|In recent years, there has been a shift occurring
in which psychology is coming to be seen less and less as a science
and to be presented as a religion replete with dogma and liturgical
hierarchy. The principles of objectivity, rationality, reliability
and validity are being replaced with the values of subjectivity,
emotionality, peer consensus, and client satisfaction.
Whatever the reasons, and there may be several, it is undeniable
that psychology is acquiring more and more of the characteristics
of a religion. This transition is evidenced in the adoption
of Eastern mystical and Native American approaches as healing
techniques in psychotherapy, in the increasing number of books
and workshops which meld religion and psychology, and in the
acceptance of spiritual, transcendent and supernatural concepts
into the language of psychotherapy.
Some will argue that with this trend comes a healthy expansion
of the scope and effectiveness of psychological practice (not
to mention its market) as it moves to include issues of meaning,
value, justice, and soulfulness. Although this debatably may
be true, it is undeniably true that with this shift come all
the bad things about a religion; its imposed morality, its bigotry,
and its demand for conformity within the garb of justice and
salvation. It creates its "sacred cows" immune from
criticism, and its "straw men" set up only to be easily
Nowhere is this religious righteousness more evident than in
Laura Browns (April 1997) award address: "The Private
Practice of Subversion: Psychology as Tikkun Olan," and
nowhere is there a more disturbing example in that this address
serves as part of her platform in her campaign for election
as the American Psychological Association president and leader
of the flock. In Brown's address, she argued implicitly for
a secular religion of psychology in which psychological practice
and psychotherapy would serve as a means to enact judgement
("undermine the oppressive cultural status quo"; p.453)
and bring about salvation ("the act of saving another human
life"; p. 453).
To Brown's (1997) credit, she does not hide her religious and
revolutionary intentions as she refers to "the underlying
sacred and revolutionary goals" (p. 452) of psychologists.
She was quick to identify two of her arch enemies in this crusade;
"managed care" and "false memories." However,
in doing so, she was equally quick to create her sacred cows
and straw men from both issues.
With regard to Managed Care, the former are the "needs"
and wishes of the client as perceived by the therapist and the
unquestionable value of long-term therapy; while the latter
are the cruel procedures that "strip away power from clients
at the very onset of therapy" (Brown, 1997, p. 455). In
Browns view, "the narrative of managed care thus
begins with the assumption that clients must be protected
from their own decisions about who is the best therapist for
them" (p. 454).
As for the topic of False Memory, it is the story "authored"
by the client which must never be questioned. It is not that
it must be heard along with the response of the accused, but
that it must be heard over and above the other, for as a "victim,"
the client must be given unequal status. To complement this
position is her construction of straw men out of those who seek
to defend the accused and those who strive to make therapists
responsible for their work. The first group is portrayed as
"privileging the voices of those who claim to be falsely
accused over all else and declaring them to be always per se
true and thus the voices of accusers as per se false" (Brown,
1997, p. 456), a clear misrepresentation of the views of such
people as Loftus and Ketcham (1994). The second group, who seek
responsibility through such means as The Truth and Responsibility
in Mental Health Practices Act (Dineen, 1996), are cast as villains
who "strip [ clients] of their authority [and] define...
the voices of the people whom they have accused of sexually
assaulting them... as more expert and in charge of the therapy
process" Brown, 1997, p. 459).
In Browns cosmology (1997), the mythical forces of good,
the gallant psychologists who strive to create a socially just
world and defend the innocent, are pitted against the villainous
profit-mongering HMOs and against those who seek to defend
themselves by declaring their own innocence. It is not based
on science or research which, as part of the old order, must
be overthrown. Rather, it is based, as all true religions are,
on faith, or what Brown calls " a better subjectivity"
Browns (1997) address is a call to arms, a beacon to
rally the faithful in defense of this new religion of psychology,
a Lazarian invitation for psychologists to come forth from the
dead. But what does this new religion offer? It argues that
insured clients (or "covered lives") should have unlimited
access to the therapy of their choice, and that those claiming
recovered memories should be protected from questions that might
cause them to stop and think. Brown preaches that "for
those who practice therapy as tikkum olan, their relationships
with their clients are, at their very heart, predicated on the
development of the clients as the authorities about their own
lives and the placement in the clients hands of the
right and privilege to determine what the goals of the therapy
should be" (p. 459) and consequently how long it should
continue. Brown holds "sacred the worth of the clients
voice and experience of reality in helping to make sense of
what might be real or true" (p.460). What Browns
religion fails to do, however, is to respect those outside the
fold. It ignores the unbelieving and the uninsured. It fails
to acknowledge the cold reality that there is not enough money
available to pay for everybodys unlimited psychotherapy.
In addition, it disregards a basic human fault - that people
lie - and a basic human right - that all people deserve the
right to defend themselves. Many such essential aspects of social
justice are overlooked in Brown's creed.
Browns (1997) award address is titled "The Private
Practice of Subversion" and likely she had in mind the
definition of subversion: "to overthrow or overturn from
the foundation" Webster's, 1976). An equally plausible
effect may be found in the other meanings of subversion: "to
be the ruin of " or "to pervert or corrupt by undermining
principles and morals" (Webster's, 1976).
Brown, L.S. (1997). The private practice of subversion: Psychology
as tikkun olam. American Psychologist, 52, 449-462.
Dineen, T. (1996). Manufacturing victims: What the psychology
industry is doing to people. Montreal: Robert Davies.
Loftus, E. F. & Ketcham, K. (1994). The myth of repressed
memories and allegations of sexual abuse. New York: St.
Webster's Dictionary. (1976). Springfield, MA: G. &