Nation of Victims

A psychologist examines her own discipline and finds it rife with destructive fraud.

by Robert Sibley

When a tragedy occurs at some school, office or work site, firefighters or paramedics will rush to the scene to provide much-needed services and to save lives. Increasingly, however, we see another so-called "helping" professional on the scene--the trauma or grief counsellor who has been
called in to save psyches.

Somehow, it is now the norm that after every school shooting, car crash or airline disaster, psychologists are brought in who, Moses-like, are expected to lead survivors of tragedy, or even tragedy's witnesses, back to the promised land of "wellness." Somehow western man has come to believe that a stranger with a few initials behind his or her name is a necessary aide if a witness to either violence or death is ever to be healed.

How did such an infantile idea ever arise? In her book Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People, Tana Dineen answers that question. And a devastating answer it is. Well-researched, sharply focused and leavened with numerous examples, her critique of the profession of psychology should make anyone want to, among other things, burn their self-help books and motivational tapes.

The book's opening paragraph neatly sums up Ms. Dineen's main point. "Psychology presents itself as a concerned and caring profession working for the good of its clients," she writes, "but the effects are damaged people, divided families, distorted justice, destroyed companies and a weakened nation."

That is a stinging indictment. And readers of Ms. Dineen's book will be hard pressed to disagree. She is careful to acknowledge that in the hands of dedicated researchers, psychology remains a respected field of scientific inquiry. Rather, she focuses her scorn on the clinical psychologists, psychoanalysts, psycho-therapists and sundry counsellors and mental health practitioners who distort or ignore research and reduce their practice to ego-stroking psychobabble and feel-good placebos.

A PhD in psychology herself, Ms. Dineen spent nearly 20 years as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in Ontario. But she packed in her career in the mid-1990s. As she put it in an 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."

Ms. Dineen's most explosive argument is her refutation of the recovered memory concept. She cites numerous cases where it has led to people, usually men, being falsely accused of sexual abuse crimes. According to Ms. Dineen, no reputable scientific evidence exists to indicate that these memories are anything more than fanciful inventions. Because of this and other misuses of research, Ms. Dineen says, psychologists should be barred from testifying in court as experts on human behaviour.

Indeed, the diagnoses and prescriptions offered by psychologists largely amount to little more that job creation, she argues. Therapists need patients, so they create disorders with which to label prospective customers. Eventually, everybody can be described as abnormal and in need of treatment.

The psychology industry is also fond of inflating symptoms far beyond the original condition they once described. Trauma, for example, once referred to a physical injury. But now, after much "semantic inflation," trauma covers anything upsetting. Ditto for addiction; it no longer refers to drug or alcohol abuse, but also to people who engage in a lot of sex or even frequent shopping expeditions.

Psychology may have once been part of science's laudatory effort to mitigate life's hardships, but Ms. Dineen 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 therapeutic treatment.

Ultimately, her book reveals the steady sentimentalization of society. A sentimentalist is someone in denial of reality; he or she assumes that good ends can be achieved without effort, self-discipline, patience or sacrifice. Such sentimentalism might be tolerated if it were confined to a deluded few. But western societies are increasingly driven by sentimentalists promoting social engineering schemes. Members run whining to politicians who will feel their pain or, more often than not, to a therapist who will assure them that they are not stupid, lazy or greedy, just victims of poor parenting.

Moreover, psychotherapy has replaced religion in that, like religion, it is what we turn to when we want help coping with the vagaries of existence. But, unlike religion, psychology seeks to eliminate the very experiences that most define what it means 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 meaningful.

Psychotherapy seeks to deny to humans the very experiences that help them appreciate the richness of life. Which makes it a threat to freedom. As philosopher Leon Kass put it, the ultimate aim of psychotherapy is "to order human experience in terms of easy, predictable contentment." But for those always haunted by death, character and courage are needed in order to live with the knowledge that the end is inevitable. Psychotherapy, however, makes emotional security easy by erasing the thought of certain death, and thus eradicating the need for moral virtue.

Psychotherapy has political consequences. Individuals freed from moral responsibility are no longer citizens, but patients or victims who need someone else to manage their lives. As Ms. 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, 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 lifestyle that looks and feels nicer than life under the governments of North Korea or mainland China. But it is no less tyrannical. Ms. Dineen's book exposes the threat to freedom posed by all those trauma counsellors rushing to rescue modern man's poor, shivering psyche.

Robert Sibley is a member of the Ottawa Citizen editorial board.

Report Magazine, April 2, 2001. pp.66-67

Copyrigh t© 1998-2007 Tana Dineen,