|We are all inclined, when we think of "power"
and "abuse" within the context of "psychology,"
to focus on what we consider to be the abuse of power by individuals
within the profession or to apply psychological concepts to identify
individuals from other walks of life, such as politicians, celebrities,
teachers and coaches, as abusing their power. For instance, when
we hear of cases in which professors develop relationships with
their students or therapists with their clients, we tend to view
these as instances of something inherently immoral and coercive.
And, when we think of any profession or any organization or institution,
we tend to think in terms of an internal patriarchal power dynamic,
citing evidence to support theories of male dominance and control.
While these may be issues to address, I want to suggest to
you that each of these is like a "tree" that serves
to obscure the view of the "forest." And that in staying
focused on these issues, we are failing to notice, and to address,
a much larger problem. As we express outrage about individual
cases of alleged abuse, what we lose sight of is a pervasive
and rampant abuse of power by the profession of psychology.
It is this abuse of power committed in the name of professionalism
that devalues, exploits, trivializes and victimizes people throughout
Recently I addressed a conference on professional ethics at
Texas A&M University and, while there, I had several enjoyable
private conversations with the organizer, a professor of Philosophy,
a pleasant man who is close to retirement. Amongst the many
topics we touched on, two are particularly relevant to today's
topic. The first was the concern he expressed about the dramatic
change in relating to students. He spoke sadly of how he and
other professors now hesitate to interact with any student one-to-one
and how painfully aware they have become of how a look can be
misinterpreted, a word can be misunderstood, and any action
can become a cause for complaint. And secondly, he talked of
the impact of the "Americans with Disabilities Act,"
legislation which, when introduced, was intended to address
problems encountered by those who were physically disabled.
He saw it now as having become so psychologically stretched,
through the use of such loosely applied labels as Attention
Deficit Disorder (ADD), that virtually anyone could qualify
for a disability certificate. And, since having a certificate
meant holding the professor responsible for a passing grade,
he was seeing academic achievement, pride and even honesty being
eroded, and feeling quite helpless in the face of demands for
These are only two examples from the professional life of one
academic but they illustrate the noxious influence of psychology
in our society and provide a glimpse of "the forest,"
that is the abuse of influence and power on a larger scale.
When we hear of the abuse of power by individuals, we need
to look behind these claims to examine the role of psychology
and to consider how it may be misusing its influence. It is
the profession itself which is victimizing people, particularly
women, as it turns them into powerless, dependent and stupid
"adult children," unable to think for themselves,
to take responsibility for their actions, to admit their mistakes,
acknowledge their shortcomings, or even enjoy their romantic
conquests. Psychology is responsible for the creation of most
of the concepts employed in accusations involving the abuse
of power, it is psychology that coined the terms and formed
the notions, and it is psychology that benefits most from the
contamination of society by the uncontested acceptance of psychological
"expertise." How many times have you heard that the
victims were referred for counseling, that the accused was ordered
into treatment or that gender sensitivity training was made
a condition of disciplinary action?
Five years ago, after more than two decades as a practicing
psychologist, I forced myself to step back and take a cold hard
look at my profession. I am still a psychologist by license
in Ontario and in British Columbia, but what I see being done
under the name of psychology is so seriously contaminated now
by errors in logic, popular notions, personal beliefs, and political
agendas, and it is doing so much harm to people, that I find
myself in this strange role of working to curb the pervasive
influence of my own chosen profession. Long ago I lost any expectation
that the necessary corrective actions would come from within
the profession; so, I find myself speaking most often now to
people outside my profession, hoping to find among them skeptics
who are willing to think critically about Americas love
affair with psychology.
The result of my "cold hard look" is a book entitled:
"Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry
is Doing to People." In it, I identify, in explicit
detail, what I have just been saying; that psychology has a
vested interest in identifying abuses of power in the broadest
psychological terms possible. It is through this that "victims"
are manufactured and then converted into patients/clients for
whom psychological services must be purchased. And it is through
this that psychologists come to be retained to testify in human
rights hearings, civil proceedings and criminal courts. To put
it in a visual form:
PERSON => VICTIM => PATIENT => PROFIT
In the short time allotted for this presentation I want to
make several points which we can address further during the
discussion period or in private conversation. I want you to
know that as well as a renegade, I am a careful and critical
researcher and an obsessive file keeper and that I will welcome
you to challenge me to support any and all of my statements.
I should clarify two terms that I will use:
1) Psychologist refers not only to licensed psychologists
but to psychiatrists, social workers, family & marriage
counselors and to the whole array of certified or self-proclaimed
"experts" who sell opinions, assessments, theories,
therapies, counseling and advice.
2) Psychology Industry When people think of industries,
they tend to think of automobiles, computers, cosmetics or entertainment;
of easily identifiable products, with price-tags, warranties
and trademarks. Such industries are visibly defined by their
products and by their boundaries. The Psychology Industry, being
much broader, less defined (or definable,) is harder to pin
down. At its core, are psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis,
clinical social work, and psychotherapy. No longer can clear
distinctions be made between them; so, what I call the Psychology
Industry comprises the services of all five of these mental
health professions and it encompasses, as well, the ever expanding
array of therapists, counsellors and advisors of all persuasions,
whether licensed, credentialed, proclaimed, or self-proclaimed.
As well, this term acknowledges that around the edges of the
industry are others whose work, whether it involves writing,
consulting, lecturing, or even movie-making, relies on the Psychology
Industry which, in turn, benefits from their promotion of all
Points for discussion:
1) The illusion of power is maintained through the mystique
of science and the symbols of professionalism.
Thirty years ago I was drawn to the discipline of psychology
by the intriguing questions that it asked. I respected the ongoing
efforts to apply the scientific method to understand human nature
and human behaviour. For almost 3 decades I worked as a clinician
and a consultant striving to apply that knowledge. But now there
are too many answers and too few questions; the humble curiosity
has given way to arrogant certainty.
Most of psychology can no longer legitimately claim recognition
as a science. Too often now it exalts clinical experience, allowing
subjective beliefs and psychological notions to be presented
as if they were scientifically-based knowledge. Thus, science
has become merely a marketing term, used to imply to consumers
that the statements made, are valid. The mystique of science
is used to sell a wide variety of products and clearly Science
is the Gucci label of the Psychology Industry.
Licensing and Certification serve a similar marketing function,
bestowing further credibility. While licensing boards and professional
associations give the impression of protecting the public, they
were actually established for the self-preservation of psychologists.
Rollo May, shortly before his death, recounted how licensing
was initiated to protect psychologists from the potential threat
of M.D.s who wanted to have psychotherapy declared a restricted
medical procedure. He described the mid 50's as "the dangerous
years," when a conservative wing of the American Psychiatric
Association threatened to outlaw non-medical psychotherapists.
For several years, non-medical psychotherapists lived in fear
that physicians would take ownership of psychotherapy. Then
they organized a conference on training, practice and safeguards,
out of which rose the idea of licensing psychologists. From
then on, as various state legislatures enacted licensing laws,
it became accepted that psychologists had the right to do psychotherapy.
Thus, the profession was created and psychologists managed to
extend the therapeutic monopoly to include them.
Rollo May went on to describe a conversation he had at that
time, with Carl Rogers; "expecting his (Rogers') enthusiastic
help, I was taken aback by his stating the he was not sure whether
it would be good or not to have psychologists licensed... During
the following years, I kept thinking of Carl Rogers' doubts
about our campaign for licensing. I think he foresaw that we
psychologists could be as rigid as any other group, and this
certainly has been demonstrated... "
From a business perspective, terms like "licensed"
and "certified" proved to be useful and others wanting
to sell their services but without Ph.D.s in psychology,
began to form their own professional organizations. The result
is a wide variety of mental health "professionals"
hanging their own credentials on their office walls.
2) The Psychology Industry controls
what it tells people.
The Psychology Industry decides want it does and doesnt
wants the public to know. It wants people to hear about new
treatments, such as EMDR or ThoughtField Therapy, and about
its successes. It doesnt tell us when therapies prove
uneffective or even harmful, such as the notorious "repressed
memory therapy," or when treatment is unsuccessful and
clients get worse or die.
Just one case in point involves the results of a consumer survey
conducted by Consumer Reports, the organization
that reports on how well people like their toasters and their
VCRs. In 1994, it surveyed its subscribers about automobiles
and psychotherapy. The response rate was an abysmal 1.6 %, but
none the less, Consumer Reports (CR) and the American
Psychological Association claimed that its results showed that
"nine out of ten" people got better with therapy.
Despite an abundance of shockingly obvious flaws in the survey,
the APA continues to promote it in their "Public Education
Program," a multi-million dollar effort designed to persuade
the public that psychotherapy works!.
On the other hand, an $80,000,000 project funded by the U.S.
government, is not included in their Public Education Program.
This well designed and controlled study, which even the APA
described as "state of the art," was intended to show
that "a continuum of mental health and substance abuse
services is more cost-effective than services delivered
in the more typical fragmented system." However, what it
found was that, despite better access, greater continuity of
care, less restrictions on treatment and more client satisfaction,
the cost was higher and the clinical results no better than
those at the comparison site: not at all what the Psychology
Industry had either expected or wanted! Even though users expressed
satisfaction about their treatment just as in the CR
survey, there was no concurrent evidence of effectiveness to
support the idea that "satisfaction" is a measure
of effectiveness. Leonard Bickman, the senior researcher, utterly
surprised by the outcome, stated that "these results should
raise serious doubts about some current clinical beliefs"
about the effectiveness of psychological services.
This is just one of many instances, which I cant for
reasons of time address here, where the public will not be told
the whole story but rather subjected to a propaganda program.
3) The Psychology Industry relies on
"fear appeal" to promote its services.
A Marketing Dictionary defines fear appeal as "advertising
purporting to develop anxiety within the consumer based on fear
that can be overcome by purchasing a particular item or service."
The Psychology Industry, to a large extent, relies on this form
I give you just a quick example:
In July of last year, newspaper headlines read: "Abuse
rate worse than thought, survey finds." The media reported
that 31.2% of males and 21.8% of females reported physical abuse"
during their lifetime, and concluded that "childhood maltreatment
is common among Ontario residents."
But wait. Think about this for a moment. If this conclusion
was applied to this group, it would mean that almost one in
three of us here today have been a victim of physical abuse
in childhood. These findings would make Canada a violent society.
This was a large study but, as in most instances of this type
of dramatic statistical reporting, no data is available, to
be scrutinized. I have repeatedly asked but, as yet, have received
no answers to questions as basic as: How many of those recorded
as physically abused simply indicated that, in growing up, they
were "SOMETIMES pushed grabbed or shoved." Without
such answers it is impossible to know what "the results"
actually mean. But their effect is to spread fear, and to increase
funding in the areas of violence research and intervention;
areas staffed by psychologists.
Data essential for evaluating whether the conclusions are accurate
are too often not asked for and, when they are asked for, as
I am prone to do, they are either not made available or, if
they are, they are likely to show evidence of the abuse of data,
or of what John Fekete has called "Data Rape."
Such abused statistics kindle fear and even panic from which
the Psychology Industry can profit. ANXIOUS PARENTS; QUIVERING
WOMEN; CANADA PORTRAYED AS A VIOLENT SOCIETY; these images translate
into funding from both the public and the private sectors. Just
as we'll buy earthquake insurance or burglar alarms when we
are told of the threat to our safety; so too we'll buy what
the Psychology Industry sells.
4) Psychology promotes genderism and is actually guilty
of victimizing women.
It has become fashionable in the 90's to be a victim.
While I readily acknowledge that there are real victims who
have suffered degradation, brutality and violence, I also know
that there are many "counterfeit victims" who manipulate
the system, intentionally lying with motives of revenge or greed
or excuse-finding, and also, that there are vast numbers of
what I call "synthetic victims," those people who
lie unintentionally, having been taught to think of themselves
as victims and to make accusations and claims based on psychological
interpretations of events.
As my Scottish colleague, Yvonne McEwen notes: "The victim-makers
in todays world are inevitably the lawyers, doctors, psychologists,
therapists, social workers and the radical left of the feminist
movement." By turning all of life into psychological events,
then pathologizing normal feelings and behaviours and generalizing
psychological concepts so that "trauma" can refer
as easily to having a fling with the boss as to being brutally
raped, people are being persuaded to see themselves as victims.
Rather than being allowed to assume responsibility for their
own actions, they come to believe that they must be protected,
nurtured and guided by others more powerful than them. Each
and every week, our papers carry articles describing victims
of one type or another and many of these reports conclude that
counseling should be provided, laws put in place, funds set
aside for a healing process, or programs established to increase
self-esteem, teach parenting skills, or combat violence.
Most of these reported victims are women and, interestingly,
statistics show that 2 out of 3 psychotherapy consumers are
women. It is women by and large who are being persuaded that
they are weak, vulnerable, manipulated and fragile. And, contrary
to common assumption, much of this persuasion is being done
by women who themselves benefit from casting their fellow women
in victim roles. It is largely female therapists, lawyers and
advocates who encourage women to see themselves as victims and
to complain, and to seek special consideration and compensation.
It is also often female "experts" who use fear appeal
to persuade women that they are victims. For instance, the report
prepared by the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, employing
a "feminist lens" (more commonly labelled as "bias",)
presented finding which made it seem that women across Canada
stand a good chance of becoming crime victims. And, while mentioning
that 52% of women in their study attributed their decreased
sense of safety to media reports on violence against women,
they chose to ignore recent sociological studies which suggest
that it is the fear of violence rather than violence itself
which is harming women by creating fear and causing them to
see themselves as victims.
I had the opportunity last year to be a key note speaker at
the Annual Conference of the National Association of Provincial
Court Judges and two of the points that I made then were that:
(1) psychology is an industry masquerading as a scientifically-based
profession, and (2) no matter how strongly psychological beliefs
and theories are expressed as facts, there is little-to-no certainty
in the field. My key point was that anything said by psychologists
needs to be scrutinized carefully.
While undeniably, some individuals within the profession of
psychology will violate current ethical codes; some will do
their jobs poorly; some will make mistakes; and, some will even
seduce or be seduced by their patients or by their students;
please remember that these are only the "trees." My
hope is that your attention will not be forever diverted by
these individual, and often sensationalized, cases because they
serve to obscure our view of the bigger issue. The "forest,"
in this instance, is the pervasive and socially sanctioned abuse
of power, in the form of the profession's influence on the public,
the media and the courts. If we remain focused on the trees,
the Psychology Industry will go unchallenged. Take a look at
the larger picture and ask yourself whether we can afford, any
longer, to remain blinded by the trees.