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Chicken Soup for the soulless?
February 10, 2002 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Chicken Soup for the soulless? Is Psychology screwing us all up? From messing up the civil rights movement , medicalizing grief, inventing faux illnesses and treating them , planting false memories , to diagnosing 25% of the United States with PTSD on October 11th, the industry/profession of psychology and its drug prescribing cousin psychiatry seem to be both the sloppiest and most ethically bankrupt scientific field. Is a diet of steady chicken soup for the soul actually toxic?
posted by srboisvert (41 comments total)

 
Yes it is.

Next question.
posted by dong_resin at 10:17 AM on February 10, 2002


Is this one of those "Scientology: Our Competitors are Bad" kind of postings?
posted by jmccorm at 10:25 AM on February 10, 2002


Heh. I wondered the same thing, jmccorm. As long as $cientology isn't the alternative, I'm all for junking the feel-good, blame-everything-but-my-lazy-ass type of pseudo-psychology that is consumed by hoi polloi all the time.
posted by UrbanFigaro at 11:03 AM on February 10, 2002


I actually considered lumping Scientology in with all the other garbage but I can't afford the legal fees.
posted by srboisvert at 11:10 AM on February 10, 2002


I think it might have something to do with News Being Biased Toward Simplicity, Sensation.
I'm not much of a Fox fan, but this story really hits it on the head. News and information can not be complex, people are too stupid. They also have attention spands that last about 2 seconds, and would never pay attention to something that wasn't sensational in some way.
The same is true of the best selling books, and those TV ads for drugs, it's all geared to a quick fix, rather than a real fix to a complicated problem. People want things and answers NOW and much of psychology is about long term fixes, and generalizations, not exact answers.
There is ALOT more to psychology than meets the eye, but those stories don't make it through.
posted by Blake at 11:12 AM on February 10, 2002


Hmm. Nowhere in the Village Voice article cited does anyone say that 25 percent of all people have been diagnosed with PTSD. It suggests intead that people are psychologically damaged by trauma, which doesn't sound at all off the wall to me. (How many people get colds every year, or get the flu, or are shortsighted, or nearsighted? How many great Americans, such as Bob Dole, suffer from ED? You mean millions of people can't have similar mental health problems?) The article includes this comment instead:

Trauma experts agree that between 20 and 25 percent of people exposed to traumatic events typically develop significant psychological problems, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
posted by raysmj at 11:16 AM on February 10, 2002


psychiatry seem to be both the sloppiest and most ethically bankrupt scientific field

I don't think so. The % of effective non-psychological medical treatments hovers around 25% while the rest work as well as a placebo.
posted by skallas at 11:39 AM on February 10, 2002


srb:

where to start?

some in the United states has post traumatic stress disorder is according to, in the PTSD article, "[t]rauma experts." no one by name is mentioned, nor is any that of any respected and representitive group of psychologists (such the APA) quoted.

the creating false memories article? it centers on one bad apple; indeed, we've known for some time that false memories are difficult to distinguish from memories of fact.

Fleming's op/ed gives light to something we've known for some time when she writes that "there is a sense that as a country, we are in danger of overmedicating ourselves"; medication without therapy is not a good idea, nor has it ever been, for the medication we have today is not a cure and its effects will wear off once you stop taking the pills.

i find Lasch-Quinn difficult to give much credence to, since she refers only to counselors along with "victims and victimisers" vaguely and generally. in the article, it is stated that "'Ours is the age of therapy', she says, 'with its belief that you can't change the world, only the self.[']" it is difficult to address much her quotes, for they are simply the conclusions sans evidence.

similar "damning" arguments can be brought against medical doctors. i don't know what to tell you, srb. i disagree with the notion that it's ok to use metafilter as your soapbox upon which to rail against your pet peeves; i will admit that right now. while this thread provides a good example of the bad science done by a few in psychology in addition to some of the assumptions of psychology being made by others, it does nothing to prove your point that "the industry/profession of psychology and its drug prescribing cousin psychiatry seem to be both the sloppiest and most ethically bankrupt scientific field."
posted by moz at 11:52 AM on February 10, 2002


Great post, srboisvert. My prejudices exactly. Here in old Europe we old-style mama's boys go to neurologists instead. They at least have the courage to say that next to nothing is known about the brain, that almost all psychotropic drugs are unsophisticated brutes and that therapy is almost always a hit-or-miss affair.

They work out much cheaper too, in the end. I thoroughly recommend them to anyone who thinks they fall into one of psychiatry's myriad conceptual snares.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:00 PM on February 10, 2002


moz: The reason I think psych(ology/iatry) is morally bankrupt is that a) there are many examples of bad science b) they are not repudiated or policed by their professional orgran (the APA) c) both counselling and medicating are a for profit industry which is actively seeking to expand its customer base. For the record I am a former insider with a MA in experimental psychology.

Its not that I think all the people in psychology are bankrupt any more than I would say all Enron employees were bad. Some are and some are not. But the profession as an organization or institution seems to lack the checks and balances that exist in other areas of science.

While there are examples of bad medical practises they tend to be policed more aggresively. Doctors who botch surgeries or make their patients sicker tend to get sanctioned and may even lose their liscenses. Psychologist/Psychiatrists face little or no outcome evaluation and can continue using ineffective therapies forever at the patients expense.

But really I was just posting some example links and looking to see if anybody had anything interesting to say in reaction to my take... and you did. BTW: Is the soapbox okay if it is an pro- environmentalist position? I have a hard time knowing what I am allowed to say here ...
posted by srboisvert at 1:33 PM on February 10, 2002


Is Psychology screwing us all up?

Only if you let it. TV Commercials use Psychology.. The regimes of the 1930s used Psychology. Its real and it works. Practioners can use the knowledge for good or evil, knowingly or not. One should not look at selective negative results of Psychology and say it is the fault of the Science.
posted by stbalbach at 2:19 PM on February 10, 2002


You all have seen too many movies with evil, lazy, incompetent, greedy, etc. psychiatrists in them....and read too many sensationalist articles about the Prozac nation and Ritalin-doped kids.

I don't know jack shit about psychologists, but I do know about psychiatrists. And the fact of the matters is that many of them are kind, decent people who try to do what is in their patients' best interest.

We all know that the treatments have side effects, and are not perfect. For example, the vast majority of patients who suffer from major depression can benefit from psychiatric treatment. Most mental illnesses have a chronic course, and the repeated visits to the doctor reflect this fact. There are plenty of other diseases that require repeated treatments, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, heart failure, lupus, etc. etc. To suggest that doctors (again, I'm only speaking about the psychiatric profession (not psychology, about which I know jack) have somehow fabricated the need for repeated treatments is preposterous.

As stated by someone else, the mind remains a mystery, for the most part. Modern psychiatry allows many of those who suffer from crippling mental illness to live something that resembles a normal life. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has had first-hand contact with mental illness would think that medical treatment is a complete waste of time.

PS And just to head someone off at the pass, for your information, ablahblah, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, shock therapy, etc. ) is still used for unremitting depression. Which, lest you forget, people die from all the time (suicides). A la One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, minus the bullshit hooking-someone-up-to-a-car-battery effects and the screaming. This is how it works. Patients are placed under general anesthesia and electric currents are applied which generate a seisure-like pattern of brain activity. It is marvelously effective, painless, and pretty safe. It can have damaging side effects, but then again so does coronary bypass surgery and you don't hear people crying wolf about that. Better side effects than suicide.

This was a rant, but I don't care. I hope when someone you know has a psychotic break and you take them to the psych ER and they get put on anti-psychotic drugs that allow them to get on with their lives you will change your tune.
posted by dr_emory at 2:37 PM on February 10, 2002



[T]he industry/profession of psychology and its drug prescribing cousin psychiatry seem to be both the sloppiest and most ethically bankrupt scientific field.


Ha! Macroeconomics wins, hands down.
posted by electro at 2:39 PM on February 10, 2002


You haven't heard me complaining.
posted by bunnyfire at 3:23 PM on February 10, 2002


srb:

The reason I think psych(ology/iatry) is morally bankrupt is that a) there are many examples of bad science

my thought is that for one to be bankrupt of something, one would have to be unable to fulfill one's responsbilities. many examples of bad science don't suggest that psychology -- your usage of the word implies psychology in a broad sense -- cannot fulfill its responsibility to its patients as a moral agent. a few psychologists or psychiatrists, yes; all or most? no.

b) they are not repudiated or policed by their professional orgran (the APA)

there is an ethical statement by the APA; i am not sure how well this is enforced.

c) both counselling and medicating are a for profit industry which is actively seeking to expand its customer base.

i'm sure they feel differently. my only problem with this sort of argument is that it's indefensible -- what can i do to show you otherwise? maybe i can bring up some anecdotal evidence, but that would only be true for the psychologists or psychiatrists in question.

While there are examples of bad medical practises they tend to be policed more aggresively. Doctors who botch surgeries or make their patients sicker tend to get sanctioned and may even lose their liscenses. Psychologist/Psychiatrists face little or no outcome evaluation and can continue using ineffective therapies forever at the patients expense.

had you said this in the first place, i think your thread may have been a bit clearer. simply pointing out the failures of psychology or psychiatry does not suggest that it is not policed or that its practitioners face no consequences for their actions. still, what does it take to have one's license revoked in either area? is there a licensing requirement to be a practicing psychologist (a counselor without the ability to prescribe medication) besides one's PhD? i don't know.

BTW: Is the soapbox okay if it is an pro- environmentalist position?

foot in mouth, eh? sorry, srb; your point is well taken.

I have a hard time knowing what I am allowed to say here ...

you don't need to talk to me about what you're allowed to say or not; my userid is not 1. i can express an opinion without trying to force others to follow it. (not that the opinion in question is terribly relevant any longer, but...)
posted by moz at 3:35 PM on February 10, 2002


MiguelCardoso - Great post. My prejudices exactly.

Hey, MC, anytime you want me to ignore something but can't afford the 9-volt, be sure to affix these words to it prominently.
posted by NortonDC at 4:01 PM on February 10, 2002


Our current definitions of mental illness are woefully outdated, and exclude an enormous amount of angst, sadness and pain that could be safely ameliorated were it to fall within some diagnosable category. The whole assumption that natural states of consciousness and emotional norms and averages represent the ideal is short-sighted and scientifically naive.
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 4:39 PM on February 10, 2002


all psychotropic drugs are unsophisticated brutes

This is true brother Miguel, which I why I solve all my psychological problems with Pabst Blue Ribbon, Marlboro, and Hustler Magazine.
Seriously, who needs a shrink when you got the 7-11?
posted by jonmc at 4:43 PM on February 10, 2002


Dr. emory- For the record, I was one of those 'Ritalin doped kids' you speak of. And this was way back in the late '70s before the chemical deluge. I just remember my Mom giving me a spoonful of syrupy stuff in the morning and feeling vaguely out-of-sorts all day and having trouble sleeping at night. They took me off it after about a year or so I recall. I wouldn't be shocked(based on personal experience) if a correlation was found between childhood Ritalin dosing and drug abuse in adolescence and adulthood.
My experience with psychaitry has led me to the decision that if I ever have kids, unless their strangling toddlers at recess, I will never allow them to be medicated by the school system.
posted by jonmc at 4:54 PM on February 10, 2002


Don't forget chocolate!
posted by bunnyfire at 5:02 PM on February 10, 2002


Saying that the field of psychology has "medicalized grief," then backing it up with an Ann Taylor Fleming essay which specifically attacks pharmaceutical companies in the wake of 9/11 is a specious argument, at best. Blaming the field of psychology for diagnosing 25% of the population with PTSD is just a load of crap, especially when using as evidence a newspaper article that doesn't even make that claim.

Okay, I'll admit it right here... I'm a psychologist. I think there is plenty wrong with my field, starting with the fact that the majority of my colleagues have bought into the notion that they have to appease managed care companies and have tied themselves to treatment planning based upon the whims of some accountant at Blue Cross or Aetna. Sure, there are psychologists and other mental health professionals who screw up, or make overzealous comments to the news media. And I agree, we'd all benefit from more accountability in psychology, medicine, accounting, etc. But to slam the whole field based on those flimsy arguments just polarizes everyone into the good/bad camps.

I don't think my profession can save the world, nor do I think we are responsible for the evils therein. It's a little more complex than that, just like everything else.
posted by apollo at 5:03 PM on February 10, 2002


Anyone read a book called We've had a hundred years of psychotherapy & the world's getting worse? I came across it a couple years ago and found it really interesting. It's mostly transcriptions of the two authors having conversations and discussions about psychotherapy & it goes off on tangents regularly, but it was an enjoyable, interesting thought-provoking read.
posted by mdn at 7:07 PM on February 10, 2002


I have friends that see shrinks on a regular basis and take Prozac for what basically amounts to low-level depression. While it seems to help, most of them could probably do without and lead normal, albeit slighty more stressful, lives. (I also live in Manhattan, where having a good shrink is a *status symbol,*and that may have something to do with it.) I think there's certainly room for abuse where therapy/meds are prescribed in cases where they *may* help, but are not strictly *needed.*

For people with seriously debilitating problems, however, they make the difference between being able to get up in the morning and function like a normal human being, and, well, not....

My grandfather was schizophrenic and my brother is extremely bipolar. My brother can *function* without medication, but not well. He has trouble holding down a job, gets paranoid, etc. My grandfather, however, couldn't go without meds for any length of time (and he tried to avoid them every chance he got.) On lithium he was happy, functional, and very lucid. Off meds, anything could happen. My dad wasn't thrilled about putting him on medication, but when you get a phone call from the local police to tell you that they found your father (my grandfather) walking naked along the side of the highway at some ungodly hour of the morning, you tend to think of the medication as the lesser evil. And when unmedicated people have violent episodes that they can't explain, or worse, don't remember, you don't have much of a choice...
posted by lizs at 7:28 PM on February 10, 2002


mdn- I've never read the book, but I clearly remember shelving several copies of it back at my former place of employment. I recall glancing at the introduction, maybe. I guess the author, like me, is of the belief that we're better off not knowing why we do the stupid things we do, cos if we did, we'd only feel worse.
posted by jonmc at 7:37 PM on February 10, 2002


jonmc: I wouldn't be shocked(based on personal experience) if a correlation was found between childhood Ritalin dosing and drug abuse in adolescence and adulthood.

Interesting, because I experienced it the other way around. That is, as an adolescent and in my early 20s, I drank too much and smoke way too much pot; later, I was ecstatic to find that there were prescription drugs that could make me feel "right" in the same way that the recreational substances could (and sometimes better). I have to admit that Ritalin specifically depressed me, even though there's no doubt it helped me concentrate better. Now I'm on adderall (same drug family, i.e. amphetamines), and I can only dream of how much easier my childhood would have been if I'd had access to it then.

Of course, that's only in hindsight, now that I'm an adult and can think back through it more or less rationally. I don't believe in the mass-medication of "problem" kids that is becoming increasingly popular in public schools, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any kids who could use the help of a good psychiatrist who had the time, education, and inclination to help them find the right drug for their specific problem, if any.

I think it's rather obvious that there's no way, at this point, for the APA to really police psychologists in the same way that the AMA polices other clinicians, in most cases. They are pretty tough on shrinks who sleep with their patients, because at least that's a solid problem that you can point your finger at. Whether someone gave you the right advice, or makes the right decision about which experimental mind-altering substance you should try first, is too hard to prove. The field is still too young and self-conflicted to have a solid idea of what "good psychology/psychiatry" actually means in many cases.
posted by bingo at 7:54 PM on February 10, 2002


I guess the author, like me, is of the belief that we're better off not knowing why we do the stupid things we do, cos if we did, we'd only feel worse.

I think this is a popular misconception about what psychology is all about. In all the movies, the shrink is spending all his/her time getting the patient to figure out WHY he's having trouble. You spend years on the couch and finally figure out that you were worried your father was going to castrate you, or something (well, I admit, that would cause some problems!).

When I've seen therapy work well, it usually has much more to do with figuring out how to effectively deal with problems in the here-and-now, and not much to do with whether you were competing for your mom's affections, or whatever.
posted by apollo at 7:56 PM on February 10, 2002


bingo - I'm not implying a biological link(although I'm not a neurologist so who knows) just that perhaps, the Ritalin at such a young age(6), hipped me to the fact that pills, powders , and syrups can make you feel calmer, or more productive or just really, really nice.
Although I went off Ritalin after a year, I'm now old enough(31) to have a little perspective. I spent the years from 13 to 28 drinking, smoking and swallowing just about everything. I still [warning:personal confession ahead] drink way more than I probably should, on the order of about a 6-pack of malt liquor a night and smoke about 2 packs a day.
I remember, I was at a party once and people began talking about their shrinks and the meds they were taking, and I boasted that I was "the last non-medicated person in America." The guy next to me pointed at the Budweiser in my hand and said "And how many of those have you had tonight, Jonnie Boy?"

Guess he had a point.
posted by jonmc at 8:06 PM on February 10, 2002


I guess the author, like me, is of the belief that we're better off not knowing why we do the stupid things we do, cos if we did, we'd only feel worse.

I think it was more along the lines of the dangers of self-obsession and goals of homogeneity. But it looked into all sort of aspects of society.

I'm not against psychotherapy per se myself; I see a therapist, and I think it's good for me generally. But I can see the negative consequences too, and I think being mindful of just how little we really know about human psyche is important.
posted by mdn at 8:51 PM on February 10, 2002


mdn - But you live in Manhattan, and as author Chris Offutt says, "Half the population of Manhattan is insane, The other half are therapists." ;)
posted by jonmc at 9:00 PM on February 10, 2002


Heh...but that would mean that none of the therapists are insane, which probably isn't true...
posted by bingo at 9:15 PM on February 10, 2002


Doctors who botch surgeries or make their patients sicker tend to get sanctioned and may even lose their liscenses. Psychologist/Psychiatrists face little or no outcome evaluation and can continue using ineffective therapies forever at the patients expense.

Since Psychiatrists are medical doctors subject to 100% of the licensing requirements and potential "sanctioning," as you put it, of any other MD; and psychologists receive much medical training themselves and are also required to have licenses and be "subject to sanctions" (when they aren't themselves also full MD psychiatrists), we can only conclude that the rest of your allegations in this thread are equally false, and that you have some sort of personal axe to grind and/or philosophical or religious reasons for your attempt to bring so many people over to your 18th-century viewpoint.

Whatever your reason, your statements are not merely completely wrong, they're downright dangerous. God help your soul if someone currently in treatment for a psychological problem reads your rant, decides to completely abandon treatment and ends up attempting suicide, or suffering for another umpteen number of years before seeking professional help again.


posted by aaron at 9:51 PM on February 10, 2002


Cheers to aaron, apollo, and bingo. Bashing therapy, especially anti-depressant drug therapy, has become a popular passtime in the US of late. And it's too bad, really. Because quite a lot of people suffer needlessly from depression, which is quite responsive to drug therapy. But the idea in the popular press is that anti-depressants are comparable to illicit drugs (i.e. that they provide some sort of high) or that they have some sort of emotionally numbing effect.

Actually, the reverse is true on both counts (at least for depression, the only psychological illness about which I know anything or have had any experience). Anti-depressants generally either help your depression or do nothing at all. And most have very benign side effects, if any. And anti-depressants are neither downers nor "happy pills". Most depressives, I would venture to guess, are more emotionally involved with their surroundings when they're on anti-depressants than when they're off them (at least for those who respond positively to anti-depressants). Depression, after all, is all about being emotionally numb. Lifting depression renews the chance to engage life, rather than hide from it.

My father takes meds for paranoia. He also takes meds for hypertension. He's a healthier person when he takes both. Mood disorders, like any other health condition, are not things to be taken lightly. If you do a little research on depression and therapy, you'll find that therapy (including drug-therapy) beats no therapy at all.
posted by wheat at 11:20 PM on February 10, 2002


uh, antidepressants, while lifting my depressions, always did make me feel a little on the "happy numb side"....as in i felt like"i don't give a crap-i'm happy!" happy.......but then I wasn't the typical depressive so maybe i don't count.
posted by bunnyfire at 4:08 AM on February 11, 2002


i recommend a good psychic to anyone (and i have a name and number...) searching for an objective outsider's opinion. they have to be perceptive, and they haven't been subjected to freudian crap.
posted by goneill at 7:05 AM on February 11, 2002


Psychology and psychiatry make it easier for us, as a culture, to ignore the possibility that it is the world we have created that is insane. A person who finds little or no substantive meaning in life might truly be suffering a personal deficiency; but it is at least as likely that such a condition is due to a genuine deficiency of meaning and value in the world itself. Pathologizing the individual, rather than the culture in which the individual is irrevocably enmeshed, is certainly the more expedient choice, if not always the correct one.
posted by yesster at 8:37 AM on February 11, 2002


Perhaps the people make too much demand on themselves...? It's is hard, sometimes, to reconcile one's dreams with one's reality, and when fine dreams are so easily available...

Meaning and value are so subjective. And in a world of 4 billion, it is one of our most horrible vanities to assume we are special. Only a few can be heroes, can live lives of great meaning and deep understanding. When we non-heroes of limited understanding finally admit that we are not going to live our dreams, are not special, that others are not set-dressing in the ongoing Saga of Me but actual people just like us, and we say to ourselves that despite this I will do what I can to make my life happier and that of those around me happier as well, then we can learn to live with the little insanities of our culture and world.
posted by UncleFes at 9:23 AM on February 11, 2002


One thing I do know about medications is that many of the medications can do serious damage if you're on them long-term. Unfortunately, these are typically the drugs needed for very long term diseases, the ones that don't go away, such as schizophrenia and possibly bipolar. So the poor patient ends up in the situation that they have to be on the drugs, but if they're on the drugs it'll hurt them.

And psychology does have self-review of new illnesses and drugs. And people in psychology are well aware of the 'false memories' problem. They cover it in the introduction to psychology class, and in a couple more after that.

While psychology doesn't have the pure concrete proofs that might be available in the other sciences, it is easy to prove many things are true statistically. If you want more talk about statistics, talk to me, I have a bit of history in it, and I can type about it for hours. No Twain comments please. Statistics can be used to fake stuff, yes. But it is as easy to catch statistics liars as it is to catch pure science liars.
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:27 AM on February 11, 2002


The brain is (normally) the most complex thing in the known universe. Give psychiatrists/psychologists some time. Working on someone's head is a little trickier than taking out their gall bladder, although I've encountered a few folks (or at least their writing) where the difference appears minimal.

~wink~

After all, it was only a few centuries ago that people thought "cures" could come about through modalities like animal sacrifice, or casting out devils, or crystals, or prayer. Thank goodness we're ever so much more advanced now.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:14 PM on February 11, 2002


hey - the crystals work, i tell you... they work...
posted by goneill at 12:51 PM on February 11, 2002


And we all had such high hopes for you after that assisted-suicide thread.
posted by darukaru at 1:32 PM on February 11, 2002


yesster: Psychology and psychiatry make it easier for us, as a culture, to ignore the possibility that it is the world we have created that is insane. A person who finds little or no substantive meaning in life might truly be suffering a personal deficiency; but it is at least as likely that such a condition is due to a genuine deficiency of meaning and value in the world itself. Pathologizing the individual, rather than the culture in which the individual is irrevocably enmeshed, is certainly the more expedient choice, if not always the correct one.

But not all psychology/psychiatry is about pathologizing the individual in terms of the differences between him/her and the rest of society. In fact, "that Freudian crap" (the foundation of modern psychology) alluded to by goneill, deals with (or attempts to deal with) people's most basic drives, and how the individual reconciles those drives (or doesn't reconcile them) with pressures from outside the individual's head (indoctrination, humiliation, etc.).

Suggested further reading: "that Jungian crap," in which another key figure of modern psychology derives most of his philosophy from a dream he had in which God took a shit on a cathedral, suggesting the individual's innate (if oft-repressed) understanding of the difference between what the individual feels and what the world tells the individual that he/she ought to feel.
posted by bingo at 4:22 AM on February 12, 2002


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