I was drawn to the study of psychology over 40 years ago, hold
an Honours Bachelor of Science degree (1969) from McGill University, a Masters (1971) and a
Doctorate (1975) from the University of Saskatchewan and became a licensed clinical psychologist
(Ontario) in 1978.
Early in my career, while establishing a system for monitoring and assessing psychiatric services
at the Toronto General Hospital, I became concerned that the personal beliefs of mental health
"experts" were seriously contaminating their work with patients.
In the 1970’s, my research focused on psychiatry; asking questions about the beliefs of
individual psychiatrists and examining how these beliefs influenced their decisions. That research
revealed that if one knew their beliefs, especially about what causes people’s problems,
one could, even with no knowledge of the history or the symptoms of a particular patient, predict
the diagnosis applied and the treatment prescribed.
This was disturbing given the variety of theoretical orientations (psychoanalytic, gestalt,
behavioural, biological, etc.) that abounded and the tendency of psychiatrists of all persuasions
to approach their patients as if they knew the truth. Psychology was critical of this closed-mindedness
and, putting the blame on the profession of psychiatry, promised to take a scientific approach
to clinical work that would result in a genuine understanding of mental illness and provide
the key to mental health.
After a couple of years of university teaching, I shifted to clinical work and, never losing
sight of how unquestioned theories can distort it, I eventually became Treatment Director in
a large psychiatric facility where I enjoyed an ideal vantage point from which to observe how
the hospital psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses, went about their work.
During that time, I came to recognize the limitations of what psychologists had to offer and
to suspect that individual psychologists were as prone as psychiatrists (and all other mental
health professionals) to being swept along by their personal interests, theoretical orientations
and pet beliefs.
In the mid 1980’s, I left the hospital and established a private practice in Toronto.
The people seeking help were, for the most part, not mentally ill but rather caught up in popularized
psychological notions about stress, self-esteem, and human potential. I found myself becoming
progressively more concerned about the role mental health “experts” were playing
in people's lives and in society. By the 1990’s, with colleagues believing in such absurd
ideas as alien abduction and past lives, encouraging everyone (including the Courts) to believe
in recovered memories, and pretending to have the cure for all personal and social ills, I had
to admit that psychology’s influence had gone too far.
In 1993, I closed my clinical practice and moved to Victoria, B.C. with no intention of looking
back but, nagged by an obligation to say something about what I had observed from “the
inside”, I focused again on research, asking fundamental questions about psychology, becoming
an outspoken critic of my own profession.
My controversial book Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People
(published in 1996 and now in a 3rd, completely revised, 2001 edition) described psychology
as “big business and examined how it operates like an industry complete with business
formulas, marketing strategies and periodic re-tooling to meet changing consumer demands.”
When the book was first released, it drew swift reactions from outraged colleagues who dismissed
it as “The Ripley’s Believe It or Not of Psychology”, diagnosed me as suffering
from “depression” or “burnout,” and tried to have me declared a danger
to the television watching public. These reactions brought about the first wave of media attention.
Over time, the media that saw me as “a renegade” and dubbed me “the dissident
psychologist” came to respect me as someone who wasn’t afraid to express heretical
views and had the information to back them up.
For close to a decade, I appeared frequently on radio and television shows across North America,
was quoted by journalists in magazines and newspapers (link)
and was an invited speaker at conferences of judges, lawyers, police officers, ethicists, criminologists,
psychologists and philosophers (link). My op-ed columns
appeared regularly in newspapers such as The Ottawa Citizen and The Vancouver Sun
(link) and I contributed chapters to books that critiqued
psychology from various perspectives.
Given that I publicly voiced the opinion that it was “unethical to practice psychology,”
I provided no assessment services, or clinical treatment, or “expert” advice to
those who approached me for such “help.” And, because I viewed ‘duelling expert’
scenarios to be a blight on the justice system, I refused to appear in court as an expert though
I did consult to lawyers, assisting them in efforts to challenge (and sometimes discredit) psychological
reports, assessment data and testimony that was misleading the Courts.
I remained a licensed psychologist for most of that time. In 2002, I resigned from the College
of Psychologists of British and, in 2004, I resigned from the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
I had kept my license in order to be, as I often said, ”a thorn in their side” and
to be able to call myself “a psychologist,” since the term “psychologist”
is a protected title. Since I no longer pay the licensing fees, I am no longer “a Psychologist.”
That does not mean that my knowledge base of psychology is any less solid or that my criticism
is any less valid. In fact, I am not sure that it means anything at all.
It was over ten years ago that I distanced myself from this profession to take a cold hard look
at what it had become. My book, Manufacturing Victims, describes it as the industry
that it had become by the end of the 20th century. At that time, it was still thriving and prospering
through the application of the business formula: Person=Victim=Patient=Profit. But it was in
trouble. It had come under public scrutiny due to havoc wreaked on so many lives because of
recovered memory therapy (RMT) and the “experts” who promoted a wide spread acceptance
in the veracity of the recovered memories (mostly of abuse). There was scepticism being voiced,
as well, about the never-ending creation of new psychological maladies and the wide-spread popularity
of costly therapies.
The Psychology Industry found itself in the midst of re-tooling. It started to jettison the
“bad” therapies (especially RMT), draw attention to the “good” ones
– the “empirically supported” short-term therapies that “worked.”
Then the events (and the aftermath) of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack rocked its foundation.
Since then it has been trying to shed the embarrassment of the role it had played in the creation
of a victim mentality and to shift in a new direction.
Catching up with the times; it now talks about “resilience,” pretending to know
what it is and how to teach it; it promotes cognitive behavior therapy as the new panacea, and
points to various seemingly scientific claims about the brain to make its claims seem credible.
As I continue to watch psychology reinvent itself, I have begun,
also, to view it from another angle – as a form of pervasive social influence. A recent
chapter in Modernitiy and Its Discontents: Skeptical Essays on the Psychomedical Management
of Malaise (published in Sweden in 2005) served as a segue to my current focus on the implications
for 21st century society of the rapid growth (and spread) of psychological influence that took
place during the 20th century. (LINK)
Currently, I am working on an essay that examines what is happening
to that influence and addresses the possibility of its decline.