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
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