- September 1998, Vol. 7 No.7

Tana Dineen

Many years ago the distinguished MIT linguist/activist Noam Chomsky said: "One waits in vain for psychologists to state the limits of their knowledge." A letter he wrote to me in April of this year ended with the comment: "I'm sure we'll continue to 'wait in vain.' Too many careers at stake!"

I waited a very long time - almost three decades, before abandoning my own career as a clinical psychologist. My first teacher in the field, the renowned McGill University neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb, insisted that psychology must be "more than common sense" and that, as psychologists, we have an obligation to subject our opinions to scientific scrutiny and to make a clear distinction between theories and findings. Sadly, his warning has been largely ignored. The professional organizations which claim to protect the public, fail to insist on scientific scrutiny; dangerous methods are sanctioned, and untested therapies, dubious "expert opinions," and utterly absurd diagnoses go unchallenged. I have seen too much harm inflicted on people by virtue of this negligence; so, I find myself in this strange role of trying to curb the pervasive influence of my own chosen profession.

When the first (1996) edition of Manufacturing Victims appeared, Beth Loftus called the book "dynamite" and Dr. Laura, declaring herself my "fan," encouraged her listeners to read it. It was an "expose," an admittedly sweeping and brutal attack, which identified recovered memory therapy as just the tip of an iceberg. A seriously researched book, with close to 1,000 endnotes, it was my apology for years of having bitten my lip. I hoped that it would be useful to people in raising questions, making arguments, winning legal cases, facing moral dilemmas and getting on with life. I was not entirely prepared for the volatile reactions from within the Psychology Industry. The book was instantly dismissed as "a conspiracy book" by the executive director of the British Columbia Psychological Association; a member of the Finance Committee of the American Psychological Association called it "the Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not Of Psychology;" the 1997 President of the Canadian Psychological Association, not even having seen the book, wrote a letter to an Ottawa newspaper condemning me for my "unsubstantiated opinions." A psychologist in Vancouver, who had never met me, diagnosed me as suffering from "burnout," and another, who knew nothing about my life, publicly stated that I was lucky to have never experienced a trauma for which I needed a psychologist's help.

A clinical psychologist in a small town in Ontario went even further. After watching a national television show on which I cautioned consumers about the perils of trusting psychologists, he lodged a complaint with my licensing board. And, believe-it-or-not, they took his complaint seriously. For 16 months I and my book were under investigation as possible "threats to the television-watching public." Finally, in a written decision in June, 1998, the Complaints Committee acknowledged that it found no violations of standards and it affirmed my status as a "psychologist." In dismissing the complaint, the College conceded that it was bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights, which guarantees everyone the fundamental freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression, and it ascribed a new title to me, that of "social critic."

While I tended to shrug off these displays of self-interest, intolerance and arrogance, I have been heartened by signs that some people, at least, are making good use of the book. I have heard from psychology students who have begun to challenge what they are being taught and from retired colleagues who regret not having tried harder to fight the radical and overtly political influences. I have heard from men who are serving prison terms in cases where "reasonable doubt" would have prevailed had psychological testimony not carried such weight. And I have heard, as well, from criminal lawyers who are defending and appealing such cases and from civil lawyers who are working to make psychologists accountable for their actions. Skip Simpson, when he first phoned me from Dallas, had just used my book to frame the closing argument in one of those cases which yielded a 5.8 million dollar settlement.

Last summer, when an Ottawa journalist called me a renegade and gave me the title "The Dissident Psychologist," I laughed. However, the issues are not funny. And, sadly, recovered memory therapy is only one of the many psychological products about which consumers deserve to be warned. When personal lives can be torn apart by virtue of professionally sanctioned misinformation, it is, I believe, unethical for anyone within that profession to remain silent.


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