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Why Psychologists “Ignore the Evidence”

Note: This is a response to an article called, “Ignoring the Evidence: Why Do Psychologists Reject Science?” by Sharon Begley in Newsweek on October 12, 2009. Click here to go to this article.

Psychologists reject science because it’s too primitive to be useful! The human brain and mind are far too complex for the current state of psychological science to be truly useful in the treatment of many or most real-life psychological issues.

Academics, such as Timothy Baker, choose methods such as cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy for their experiments because they can boil down these methods to a cookbook where, allegedly, one size fits all and results can be easily measured. The former assumes that all humans are alike. The latter assumes that you should look for your lost contact under that streetlamp only because the light is better over there.

These “scientists” use subjects who are convenient (we do know an awful lot about college freshmen who elect to take Psych 101) and that fit their purposes. They then demonstrate that those subjects who comply with the cookbook method get good results. This is like you calling technical support for your computer and having a problem that fits nicely with the script the person at the other end of the line is reading. However, if your problem is off-script, what happens then? The tech person just keeps reading the script to you and hasn’t a clue as to how to help you. How great is that?

In my private practice (I am a licensed psychologist with a Psy.D. degree), I can’t imagine using a cookbook with a client who has multiple personalities to help one alter address his or her panic attacks. What do I do if another alter doesn’t want to do that? What if the first alter gets too scared and the client switches to another alter? You get the picture. I then have to rely on my training (scientific or not), experience (empirically verified or not), professional intuition (developed over years of dealing with this type of situation), and a tad bit of on-the-fly creativity. Put that in a cookbook and run some statistical models on it!

Many academics seem to have a need to gratify their egos by thinking of themselves as real scientists. No doubt they do their best with the tools they have and the knowledge they have upon which to build theories. These are very primitive at best, relative to modern physics, chemistry, biology, and the other “hard” sciences. But then they whine about how we “in the trenches” don’t use their results. I say, thank you very much, but keep trying until you’re useful to us.

Unfortunately, Ms. Begley’s article served to take one person’s journal article and generalize its propaganda. I’m sure Dr. Baker is delighted. However, all of us chickens who were unfairly denigrated by the article (in my mind) now have yet another misunderstanding to explain to an already skeptical public about the value of our work. Did we forget to thank you?

Lastly (yes, I am winding this up), the first person to apply scientific methods to psychotherapy was Carl Rogers, Ph.D. He was president of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the first recipient of the APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions. This was back in 1956 when the APA was dominated by academics (as Rogers was). He scientifically developed a set of conditions therapists must establish within their relationship with a client (he coined this term) so the client has the most likely chance of improving psychologically. Therapists still learn and follow these criteria to this day. So, maybe psychologists are not ignoring all the evidence, just the evidence that does not help them help others.

Copyright 2013 Daniel J. Metevier

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