Psychological disorder: Renegade therapist Tana Dineen speaks her mind on the state of the mental health industry
by Robert Sibley
The Citizen's Weekly, The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, August 17, 1997
Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. 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.
-- C.S. Lewis
Tana Dineen recalls a phone call from a distraught friend several years ago that illustrates her claim that psychologists do more harm than good. The friend, who lives in rural Saskatchewan, told her that a girl from a nearby farm had died in a car crash. The parents were grief-stricken and a neighbour got the idea of asking everyone to contribute toward grief counselling sessions for them.
``I remember thinking, `How utterly appalling,''' Ms. Dineen says. ``Somehow, it hadn't dawned on these neighbours that what the parents needed was sympathy and maybe a hand with the chores. How absurd to think counselling would make anyone feel better after such a tragedy.''
For Ms. Dineen, the fact that people would even think this was a worthy way to express their sympathy reveals much about the pervasiveness of what she calls the psychology industry. The industry, she says, targets human emotions such as grief, despair and loneliness as psychological ``processes'' that require gift certificates for counselling and therapy sessions, instead of hugs, tears and a helping hand. Ms. Dineen, a licensed clinical psychologist in both Ontario and British Columbia, now views it as ``unethical'' to practise psychology. In 1993, after 20 years as a working psychologist, she closed her Toronto practice and moved to British Columbia.
Ms. Dineen is far from settled into easy retirement. She operates a busy bed and breakfast on a quiet, shady street in Victoria, sharing the heritage house and its Victorian-era furnishings -- wingback chairs, dark wood armoires and gilt-framed pictures -- with three cats, Enchante, Mr. Pilgrim and Mr. Galileo. And last year, after three years of research and writing, she published a book: Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People. The book, published by Robert Davies Publishing, has stirred considerable debate within the psychology community.
``This is the book I didn't want to write,'' Ms. Dineen says as she settles back into one of the blue wingback chairs, a cup of coffee in her lap and Mr. Galileo curled at her feet. ``For a long time, I thought I could go on with my work with a reasonable degree of personal integrity and ignore what many of my colleagues were doing. But eventually, I reached the point where I couldn't do that anymore. I couldn't maintain my own 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 on society.''
According to Ms. Dineen, those well-meaning neighbours -- and most of us -- have been heavily influenced by an industry that has promoted the notion that we are victims of life and that psychology offers the solution to this victimization. ``How bizarre it is that now anyone who is suffering is viewed as a `victim.' These neighbours, instead of offering a shoulder to cry on, thought they were doing more by offering the parents a way to be `healed' from a tragedy, as if one is supposed to be `healed' after losing a child.
``How did they come to think they were doing the right thing by assuming their grief-stricken friends needed an `expert' to tell them how to grieve? You have to wonder if we're losing the ability to be human when we turn everything over to some psychological technician who knows the right way to feel.''
As far as Ms. Dineen is concerned, most of what psychologists sell is fraudulent. There is, she says, little scientific evidence to substantiate the claims being made by those offering psychological explanations, prognoses or solutions to the public. Recovered memory therapy, past-life regression treatment and the burgeoning field of trauma and stress therapy are ``a scam.''
Ms. Dineen considers all purveyors of mental health services and treatments to be ``psychologists'' in one form or another. This includes psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, therapists, social workers and even high school guidance counsellors. Within this broad definition, psychiatrists are often considered to be at the top of the pecking order. They are medical doctors, trained to diagnose mental disorders, and qualified to conduct psychotherapy and to prescribe such pills as Prozac and Valium. Next are licensed or, as they are called in Ontario, registered psychologists, who generally have PhDs and are trained in diagnosis, assessment or treatment techniques. There are 2,200 psychologists and psychological associates, who are psychological practitioners trained to the Master's level, registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario. Only they, along with the psychiatrists registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, are legally allowed to make psychological diagnoses.
They are followed by social workers, marriage and family therapists, certified counsellors and child-care workers, some of whom have a Master's or a Bachelor's degree, or professional or fraternal certification of one kind or another. Finally, there are the lay therapists, hypnotherapists, abuse counsellors, sensitivity trainers and encounter group therapists with varied levels of qualification, or none at all other than their own experiences and beliefs.
Some psychologists are engaged in research, designing and carrying out experiments, but most practise clinically, assessing and treating patients. Some practise a Freudian variant of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis, but many practise other therapies, including cognitive therapy, regression therapy and behaviour therapy. In Ontario, anybody can hang out a shingle as a family or marriage counsellor or even as a psychoanalyst.
In Ms. Dineen's view, all these practitioners contribute to the breakdown of a coherent social order by helping to create a society of irresponsible and infantile adults.
``Psychology presents itself as a concerned and caring profession working for the good of its clients. But in its wake lie damaged people, divided families, distorted justice, destroyed companies, and a weakened nation.
``The theories of the psychology industry exist as totems which reduce people to whining, weak, passive and vulnerable children, more intent on nurturing their inner child than on strengthening
their resolve as adults.''
In her book, Ms. Dineen refers to an analysis by some prominent American scholars of a program financed by the state of Washington between 1991 and 1995 in which men and women received psychological treatment after they claimed to have recovered repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. The analysis determined that while 10 per cent of these people had been suicidal before receiving therapy, 67 per cent became suicidal after treatment. Three years after therapy
began, most had lost their jobs and half had seen their marriages fall apart. As well, a substantial number lost custody of their children, and all were estranged from their extended families.
Behind the profession's benevolent facade, says Ms. Dineen, ``is a self-serving industry motivated by power and profit.''
In 1994, the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that Americans spend as much as $9 billion a year on psychotherapy of one kind or another. There appear to be no comparable figures for Canada.
However, Keith Dobson, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary and a past president of the Canadian Psychological Association, says there are about 18,000 practitioners in this country, and assuming they earn a ``low average'' of $50,000 a year, it is possible that Canadians spend an estimated $900 million a year on psychological treatments.
For Ms. Dineen, ``what once seemed like a responsible profession is now a big business whose success is directly related to the victims it manufactures, who ultimately become dependent clients with no escape from their problems.''
Ms. Dineen describes one such ``fabricated'' victim. She had known the woman, a hairdresser, as a person of warmth and vitality.
Suddenly, though, she changed. ``When I asked why, she said she'd discovered that she was a `victim of incest,' and described how memories had begun coming back of how her father had abused her from the time she was six months old. She was in therapy, and that was all she had to talk about. But she had lost her vitality and independence, relying on a psychologist to interpret her past, explain her present and predict her future. For the psychologist, a profitable business relationship had been established.''
``What I couldn't figure out was how she could recover a memory of being six months old when there is no empirical memory research to suggest that is possible. Besides, what is sexual abuse at the age of six months; did the father touch her genitals while changing her diaper? Why would a therapist suggest abuse? And even if what she said was true, does it explain her whole life? I wanted to shake her and say, `Look, you're 35 years old; deal with your life instead of going to therapy to find some way to escape your life.'''
A desire for therapeutic relief is understandable.
Therapy purports to help explain the tragedies of life, its failures, hardships, health problems and even its minor disappointments. And with the explanation comes relief from the constant tensions and natural burdens of adulthood: dealing with complexity, facing things beyond your control, and taking responsibility for your actions and decisions.
People, Ms. Dineen says, do inevitably learn things about themselves from visits to psychologists. They can be useful and effective. Patients may not get the results they want, but they do sometimes gain insights, ideas and suggestions that can help to deal with their problems. Ms. Dineen does not question the existence of biologically based mental disorders such as schizophrenia and psychosis or the need in such cases for medical treatment, although
she is leery of a trend to interpret all emotional and behavioural problems as biological and in need of drug treatment.
Her primary concern is clinical psychology's claim that it possesses the expertise and wisdom to solve people's troubles, as though living is a problem to be solved. Contemporary psychology, Ms. Dineen argues, promises an escape from the burdens of adulthood, as well as a dollop of excitement, a pinch of meaning, to even the most bland and boring life. Unfortunately, ``there is no positive evidence supporting the efficacy of professional psychology, she says, citing research by an American scholar, Robyn Dawes. ``There are anecdotes, there is plausibility, there are common beliefs, yes -- but there is no good evidence.''
For Ms. Dineen, though, the inadequacies of psychology go beyond its ineffectiveness. The psychology industry as a whole, she says, is corroding our social bonds. ``People say they have no sense of community, that they are isolated and lonely; psychology is emphatically contributing to that sense of alienation. It is teaching people to view others as potential enemies, to be monitored, scrutinized and accused. In doing so, it is squelching the human tendencies to trust, to flirt, to seduce, to argue, to assume responsibility, to be cautious, to take risks, to be passionate, to make the right choices, and to make mistakes.''
The other side
Not surprisingly, a sizable majority in the psychology profession dispute Ms. Dineen's views, but she has defenders. Some prominent names -- Sam Keen, the former editor of Psychology Today, Theodore Roszak, historian and author of the 1960s classic The Making of a Counterculture, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, host of the Dr. Laura Show -- have applauded her for challenging the shibboleths of contemporary psychology. Mr. Roszak described Ms. Dineen's book as ``a welcome antidote for our society's spreading addiction to toxic therapy.'' And Mr. Keen said he hoped the book would make people ``take a hard look at the sins of the profession.''
Despite such praise, Ms. Dineen has been criticized. The College of Psychologists of Ontario is investigating a complaint against her by a psychologist who saw her interviewed on television in January. The complainant, a licensed clinical psychologist, argued that Ms. Dineen's comments discredit the profession and could harm the public. In late April, the college informed Ms. Dineen that its complaints committee had decided to investigate what it considered to be a ``potential public protection issue.'' Under Ontario law, the college is required to look into all complaints against its members. If the complaint is upheld, Ms. Dineen could lose her licence.
Mr. Dobson said that while Ms. Dineen's criticism of the profession contains ``a lot of accuracy,'' it is ``overstated'' in the sense that there is no organized psychology industry. His main concern, though, is with her view that diagnosing and applying a psychological label to a patient's mental condition turns that person into a victim. ``The problem is people come to psychologists because they aren't coping with something in their life and they are looking for assistance. I don't see that as a victimization process. If someone is not fitting in or is feeling suicidal, you're not making them a victim by trying to help them.'' Robert Tolsma, executive director of the British Columbia Psychological Association, has accused Ms. Dineen of writing a ``conspiracy book'' that inflates examples of poor psychological practice and presents them as the norm. A Toronto psychologist, Richard Allon, an executive member of the Canadian Psychological Association, referred to her book as ``the Ripley's Believe It or Not of psychology.''
"Dr. Dineen seems to have gotten lost,'' said Vancouver psychologist Conrad Bowden. ``Perhaps she has indeed seen too much in her years of working. Burnout is often accompanied by feelings of disillusionment.''
In response, Ms. Dineen points to her career and academic background. Ms. Dineen received her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from McGill University in 1969. She earned a Master's degree and a PhD in psychology at the University of Saskatchewan, graduating in 1975. She has held positions at psychiatric facilities and counselling clinics in Ontario. As the director of a rehabilitation unit at the North Bay Psychiatric Hospital in 1977, she won an American Psychiatric Association award for innovative programming in the treatment of schizophrenics. In 1981, she set up a private practice in Toronto employing psychotherapy and hypnosis.
In the late 1980s, she was active in organizations that promoted psychology as a tool for resolving conflicts in Central America.
However, the seeds of her skepticism were planted as early as 1969 when, as a PhD student working in the Toronto General Hospital's psychiatry department, she set up a system to monitor how psychiatrists reached their diagnoses. ``I had my first glimpse of psychologists acting as if they had access to some hidden fund of superior knowledge. The extreme confidence of many of the psychiatrists I observed disturbed me. It seemed there was no room in their minds for doubt and no space for questions.''
Ms. Dineen's thesis concluded that the personalities of the psychiatrists and their individual beliefs, not objective science or a patient's personal history, determined the diagnosis and treatment.
Over the years, there were other moments of doubt. But Ms. Dineen told herself that as long as she maintained her integrity, as long as she set the patient's interests ahead of self-interest, she could continue her work. ``Thirty years ago, I loved psychology,'' she says. ``I was attracted to it because it asked fascinating questions, it asked about the mystery of life. Now it pretends to know the answer to the mystery. The fact is there are things we cannot know; perhaps the greatest mystery is human consciousness itself. But psychology has abandoned questioning in favour of pontificating. It has abandoned real science, real questioning, and gone off on tangents, presenting theories as the `truth' about reality. For a psychologist to claim to know the mystery of human consciousness is a colossal and dangerous hubris. But that is what we see today when psychologists use theories to `rewrite' people's lives.'' By 1993, she no longer had much confidence in the benefits of psychology. ``We've had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse,'' she says, quoting the title of a book by Jungian psychologist James Hillman. ``I found I could no longer ignore the kind of junk that has come to predominate over the profession. It is simply no longer accurate to speak of it as a science, and it is unscrupulously misleading to call it a profession.''
Ms. Dineen is not alone in her critique. Many of psychology's time-honoured practices are under fire. Even the founder of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, is the subject of attacks. Frederick Crews, the author of two controversial articles in the New York Review of Books in 1993 and 1994, argued that Freud ``has been the most overrated figure in the entire history of science and medicine.''
American psychology professor Paul Vitz, in his book Psychology as Religion, says contemporary psychology amounts to little more than ``the worship of the self.'' Sociologist Christopher Lasch, writing in The Culture of Narcissism, describes ``the mission of the post-Freudian therapies'' as the ``gratification of every impulse.''
Psychologists Michael and Lise Wallach, in their study Psychology's Sanction for Selfishness, demonstrate how the popular psychology theories about human behaviour that emerged after Freud are rooted in the assumption that serving the self, or egoism, is the sole functional ethical principle.
There are also debates on psychology's future direction. Developments in medical science, especially in neurology and physiology, have popularized the idea that there might be a biological basis to everything from violent behaviour and overeating to shopping addiction. This, coupled with advances in pharmacology, have led some to argue that pills will replace psychotherapy. The American Psychological Association recently approved as official policy that psychologists should have prescription privileges for drugs such as such as Prozac and Valium, and is lobbying state governments to change the law to that end.
In Canada, there is no overt lobbying of provincial governments, and none of the professional associations has taken a formal position.
There is also growing controversy within the profession over recovered memory therapy, the notion that traumatic but hidden memories of childhood abuse, particularly sexual abuse, can be recovered by a diligent psychologist. In her book, Ms. Dineen cites a number of cases where people, usually men, have been falsely accused of crimes based on such ``memories.'' She wants to see psychologists barred from testifying in court as ``experts'' on human behaviour, arguing that with ``unscientific and unethical testimony by psychologists reaching epidemic proportions, the only solution is to disallow any involvement of psychologists.''
The recovered memory controversy, in particular, has sharpened the division between research psychologists who adhere to the scientific method, and clinical psychologists whose therapeutic treatments are dismissed by Ms. Dineen as little more than fanciful inventions. The debate became so divisive that in 1988 a group of research psychologists resigned from the prestigious American Psychological Association to protest what they saw as the organization's increasing willingness to legitimize unscientific therapies.
What appalls the researchers is that many clinical theories are imposed on people without their effectiveness being experimentally validated or the outcomes tested.
There are hundreds of therapies available -- everything from past-life regression and primal screaming to memory retrieval therapy -- and only a few are based on reputable scientific evidence. Ms. Dineen retains respect for the scientifically grounded psychologists, but says they are increasingly overshadowed by those who ``substitute personal belief for scientific fact.''
She recalls the case of a psychologist who diagnosed a man as a victim of satanic abuse without having seen or spoken to him. The man had come to Ms. Dineen asking to be hypnotized so he could discover whatever buried trauma there was in his past that made him hear voices and insert sharp objects in his rectum. Apparently, he had seen a television show about satanic ritual abuse that suggested that he might be a ``victim.'' Ms. Dineen thought the man, who had a long psychiatric history, was more likely suffering from a biologically based mental illness such as schizophrenia. She refused to hypnotize him without knowing his treatment history.
He refused to discuss his previous treatment and demanded a referral to a psychologist who he had heard was prominent in the area of ritual abuse. Ms. Dineen called the psychologist to discuss the matter. ``After a discussion of two minutes, she stated that the man was a `victim' of satanic ritual abuse. This psychologist had arrived at her instant diagnosis without asking a single question of me or the patient.''
About a year later, Ms. Dineen got a call from the man, who told her that the previous night he had obeyed the voices in his head and cut himself with a sharp piece of glass.
He had not improved despite a year's treatment. The psychologist whom he had been seeing once a week for that year had told him he needed to increase the number of weekly sessions if he wanted to get better. The man, however, could not afford the extra sessions. Besides, even after a year, he could not recall the ritual abuse she insisted he must have endured. He felt like a failure.
For Ms. Dineen, the case is typical of how the field operates. ``The psychology industry's message is that the only person you can trust is a psychologist, the only person who can give you wise advice is a psychologist, the only person to whom you can talk about your intimate thoughts and problems and worries is a psychologist.
So, sadly, people are no longer trusting their own families or their own friends, no longer listening to people they might have turned to in the past, before psychology took over our lives.''
Ms. Dineen describes in her book the three processes by which psychologists and other therapists manufacture victims, and customers: psychologizing, pathologizing and generalizing.
In the first, the psychologist creates theories that imbue common events with ``deeper psychological meaning'' decipherable only to the trained mind -- ``your pet dies and it's a psychological trauma'' -- whether you know it or not. In this way, people's feelings and thoughts about their real experiences are turned into psychological experiences such as post-traumatic stress or low self-esteem that explain what their words, moods and actions really mean at some ``deeper unconscious level.''
Implicit is the notion that what is important about any event or experience is what happens inside. Or, put another way, what is important is not what you do, but how you feel.
In pathologizing, the psychologist looks at normal feelings such as anxiety or fear as problems the psychologist can cure. If something bad or upsetting happens to you, it means you must be suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome and need to be treated for that. Normal reactions to everyday experience are transformed into a sickness, normal people are turned into abnormal people -- victims who are ``wounded,'' ``abused'' or ``traumatized.''
Such acceptance of psychological notions fosters the generalizing process in which psychologists escalate the slights and insults by comparing them to real injury or tragedy, as in the phrase verbal assault.''
`Virtually any event can now qualify a person as a victim,'' says Ms. Dineen. ``There are the dramatic varieties such as the alleged victims of satanic ritual abuse or of UFO abductions. Then there are the more everyday varieties such as victims of shopping addictions. To be declared a victim of sexual assault can now mean anything from having been abducted and repeatedly raped at knifepoint to having had an affair with a professor which ended with a grade that wasn't the expected `A,' or to having got drunk one night and gone to bed with a date who looked less appealing in the morning light, or even having been whistled at.''
One night in December 1992, a few months before she quit her practice, Ms. Dineen awoke startled at finding herself on the bedroom floor. What she had been dreaming was still vivid in her mind: ``It was the image of a woman with a scar across her face. When I woke up I was on the floor and I could still feel the strong hands of the figure who had thrown me out of bed, and hear what she said: `Never call me a victim.'''
A psychologist -- and probably most of us -- would interpret the dream as reflecting some internal or unconscious struggle within Ms. Dineen's psyche, or that the figure in her dream refers to some person in her past with whom she has unresolved conflicts.
But Ms. Dineen questions that assumption. ``Psychology doesn't own dreams. People were having dreams long before psychology came along and there's no particular reason to think that psychologists know what dreams mean, if anything, any better than people in the past. But psychology assumes it knows what dreams mean. I don't. I say it was just a dream and what it means is a mystery.''
One of the most profound changes in western society during the past century has been the seismic shift in our internal psyche, the way we understand and think about ourselves. Psychology and its diverse practices have influenced the arts, science, morality, religion and even philosophy.
Religion once provided western man with a way of looking at the world that described human beings as possessing a spiritual element that transcended human consciousness. But, for many, that belief is no longer authoritative. Freud and his heirs fundamentally altered our views of what it means to be human. And they did so by promoting a form of secular humanism that rejects a spiritual or transcendental dimension to our existence, leaving human consciousness on its own.
We have come to believe there is nothing external to our consciousness that can provide us with meaning and purpose -- salvation, to use the biblical language. We have turned inward to worship the Self, inflating the importance of our individuality as we struggle to get life to make sense. ``With the demise of the belief in immortality and the end of absolute morality, it (psychology) is becoming the most generally accepted substitute,'' says Martin Gross in his book The Psychological Society: ``The perfectibility once sought through the intervention of God is now accomplished by the supposed scientific adjustment of the psyche.''
The memory game
This idea that human nature needs to be solved or adjusted is the hallmark of a technological consciousness. Psychology partakes of this technological mindset in that it is about controlling or altering natural human emotions, including jealousy and anxiety, despair and grief, and viewing them as ``abnormal'' or ``stressful'' so that they can be restored to normalcy with the right therapeutic technique. This implies that everyone is abnormal or sick to some degree, since all of us feel jealous or angry or lonely at some point. Post-traumatic stress disorder, once reserved for war veterans and the survivors of Nazi death camps, is now applied to anyone who is emotionally upset or generally less satisfied, less happy, less successful or less fulfilled than they believe they should be.
Ms. Dineen cites a case of a woman unhappy at being overweight. Following ``memory work'' with a psychologist, the woman became convinced that her memories of a happy childhood were false and that she was a victim of ``emotional incest'' because her father had once taken a picture of her in a bikini at the sensitive age of 13 and hung the picture on his den wall, telling her she had a lovely body and should be proud of it. Despite the lack of any concrete evidence, the psychologist interpreted her weight problem as an unconscious attempt to be ``invisible'' from her father's ``obsession.''
But Ms. Dineen says what really happened was that the psychologist provided an excuse for her client's failures by transforming the father into a sexual predator. Neither the truth nor the effects of that interpretation on the woman's relationship with her father were of concern.
Psychologists or their theories confront us everywhere, from social commentary on the Oprah Winfrey Show to the advice columns of the local newspaper. Bookstore shelves groan under the weight of tomes on ``abuse,'' ``adult children,'' ``trauma and stress,'' and ``recovery.'' Psychologists explain that Manitobans suffer from ``post-crisis stress'' in the wake of the spring flooding. In the United States, a new television channel, the Recovery Network, dedicated to programs of ``personal dysfunction,'' has been approved.
In Manufacturing Victims, Ms. Dineen, citing a 1992 historical study of psychotherapy, observes that in the early 1960s, only 14 per cent of Americans had received some form of psychological counselling at least once in their lives. By 1976, that number had jumped to 26 per cent. However, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association, the figure was up to 33 per cent by 1990 and approaching 50 per cent of the population by 1995. Some predict the number will rise to 80 per cent within a few years.
Again, there are no comparable Canadian studies. Nonetheless, it appears that increasing numbers of Canadians are turning to psychologists. The University of Calgary's Mr. Dobson cites a telephone survey conducted by students in his department in which 25 per cent of respondents said they had had some kind of psychological counselling. John Hunsley, a psychology professor at the University of Ottawa who is trying to gather statistics on Canadians' use of psychological services, says the 1994-95 National Population Health Survey by Statistics Canada suggests that about two per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older -- or about 500,000 people -- consulted psychologists, although the survey does not explain the nature of the consultation.
``Do you know anybody who doesn't use the word stress?'' asks Ms. Dineen. ``We don't have friendships; we have relationships. We aren't confused about our lives, we have an identity crisis or an inferiority complex. We don't want to get along as best we can; we need to be self-actualized. We don't experience pain and suffering; we have traumas.''
Get on with life
Ms. Dineen remembers a young woman who came to see her with a specific request. A Christian Iranian, the woman had grown up in Tehran where she had married and had a child. One day, the police arrested her and her husband. She was imprisoned for eight months and repeatedly interrogated about her husband's activities. She discovered her husband had been tortured and executed. Eventually, she was released and, with help from her parents, fled to Canada with her daughter.
When she came to Ms. Dineen, she described her experiences of brutality and torture. She told of her fear, her nightmares, her loneliness and sense of loss. What most impressed Ms. Dineen, though, was the woman's refusal to cast herself as a victim. Despite her ordeal she was getting on with her life. She had learned to speak English and had been admitted to university. What she wanted from a psychologist was some help to develop ways to control her occasional feelings of panic that interfered with her concentration.
``She made it clear that she wanted to create a new life. She was a `survivor' already; so why call her a `victim'? To insist that she needed to explore her past trauma and deal with it in some psychologically approved manner would be to ignore her own resilience and to undermine what she had accomplished already on her own.''
Ms. Dineen thinks that at the social level, psychology's promotion of a victim ethos is proving highly corrosive. Psychologists put forward pseudo-scientific ``findings'' about personality, sex, marriage, child-raising, aggressiveness and mental health that convince people they are essentially ``victims'' of others. The result is a society in which people feel alienated, leaving them with the sense that they have no attachment or duty to others beyond that which serves their self-interest.
``The psychology industry is separating people from their families, promoting stereotypical images of men as predators, women as victims, degrading friendships and generally promoting distrust and suspicion.''
At the individual level, the psychology industry effectively denies people adulthood by fostering the notion that their lives are beyond their control, that they must turn over their lives to an expert. This encourages people to abdicate responsibility for themselves, undermining their potential as mature adults.
``Psychology is giving out the idea that we never have to leave home, that mother and father will always be there to look after us, or, if they aren't around, somebody is there to take care of all our problems and solve them. Psychology is saying that we can always be children.''
Ms. Dineen is not optimistic that we can easily shed our dependence on seeing the world through a psychological lens. Still, she offers a number of suggestions for curbing psychology's influence. She advocates cancelling insurance coverage for psychological treatment, and curtailing the ``public sanctioning'' of the psychology industry through court-ordered treatment or mandated treatments for addiction and work-performance problems.
She also calls for a reduction in public funding of psychological programs. Instead of hiring psychologists to go into the schools to teach children self-esteem, it would make more sense to concentrate on providing the tools to build truly worthwhile lives.
Rather than employ psychologists to teach parenting, it would be more sensible to provide food, housing and parenting relief to families.
To the individual, Ms. Dineen's advice, in a nutshell, can be stated: ``Take back your private life.''
One book reviewer has accused Ms. Dineen of indulging in the worship of the self, of offering only superficial solutions. But toward the end of her book, Ms. Dineen invokes the founding motto of the western philosophic tradition: the Socratic injunction ``Know Thyself.'' This prescription has nothing to do with self-worship or, as Ms. Dineen puts it, a healthy self-image. Rather, it refers to the requirement that people come to know their limits and possibilities as a human being; for the philosophers, part of knowing this meant recognizing that one's ``individuality'' is dependent on others, that a person can only ``know thyself'' through an ongoing relationship with parents, friends, lovers, children and neighbours. Given this dependence, despair, grief and guilt cannot be reduced to threats to an individual's ``mental health.''
To think that a person can be ``healed'' from grief and tragedy only by the intervention of psychological techniques is to deny people's capacity for courage and compassion when confronted with the tragedies of life.
In their connectedness to others, their sense of community, says Ms. Dineen, people find ``the source of consolation and encouragement.''
The parents of a child killed in an accident act with a practical courage in allowing the organs to be harvested. The neighbours who take over the cooking and cleaning at a time of grief display a practical compassion. ``There is something to be said for being able to lie on your deathbed and look back at what you have done for others,'' says Ms. Dineen.
``I can't imagine a worse way to end your life than having nothing more to think about than how something bad happened to you once and, therefore, your whole life was a waste. ``If you want your life to be worthwhile, then do something worthwhile. If you want self-respect, you need to be connected to something larger than yourself.''
Copyright, The Ottawa Citizen, 1997
Copyrigh t© 1998-2007 Tana Dineen,