspaper interview "I couldn't
maintain my integrity in a profession that is almost devoid of integrity.
This book is my apology for decades of biting my lip about the pernicious
effects psychologists are having on individuals and society."
Among Dr. Dineen's most explosive argument is her refutation of the concept
of recovered memories, particularly in regard to alleged sexual abuse.
She cites numerous cases wherein people - usually men - have been falsely
accused of crimes based on such "memories." But there is, she
says, no reputable scientific evidence that these memories are anything
more than fanciful inventions. Because of this and other misuses of research,
she argues that psychologists should be barred from testifying in court
as experts on human behaviour.
Dr. Dineen goes ever further, though. One of the more devastating analyses
in her book is her dissection of the sharp marketing, political pandering
and misuse of research that goes into the industry's efforts to perpetuate
and promote itself. The burgeoning field of trauma and stress therapy
is, for the most part, a "scam," she argues. Indeed, she regards
the diagnoses and therapies of such practitioners as little more than
job creation projects for the psychology industry. Therapists need patients,
so they create disorders with which to label erstwhile clients. Eventually,
of course, everybody can be described as "abnormal" and in need
The psychology industry is also fond of inflating symptoms, augmenting
their scope far beyond the original condition they once described. For
example, the word trauma once referred to a physical injury. But now,
after considerable "semantic inflation," trauma covers anything
that upsets us. Ditto for addiction: it no longer refers to drug or alcohol
abuse, but also to those who like sex too much, play video gambling too
often or even indulgent in too many trips to the local mall.
That's right, even shopping is now considered a psychological problem.
A California psychologist has claimed that extreme shoppers are not responsible
for what they do because they suffer "compulsive shopping disorder."
It gets more pathetic. Feel guilty at getting rich during the high-tech
boom? Another California psychologist says you are suffering "sudden
wealth syndrome." Look into the mirror too often? You are not conceited
you have "narcissistic personality disorder." Are you a bad-tempered
lout in the morning? Tell the spousal unit it is only "intermittent
Psychology may once have been part of science's laudatory effort to mitigate
life's hardships, but Dr. Dineen's book ably demonstrates how the psychology
industry has gone, well, crazy in its attempt to pathologize every aspect
of the human condition and turn every upset into a disease in need of
Dr. Dineen is not the first psychologist to question the merits of her
profession, of course. For example, the late Garth Wood, an eminent British
psychiatrist, wrote in his 1983 book "The Myth of Neurosis"
that many patients in psychoanalysis would get as much benefit from confronting
their problems as they would from being "in therapy." He was
particularly incensed by the "insidious myths" of psychotherapy
and the "unstoppable streams of verbiage intelligible only to the
arcane practitioners of these disreputable "disciplines."
What sets Dr. Dineen's book part, takes it beyond the isn't-this-awful
level, is that she asks the larger question of what the colonization of
society by the psychology industry portends. Her final judgment is scathing:
"The psychology industry is separating people from their families,
promoting stereotypic and hostile views of men and women, degrading friendship
and generally promoting distrust and suspicion."
Ultimately, what Dr. Dineen's book exposes is the steady sentimentalization
of society. To be sure, that is not a word she uses, but when understood
comprehensively it helps to account for the kind of fearful narcissistic
society she sees "psychologists" producing. "The theories
of the psychologist industry exist as totems which reduce people to whining,
weak, passive and vulnerable children, more intent on nurturing their
inner child that on strengthening their resolve as adults."
That's a pretty good definition of a sentimentalist. A sentimentalist
is someone who denies reality, someone who evades the concrete facts of
the world. Sentimentality inhibits rational judgment in favour of emotional
satisfaction. Patients are particularly tempted to react sentimentally,
denying, say, a diagnosis of cancer by seeking out bogus therapies. Such
a reaction can masquerade as courage. But denial is not courage. Denial
avoids the facts; courage faces them. Refusing to despair is well and
good, but willful self-deception is cowardice.
Such sentimentalism might be tolerated if it were confined to a deluded
few. But western societies are increasingly driven by sentimentalists
of all persuasions and ideologies promoting social-engineering schemes.
Sentimentalists are particularly attracted to political programs that
promise utopia without struggle or sacrifice. They assume that good ends
can be achieved without unpleasant effort, self-discipline or patience.
More and more, we are a society in which any misfortune that befalls us
is somebody else's fault. So we grab a lawyer to sue those who trespass
on our egos or elect politicians who feel our pain or run to therapists
who will assure us we are victims of something (life perhaps?) and therefore
aren't responsible for anything. The result, says Dr. Dineen, is a society
of damaged and dependent people, divided families and weakened communities.
As she writes, "The psychology industry casts a long shadow over
life in North America ... While psychologists say 'trust me,' they question
and often discourage one's trust and reliance on family and friends. As
a substitute they offer artificial empathy, cultivated warmth and phony
genuineness, through which they can persuade people to see life they way
they see it, and to live their lives in a psychologically ordered fashion."
How did this come about? Apparently, in our increasingly secularized
world, psychotherapy has replaced religion in the sense that, like religion,
it is what we turn to when we need to cope with the vagaries of existence.
But, unlike religion, psychology seeks to eliminate the very experiences
that define what it is to be human. At the core of human experience is
the mystery of the grandeur and the misery of self-conscious mortality.
Unlike animals, humans know they will die. Yet, if they have courage,
they also learn that awareness of death gives life its juice and joy.
It is because life is so painfully transient that it can be so achingly
Psychotherapy seeks to deny humans the very experiences that allow them
to appreciate the rich depths of life. And that, of course, means it is
a threat to human freedom. As philosopher Leon Kass states, the ultimate
goal of psychotherapy is "to order human experience in terms of easy,
predictable contentment." But for those haunted by death, character
and courage - those ingredients of genuine freedom - are essential in
order to live with the knowledge that death is inevitable. Psychotherapy,
however, makes emotional security easy by negating the certainty of death,
and thus eradicating the need to practise those moral virtues necessary
for being free.
Obviously, this implies that the conduct of the psychology industry has
political consequences. Indeed, individuals freed from moral responsibility
are no longer citizens (in the political sense of the word), but patients
or victims who need someone else to manage their lives. As Dr. Dineen
writes: "The psychology industry considers and treats people as children
who, regardless of age, experience or status, must be protected, guided,
sheltered and disciplined." But by smothering individual responsibility
for the sake of self-esteem or wellness, psychotherapy creates a depoliticized
society of contented creatures who need only to be organized and pacified.
And that is a form of tyranny. It may produce a society that looks and
feels much nicer than that established by, say, communist China, but it
is still a tyranny, albeit a soft one. As C.S. Lewis once put it, "Of
all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercises for the good of its victims
may be the most oppressive."
Dr. Dineen's book exposes the threat to human freedom posed by those
rushing to rescue our poor, shivering psyches.
from the web site of Dr. Tana Dineen http://tanadineen.com