As the counselling industry gears up for its busiest time of year, Yvonne McEwen says a lot of well people are being treated by a bunch of sick therapists
The men and women of science who, 100 years ago, defined psychology as the study of human behaviour would, I assume, be appalled at the way the discipline has developed. To be more accurate, it's the lack of discipline within psychology and psychiatry that is producing so much damage, mayhem and controversy.
The aspirations to understand the mystery of human behaviour have now deteriorated into a science with the same degree of accuracy as crystal-ball gazing and palmistry. We now have a definition and therapy for every emotion, sensation and experience. This type of simplified labelling can only lead to the death of science and humane, ethical practice.
If I spend too long in front of my computer I can be diagnosed as having 'computer and internet addiction disorder'. Should I decide to assault somebody on my way home I can claim 'commuting stress disorder'. If I make an obscene phonecall my lawyer can argue, with the help of a therapist, psychologist and counsellor, that I am suffering from 'telephone scatalogia' (sounds more like a sexually transmitted disease).
The people that deal with our minds and behaviour seriously need to take stock of their own behaviour and motives. The psychological and allied professions need to get a grip on reality. What we now have in Western society is a lot of well people being treated by a bunch of sick therapists.
The following are classic examples from North America of how fatuous this profession has become. A man in Canada was charged with the double murder of his wife's parents after he drove 15 miles across Toronto in the middle of the night. He was diagnosed as having 'sleepwalking disorder' and it was successfully used in his defence. A defence lawyer in Milwaukee argued that a teenage girl charged with shooting dead another girl during an argument over a leather coat, suffered from 'cultural psychosis' which caused her to think that problems are resolved by guns. After two youths held up a bank manager's family at gunpoint and then went on to rob a pub manager, the psychologist alleged that they were suffering from 'desensitisation to television violence disorder'.
We don't have to look to North America for silly behaviour by the professionals. Our own lot have the same flair for inventiveness. There are people wanted for everything from road traffic violations to terrorist offences who have psychologists and psychiatrists claiming that that they are suffering from traumatic stress. The emergency services are now capitalising on this absurd condition, with police officers, firefighters and paramedics claiming they have traumatic stress because they are traumatised by the jobs that they are called out to. Will the sick, injured, assaulted and robbed have to apologise to them for the traumatic stress that they are causing?
At Christmas stresses and strains are high. People are fraught, aggressive, tired and emotional: and then all those dreadful professionals come out with their sickly, homespun philosophies to tell us how to cope with the pressures.
The American Little Book of Christmas Joys gives us 432 things to do that will make the Yuletide season right for ourselves and others. Tip number 10 tells us to 'take a Christmas family photograph each year in the same spot, such as by a favourite tree in your garden. In years to come, you will have a wonderful record of the growth of your family, as well as the tree'. What happens if they are in the family plot, pushing up the winter daisies? Not much of a photo opportunity there. Enter the therapist: they can probably arrange for a few cardboard cut outs so you won't be photographically, emotionally challenged.
Suggestion number 12 tells us to 'make an effort and attend every Christmas party that you have been invited to, even if you stay just a few minutes'. The American Psychological Association claims that the country has 25 000 000 alcoholics, while 80 000 000 suffer from the disease of 'co-alcoholism' and require treatment for being members of families of alcoholics. Perhaps it's not surprising considering hint number 12. But then, statistics lie.
Apart from the alcoholism there are many other 'conditions' and 'pathologies' which psychology and psychiatry are now 'concerned about'. According to some North American studies:*
- 20 million people are addicted to gambling
- 30 million women suffer from bulimia or anorexia
- 80 million people have eating disorders
- 75 million people are addicted to cigarettes
- 50 million people suffer from depression and anxiety
- 44 million women suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome
- 25 million people are sex addicts
- 5.6 million people have been abducted by UFOs
- 22 million people suffer from debilitating shyness
- 66 million people have experienced incest or sexual trauma
- 10 million people suffer from borderline personality disorder
No wonder the mental health people are worried: when you add it all up it is several times the population of North America. They must all have multiple pathologies! This is the type of worrying 'evidence' that gets churned out at every debate and funding crisis. Unfortunately, in Britain we use a lot of American statistics to back up our own lack of credible data.
Psychology is no longer a science and I have serious misgivings as to whether psychiatry ever was, or will be. What has evolved in the past 10 years particularly is the 'junk psychology' industry.
The areas of trauma and disaster management have seen the biggest rise in alleged mental health conditions. Here the evidence, statistics, therapies and theories have been entirely manipulated in favour of the therapist, counsellor, traumatologist (cringe) and his or her dog.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: that's the condition that you can have diagnosed and be compensated for just by looking the wrong way for a bus. The experts tell us that
0.1 per cent of us will suffer this 'disturbing condition'. In the UK that's about 52 000 people by my calculations. What are we doing for them? We are building post-traumatic stress disorder clinics and units in hospitals. In fact we are so concerned (not to mention excited) about our new high-profile condition that we are shifting funds away from patients who would be better looked after had the professions not decided to reinvent themselves with this overused, over-abused, unscientifically proven condition.
What we now have in our society is the manufacturing of victims. Real victims - who have suffered degradation, violence and the worst excesses of prejudice - are now being lumped in with the other categories. Their real suffering is being trivialised by professionals applying a catch-all, one-stop shop definition.
Fake victims are the ones who for reasons of low self-esteem, revenge or greed are prepared to con the system (usually supported by an expert opinion). The manufactured victims are produced by the junk psychology industry with all its exaggerated claims, wild theories and therapies.
How do we make these junk psychologists answerable for the damage and stigmatisation that they cause? Firstly we want to know who they really are - what kind of training, experience and regulation do they have? We should demand truth and advertising; a lot of them make claims that they can't support when challenged. We should stop the public sanctioning of them and no longer be prepared to accept theories as evidence.
As consumers of this growth industry we want the evidence. No more anecdotes that can have you put away for life, or your kids taken from you. And what about the career prospects and promotions being lost, insurance policies cancelled, mortgages and financing being denied and children lost in custody battles? These are just some of the effects that unproven theories can have on our lives and livelihoods.
I would like to leave you with one final thought on what this unscientific industry has become. Earlier this year a well-known 'trauma expert' wrote to colleagues around the world about his concerns that there was no known cure for post-traumatic stress disorder. (That will be news to the insurance companies that are paying for 'treatment'.)
Thanks to the help and response of his enthusiastic colleagues he was able to come up with a therapy that will revolutionise treatment.
- First, think of a distressing event and work up as much discomfort as you can. Then rate your discomfort between one and 10.
- Now tap yourself five times between the eyebrows with two fingers.
- Next tap yourself under your eyes five times.
- Then tap yourself just below the collarbone five times.
- Rate your level of discomfort. If you are not at least two levels down from where you started on the scale of one to 10, gently karate chop one hand with the other while reciting the following mantra, 'I accept myself even though I still have this kind of anxiety'.
I'm sure that the peoples of the war-torn, disaster-stricken areas of the world will be much relieved to know that all it will take to help them through their current traumas and long-term recovery is a few finger-tapping exercises.
I for one have this overwhelming desire to take my two fingers: but not tap with them.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and therapy-free Christmas.
* See Manufacturing Victims by Dr Tana Dineen, Robert Davies Multimedia Publishing, 1996.
Yvonne McEwen has spent the past 25 years working with victims of trauma, including victims of road traffic accidents, civil conflict and terrorism. She is now sleeping with the enemy as she has undertaken a master's degree in critical psychology
Reproduced from LM issue 116, December 1998/January 1999