Pyschology gets a paddling

I know that some of my friends studied psychology, and some of them are in the field, but they know my opinion on the matter and can stop reading henceforth should it make them feel better. But I will not apologise, because I feel my points are valid and psychology is big enough to not need defending from one blogger like me. What it needs, however, is some serious re-evaluation.

But when one reads this article about ‘psychological’ issues, I can’t help but barf in my own scorn. I know that the article is vaguely meant in jest, but it was the propping up of a facetious argument with a semblence of objectivity with the use of psychology that got the blogger in me going. Look at the line:

What is introversion? In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Can an individual’s remarkable complexity really be measured by a test or analysed with 90 year old theories? Psychology is a field with a dangerous amount of power to ruin people’s lives that is not held accountable to an acceptable level of enquiry and rigorous criticism. It is a field that dictates to social mores as well as being influenced by them and is taken far more seriously than it should be.

For example, I go and visit a therapist. (I have seen three, so I have some field experience.) I list a variety of symptoms. Depending on whether they are Freudian, Jungian or otherwise inclined, each will have a different diagnosis. One may be helpful, the other one may be severely damaging. Now I go visit a real doctor or three, and they will examine the symptoms and are far more likely to come to the conclusion of “you have flu” independently of each other. They draw on a field of established and checked research, and any idea that doesn’t hold up to peer-review, experimentation and research gets tossed out after being laughed at. But psychology is the only ‘scientific’ field where 90-year-old theories have any precedence.

Which brings me back to the above article. Splitting people into two groups is patently ridiculous, and so typical of psychology. People are either normal OR depressive OR manic ALL THE TIME. Not that humans have emotions and difficult periods, but that there’s something deeply wrong and drugs need to be administered in ridiculous amounts. I don’t deny that conditions like schizophrenia might exist, but surely not on the scale suggested. Look at this article on the disturbing amount of anti-psychotics being administered in the States, and tell me there isn’t a problem with this many people being on drugs. (No, really, you should read it. It is a fantastic article about the subjectivity of psychology.) Doctors who treat people like this get hauled before courts and sued. But psychiatry has cloaked itself in the mystique of the mind, pretending to be a real science without having clear, definable parameters. After all, before neuroscience and not even with it, is there irrefutable physical proof of most of the disorders that can stand up to rigorous enquiry. Not too long ago, shock therapy was being used by the South African army under the auspices of a previous Rhodes psychology lecturer to ‘cure the gay’ out of their soldiers. Until 1994, the WHO treated homosexuality as a mental disorder. Colonial psychology refused to accept that black people could suffer as white people did, and even to this day certain disorders are seen as ‘white’, such as anorexia. I won’t even go in to the repercussions psychology has had on the minds of women, having been (and still is) a male-dominated field. And if psychology really had any balls, it would state that religion is a delusion in which people talk to imaginary friends. Neuroscience timidly suggests this, but no one will go there because being rich is better than being right.

Psychology should stop trying to masquerade as a science, and instead admit that it is a form of counselling for problems. Even then, I worry that people are treating people, often disturbed people. It’s a case of the crazy leading the crazy, because none of the therapists I had struck me as being particularly well-adjusted people themselves. And the questions are easy enough to deflect and avoid, especially when one is sent off to therapy by family.

Let’s look at my trips to one Doctor Woolf. I was sent there by a combination of members of my family thinking I’m ‘angry’ and ‘tormented’, and my gynaecologist. (In retrospect, it was to his colleague down the corridor. I smell kickbacks here.) He offered some vague ‘relaxation techniques’ for my anxiety, and after three ridiculously expensive sessions hadn’t even approached why I might be having the attacks in the first place. The fact that I was sleeping in a room with a glass door and I was scared of crime might have been a good answer, but he didn’t even think to ask me about how I lived, where I lived, my thoughts, fuck all.

And angry? Please. I hardly have anger. I might be passionate about a wide variety of political subjects, and indeed I may be vocal about them, but I do not have any kind of problem that requires a crutch. I don’t smoke, or cut, or starve, or even drink more than a glass of wine. I was a child growing up and I lashed out a few times. This is what children do. It is perfectly normal, but somehow anyone who even colours outside the lines needs some kind of intervention. Somehow, people who loved me had been told by the media and psychology that I was ‘acting out’ and ‘mentally unbalanced’. Because I was stubborn and vocal?

Yes, I get pissed off that my younger siblings and cousins get everything they want and I have to count pennies, but then again they have to live at home and have curfews. And maybe sometimes I get depressed and a bit self-loathing, but dammit, this is normal behaviour, just appropriate reactions to difficult situations. Just because I sometimes get a bit sad and maybe don’t do the dishes for a few days, its no reason to call me depressive and put me on drugs. Am I not a high-functioning human being? Do I not hold down a job, have a healthy relationship, many friendships, train regularly and look after my pets? Would I be able to do these things if my mind was numbed down by a range of drugs? If I had someone with a semblance of authority reassuring me that I was damaged, but would heal through constantly self-correcting behaviour? (This has happened to me. I will NOT go to therapy ever again.)

The gist of my argument is that the gamut of human emotion is being monopolised by people who have studied a subjective field with inadequate medical training and who are able to convince vulnerable people that there’s something wrong with them. Those can prescribe drugs are even more dangerous, because we are now dealing with the repercussions of the Ritalin Noughties. So many kids have been unfairly put on drugs they didn’t need because of lazy parenting and overworked teachers. My nursery school teachers wanted to put my brother and I on Ritalin just because I was precocious and my brother was bored. It could have led to a lifetime of chemical dependency because it was just the thing to do to any kid that was at all energetic or stubborn.

I know many psychologists want to help and many of them likely are good people. But hate the game, not the player (as the less literate amongst us might say) and I don’t believe anything gets a free pass. Even my own trinity of atheism, feminism and vegetarianism must always be evaluated and trimmed of all bullshit. I’ll agree that some feminists are bigger sexists than most men could ever hope to be, that a great number of vegetarians are hypocrites and atheism needs to pick a goal and work towards it instead of saying everyone is wrong. I am happy to evaluate these things, and I will discuss them at length with people on the opposite side of the fence. But there’s a difference between a personal belief, and being part of a field that has serious repercussions for the minds of those who do not understand or cannot negotiate the space correctly. Look at how children and the elderly are often put on drugs because they are vulnerable and have gatekeepers to their own healthcare. I do not charge people for my opinion and pretend I have all the right to declare their mind a certain way and therefore not adequate for society.

There are people out there who need help: unfortunately, the place they turn to lacks in medical integrity and accountability. We all need someone to talk to, and its sad that we live in an age where we have to pay people for the privilege, but I still don’t feel that there’s more a psychologist could do than a few good friends, a bottle of wine and a weekend off couldn’t.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Clea says:

    My grandfather was put on electro-shock therapy because he was an alcoholic: it didn’t help and it was unbelieveably traumatic. My sister went to two therapists: one made her infintely more depressed and dependent, the other really helped her to get a grip and make positive changes in her life. It does depend on the therapist you talk to, but as you say, that may be a good player, rather than a good game.

    Great to make everyone think about this, though, thanks.

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