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"Therapy's Delusions"

Posted by Morose on December 7, 1999, at 12:45:03

I would be interested in this group’s comments on a book entitled “Therapy’s Delusions,” and subtitled “The Myth of the Unconscious and the Exploitation of Today’s Walking Worried.” The book is touted, reviewed, and excerpted at:

In a nutshell, the book states that all psychodynamic therapy is nonsense, and that mental ailments can be treated only with drugs. Here is an extract, taken from the website:

“While the mistakes made by different schools of psychodynamic therapists often appear peculiar to each group (theories such as primal scream, reparenting, and recovered memory certainly seem radically different from each other), we posit that all schools of talk therapy derived from the psychodynamic tradition share a set of fundamental errors. Briefly drawn, these are the five fallacies.

“1. The Fallacy of Causation. This fallacy combines three mistakes into one. First, the psychodynamic schools have often limited their search for the cause of disorders to the patient's childhood, believing that adult mental disorders are only symptoms of trauma, fantasy, or bad socialization experienced early in life and then hidden in the patient's unconscious. The belief that the roots of mental distress can be found in the stories of people's lives often requires a willful blindness to the troubles in the patient's adult life as well as an ignorance of the growing scientific evidence showing that the root cause of mental illnesses can be found through biochemistry, genetics, and neurology. Second, they have assumed that psychotherapy is an effective way to find these historical pathogens. This assumes that patients, through such methods as free association, can identify the variables that shaped their behavior and accurately report their histories without being influenced by their therapists' expectations and beliefs. Third, these therapists have offered the proposition that once a cause is discovered, the symptom will disappear. That is, even if the cause of troubling behavior does lie in the patient's past and he or she can accurately report those events, the question remains: Does simply discovering that explanation ameliorate the patient's troubles or mental illness?

“2. The Fallacy of Noninfluence. Psychodynamic therapists have consistently failed to fully appreciate the many subtle ways a disoriented and needy patient learns what to say and how to act in order to satisfy the therapist's expectations. These "demand characteristics" of the therapy encounter not only explain why a patient often willingly buys into the therapist's theory of the moment, but can also lead to the shaping of the symptoms. Just as Freud predicted and then consistently "discovered" falling and shaking in all his patients suffering from hysteria, so, too, do today's specialists in multiple personality disorder predict and then consistently find their clients acting out childlike alter-personalities.

“3. The Fallacy of Confirmation. This fallacy comes from the mistaken conception that a client's belief in a therapist's theory is proof of the validity of that theory. This anecdotal approach to knowledge has plagued the field since Freud and can be found as often in the professional journals as in mass-market paperbacks. Simply put, the patient's eventual certainty that his or her problems derive from oedipal rivalries, birth trauma, repressed abuse, a rejecting mother, witnessing parental sex, space alien abduction, or satanic cult abuse should not be considered as prima facie evidence of the truth of a causal relationship. Far from being the source of the patient's problems, these beliefs often arise out of the coercive power of the therapy setting.

“4. The Cultural Feedback Loop. Psychodynamic therapists have long lacked an understanding of how their theories derive from passing cultural fears and interests. Although we can easily look back and see the influence of popular culture on a previous generation of psychodynamic practitioners-we can now see, for instance, how Freud's theories about sex and masturbation were influenced by Victorian society's fears and inhibitions-it is harder to see that influence as it happens. Today, this problem is compounded by the fact that ideas that emanate from inside the discipline of therapy influence our culture at large. A massive, self-confirming information loop is created when the profession broadcasts ideas about mental illness and then takes as proof of those ideas the patients who come to therapy, pop-psychology book in hand, predisposed to believe the therapist's theories.

“5. The Fallacy of the Freudian Dynamic Unconscious. While it is clear that we all engage in out-of-awareness mental processes, the idea of the dynamic unconscious proposes a powerful shadow mind that, unknown to its host, willfully influences the most minor thought and behavior. There is no scientific evidence of this sort of purposeful unconscious, nor is there evidence that psychotherapists have special methods for laying bare our out-of-awareness mental processes. Nevertheless, the therapist's claim to be able to expose and reshape the unconscious mind continues to be the seductive promise of many talk therapies.”





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