WHY I AM AGAINST PSYCHOLOGY AND ESPECIALLY AGAINST
psychology within the bounds of religion
My second lecture for the day is more modest than the first in both length and scope. It also differs from the first in its aim and style. The difference goes something like this: In
my first lecture (see Structure and Direction) I argued that having religion by itself does
not equip us to solve life‟s problems, we still need to be schooled in psychology. In this lecture I want to make the point that being schooled in psychology by itself does not equip us to solve life‟s problems either. We still need religion.
My intent is to be critical of my chosen discipline and profession. I want to focus on the limits of psychology and psychotherapy. I want to strongly suggest that psychology and psychotherapy cannot adequately deal with the problem of evil in our lives and that when they pretend to do so, they overstep their boundaries, and enter the realm of religion.
the realm of religion is the realm of naïve, or pre-theoretical experience
Talk about “ the realm of religion” backs us into a discussion about a layer of our experience that sets limits to our theoretical pronouncements in our scientific disciplines, pronouncements made in physics, or psychology, or theology. The realm of religion is that layer of our experience which the Dutch Christian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd has termed naïve experience, or also pre-theoretical experience. He argues that the
distinctive quality of that experience is that it is religious, i.e. it deals with ultimate questions such as the question about the nature of good and evil. Furthermore, he states that all our pronouncements about reality, be they scientific or pre-scientific originate in that layer of naïve, religious experience, such that nothing we utter can ever be rightly understood as a bare statement of fact. Every thing we say about our existence is already an evaluation based on our religious conviction.
This realm of religion in our lives, this layer of naïve experience, is the place where we speak from the heart, the place where love transcends reason. Naïve experience is what St. Augustine had in mind when in his Confessions he stated in opposition to Greek
thought, that the relation of God to the creation and to humankind is not one of reason but of love. It is also what Pascal alluded to when he uttered his famous phrase, “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Finally, the wellknown contemporary Christian philosopher, Nicholas Woltersdorf made mention of the same reality when he titled one of his books, Reason within the bounds of religion, an obvious rejoinder in the
direction of Immanuel Kant, who wrote a book entitled, Religion
within the bounds of reason.
the language of naïve experience speaks of love, passion and emotion
The character of discourse in the realm of religion also differs from the one we normally adopt in scholarly or scientific discussions. In the realm of scholarly discourse logic reigns supreme. Or it should. It is the discourse of fine distinctions, precise terminology and rigorous analysis. In that theoretical realm one pursuades by reasoned argument. Not so in the realm of religion. There the language of speech is more emotive, more like the language of therapy and of love and of passion. What is said in that realm makes us feel at home or raises our blood pressure. The language of religion aims to convict and is directed at the heart. It makes one squeal with glee or squirm uncomfortably.
to understand the meaning of this language demands empathy of the heart rather
than logic of the head
Accordingly, the language of this lecture is deliberately provocative. I hope it will make you think. I hope it will make you sad. I hope it will make you angry. To understand this lecture you need to park your reason and open your heart. The kind of talk I will engage in during the next half hour requires empathy rather than analysis.
By means of this talk I want to be self-critical. I want to be critical of my profession without really abandoning it. I want to point out that psychology does not have all the answers. I want to show that there are limits to the problems psychology can solve, and specifically that it is ill equipped to deal with the problem of evil. Above all I want my fellow psychologists and psychotherapists to avoid losing their humanity for the sake of their profession. Some time ago someone paid me a huge compliment. She said, “ I don‟t know how good a psychologist you are, but you are a real human being.” I wish for all my colleagues to earn such a compliment.
in my judgment psychology is an uneythical discipline and psychotherapy is
immoral practice, both should be abolished
So, here goes. After being a psychologist and a practicing psychotherapist for more than 35 years I have come to some disturbing conclusions about these two fields of endeavor. I don't like these conclusions but honesty compels me to tell you about them.
I have come to the conclusion that psychology is an unethical discipline and that psychotherapy is immoral practice. Both do far more harm than good and while being a psychologist or a psychotherapist may be legal professions, these professions create and perpetuate basic injustice on the people in need of their services. The very practice of
psychology and psychotherapy is an act of immorality and of injustice on human beings, I think. Consequently, I am now opposed to psychology and psychotherapy, opposed to teaching it and opposed to practicing it.
So, by rights universities and colleges should disband their psychology department and drop the psychology program from their calendar. I guess we all should resign shortly
and find something else to do, or retire. I regret the inconvenience this will cause the students but perhaps this will spur them on to switch their studies to a major that does more good, like political science, or environmental studies for instance.
some reasons why people are against psychology and psychotherapy
There are all kinds of people in the world who for all kinds of reasons are against psychology and psychotherapy. None of these are my reasons. So, let me first list other people's reasons.
capitalistic individualism: psychology and psychotherapy make competent
individuals dependent on professional help
Some people are against psychology and psychotherapy because they believe in capitalistic individualism. This religion is very prevalent in North America. Capitalistic individualists are against all the helping professions, including psychology and psychotherapy because, according to them these helping professions turn proud competent individuals into persons dependent for their health and livelihood on other people. Thomas Szasz, for example, objects to the term „mental illness‟ as a label for what he calls „problems of living‟, because this label turns people into patients, to whom something is done to solve their problems. If you label people as patients, he feels, you take away their freedom, and their right to solve their own problems by themselves for themselves.
Capitalistic individualists are social darwinists. They believe in survival of the fittest. In human terms this means that according to them society is governed by market forces. Life in society is a struggle for prominence. Everybody is an entrepreneur. Every person has a chance to make something of him or herself. Life is risky, there are no guarantees. Life is a slot machine, sometimes you‟re hot, other times you are not. Some people are
better at making it than others. That is only because they try harder. The cream always rises to the top. If we try to solve the problems of other people for them they stop trying and become lazy losers. It is good for people to struggle, it builds character. It makes them succeed.
Psychology and psychotherapy are immoral, in this view, because these professions try to help people and that is against the natural order of things, where it is every man for himself and where God helps only those who help themselves. These are the reasons why some people are opposed to psychology and psychotherapy. They are not my reasons.
existentialistic individualism: psychology and psychotherapy rob individuals of
the freedom to live
Then there are the Existentialistic individualists, like R. D. Laing, who are anti-psychology and anti-psychiatry because these professions imply that one person can prescribe for another person what (s)he must do to prevent illness, to get better, or to live well. Most psychologies and psychotherapies, says Laing, deny that human beings are essentially free subjects, masters of their own world and life, and that they ought to be treated as such. Professions like psychology and psychiatry, in which one individual, the doctor, prescribes treatment for another individual, the patient, believe that doctors have a right to prescribe treatment for patients because of their superior knowledge of people in general, and of human nature. As a matter of fact, the existentialists like Laing argue, there is no such thing as human nature that holds for all people and therefore there cannot be any knowledge of people in general either. Human beings are unpredictable and unique. They are principles of free choice. Psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry are unethical because they violate a person's absolute right to live life any way (s)he chooses, or the even a person's right to choose whether or not to live. Existentialistic individualists are against psychology and psychotherapy because these violate the absolute freedom of individuals. But those are not the reasons why I am against psychology and psychotherapy.
moralistic socialism: psychology and psychotherapy sanction social rule breaking
Next, there are the moralistic socialists who are against psychology and psychotherapy because according to them all that psychology and psychotherapy does is dream up excuses for people's immoral behaviors. For instance, if a youngster steals, spouts foul language to his parents and plays hooky from school, psychologists will find reasons in the child's upbringing or toilet training why he turned out that way. If a woman wants to leave her husband, a psychotherapist will find the reasons why it became unbearable for her to live with her husband. According to the moralists finding excuses for people's immoral behavior is wrong because life basically consists of following the rules that society lays on us. We can earn our happiness by faithfully following these moral rules. If you live a clean life you'll be happy. If you don't, then you let society down. You are being unfair toward others, and you will become unhappy. Hobert Mowrer is an example of a moralistic socialist in psychology. His theory is Freud-up-side-down. He states that Freud held that the problem with depressed people is that they have too many guilt feelings and that they need to get rid of them if they want to be cured. Mowrer argued, however, that the problem with depressed people is that they are guilty. They have
violated some societal rule. They need to atone to society for their misdeed, then they will be happy again. Life is a matter of good and bad works, period. You either bring sadness upon you by what you do or you earn happiness. Good and bad feelings are byproducts of good and bad behaviors.
This is why Mowrer likes the Roman catholic doctrine of good works so much , and this is why he fails to understand the Protestant doctrine of grace. He says: You Calvinists are crazy. You believe that if you do something wrong it's your fault, and if you do something right it's God's grace. With that kind of theology you can never hope to win.
The reason why moralistic socialists are against most forms of psychology and especially against the psychotherapy of psychoanalysis, is because, in their view, these professions condone and even sanction irresponsible, immoral, social rule breaking behavior in their clients. However, this is not the reason why I am against psychology. and psychotherapy.
fundamentalistic Christianity: psychology and psychotherapy preach a secular
Finally, and closely related to the moralists, there are some fundamentalistic, biblicistic, legalistic (mostly) evangelical Christians who believe they have found reasons in the bible to be opposed to psychology and psychotherapy. These well meaning, but, in my view, misguided Christians see psychology and psychotherapy as a kind of secular salvation, a secular alternative to what is preached and practiced in the church. Thus they view psychology and psychotherapy as being in competition with Christianity. They look at the bible as a set of objective truths about life, as a series of wise propositions to be contemplated and as a set of infallible rules to live by. All these biblical nuggets are considered far superior to what psychology has come up with. They feel that all of the guidelines needed for living are to be found in the bible. For them the bible is the ultimate manual, recipe book, dictionary, and rule book for life. Thus, for them what is needed to live a successful life is more theology and less psychology. A seminary training is better preparation for being a counselor than a psychology training. The process of counseling advocated is like that of Mowrer, confrontational and focused on behavior change. Jay Adams, for example, is a disciple of Mowrer. In his Nouthetic Counseling approach clients are asked to confess their sins and to atone for them. Furthermore, they are promised that they will feel better when they do so. In addition, they are given individual texts from the bible to contemplate, and other texts as prescriptions to follow. Clearly for Adams, the bible is an alternative to a psychological counseling text, and he sees his Nouthetic counseling approach as a Christian alternative to psychological counseling. I do not share this view. These are not the reasons why I am against psychology and psychotherapy.
reasons why I am against psychology and psychotherapy
Nevertheless I have come to the conclusion that psychology is an unethical discipline and that psychotherapy is an immoral practice. Both do far more harm than good and while being a psychologist or a psychotherapist may be legal professions, these professions create and perpetuate basic injustice on the people in need of their services. The very practice of psychology and psychotherapy is an act of immorality and of injustice on human beings, I think. Consequently, I am now opposed to psychology and psychotherapy. I am opposed to teaching it and opposed to practicing it.
So, what are my reasons for being against psychology and psychotherapy? The study of psychology has a built-in dynamic toward homeostasis, and so by, implication, does the practice of psychotherapy. Psychology does not provoke, it soothes, it does not agitate
but settles, it works toward a steady state rather than chaos, it favors the status-quo rather than renewal. The paradigm of psychology predisposes it toward perpetually maintaining, retaining and restoring a steady state within people and the status-quo in society. It has a built-in drive to normalize, to conventionalize. Psychology is the ultimate comforter or security blanket.
psychology pretends to be able to explain every conceivable form of human
Psychology has an explanation for every conceivable human behavior, and psychologists pride themselves in their ability to explain. It is what they do well. Psychologists even have a way of explaining why inexplicable behavior is inexplicable. They do that by talking about psychopathology. The reason why we cannot understand what some people are saying or doing, they say, is because they are either psychotic or severely mentally challenged.
Similarly, psychologists have reasons for why some people do the most horrible things to other people. Oh, they say, that is because they are psychopaths. Or, they say that those people hurt others because they are suffering from antisocial personality disorder. Psychologists have explanations for every conceivable quirk in human behavior, even for unexplainable behavior.
some forms of human behaviour are so horrible as to be inexplicable
But are there, perhaps, human behaviors that cannot be explained, or should not be explained, behaviours that are inexplicable, for instance, because they are so utterly horrible?
the inhuman acts of holocaust perpetrators
The holocaust was a setting in which such inexplicable bahaviors occurred. During the holocaust human beings herded other human beings into boxcars, and put them behind barbed wire, without a trial, not for what they had done but for who they were. They systematically worked and starved their fellow human beings to death, They gassed them, killed them en masse, burning and disposing of their remains without a burial--the Final
The most inhumane aspect of this crime against humanity was that, as the holocaust victims came off the trains into the camp, they were chosen either to live or to die. The line to the left meant you died, the line to the right meant you would live. The people who were put in those lines knew the meaning of those lines. Sophie, in the movie Sophie's Choice, has two little children. As she arrives in the camp an SS officer tells her that one of her children may live, and that the other must die. He tells her she must choose which one. And how do you do that, how do you chose for one of your children and not for the other? An inhumane demand by one human being of another.
In another account a holocaust survivor tells how she watched how a nine-year old girl is sent to the left lane, to die, and the girl knows what's happening and she screams to her mother in the right lane: Don't let them do this to me!! Don't leave me alone!! The SS officer asks the mother, Do you want to join her in the left lane? And the mother shakes her head, No.
the testimony of holocaust victim Magda F: to understand you must go through
Things happened in those death camps too horrible to understand, too awful to tell. Magda F., a Holocaust survivor after the war is asked by her sister who lived in USA during the war, asked to tell what it was like in the camp. Magda said:
And I looked at them and I said: "I'm gonna tell you something. I'm gonna tell
you something now. If somebody would tell me this story, I would say 'She's
lying, or he's lying.' Because this can't be true. And maybe you're gonna feel the
same way. That your sister's lying here, because this could not happen. Because
to understand us somebody has to go through with it. because nobody, but
nobody fully understands us. You can't. No [matter] how much sympathy you
give me when I'm talking here, or you understand...you are trying to understand
me, I know, but I don't think you could. I don't think so."
And I said this to them. Hoping [they] should never be able to understand,
because to understand, you have to go through with it, and I hope nobody in the
world comes to this again, [so] they should understand us. And this was the
honest truth, because, nobody, nobody, nobody... (Langer: Holocaust Testimony,
p xiii ff.)
There are things that human beings do to other human beings that are so inhumane as to be inexplicable. One cannot really understand what it is to be the victim of such inhumane behaviour. Yet psychologists think that they can explain all sorts of behavior. No doubt, for example, some psychologist is writing a book right now to explain the behavior of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, two Canadian human beings who some years ago mutilated and killed a number of girls in the most gruesome manner. Well they are wrong if they think they can. Some deeds are so horrible that they defy explanation. Psychologists think they can understand all kinds of suffering. But they are wrong. Some pains you cannot understand unless you also "go through with it".
the trauma which holocaust victims endured are inexplicable to outsiders because
there were no witnesses
The trauma holocaust victims endured in the camps are also unimaginable to outsiders because these events occurred in the absence of outside witnesses. The only people who witnessed these atrocities as they were happening were the perpetrators and their victims. There were no observers because people outside the camps closed their eyes and ears to what was happening. They watched their neighbours being taken away, never to return,
but they did not ask, Why is this happening? Where are they going? They did not ask because they said: What's it to us? They are taken because they are Jews, or homosexuals, or trouble makers, but we are not any of these, so that will never happen to us. They kept saying that until the Nazis came to take them away, and then they realized, too late, that
they should have spoken up for their neighbours long ago.
No one on the outside asked Why?, so there were no witnesses to these crimes and only the victims were there to bear testimony. The victims in the camps, they asked Why? of their tormentors. They asked their abusers: Why are you doing this to us? Why? But the perpetrators replied, Hier ist kein Warum. There is no why in this camp, and, therefore,
there is no need to give an answer, either.
The inhumanities which human beings perpetrate on other human beings are not confined to what was done to the Jewish people in the Holocaust during W.W.II. There are other evils which people inflict upon people. They may not occur on such a large scale as the holocaust, but they happen none-the-less. People kill, maim, or mutilate other people without compunction. They steal, they rob, they vandalize. They rape women, they batter their spouses, they molest children, and they think nothing of it. In each case there are victims with a story to tell, with the question, Why? Why did this happen to me?
psychology and psychotherapy are immoral when they give intellectual answers
to existential questions
Psychologists are quick to come up with answers. Too quick. That constitutes their immorality. They hypothesize, experiment, correlate, factor analyze, do some more statistics and, presto, they state in scholarly journals, " We now know that when unemployment rates rise, interpersonal violence increases proportionately." or some other form of gobbledygook.
Psychotherapists are willing to impart this expert knowledge to clients in therapy for a fee. The reason your father molested you, they say, was because he himself was abused as a child. The reason why men keep assaulting you sexually, they say, is because as a result of previous seductions your behavior has become overly seductive. Not your fault, of course, but still... The reason you keep ending up in abusive relations, they say, is because you suffer from the battered wife syndrome, essentially you are a masochist, and you are subconsciously asking to be beaten. The reasons why you are in trouble, they say, lie within yourself, you lack assertiveness, self-esteem, you don't think straight, you are co-dependent, and I will help you rid yourself of these, for a fee.
Psychologists and psychotherapists are immoral because they have ready-made, cheap, trivial, useless answers and they are willing to dispense these answers for a fee to people who come to them with gut-wrenching, essentially inexplicable life questions.
Claude Lanzmann: the obscenity of understanding
Claude Lanzmann has produced a nine-hour documentary in black and white about the Holocaust. The movie is based on the premise that the Holocaust experience is unintelligible to outsiders. The punch of this movie is that, as you watch it you are totally at a loss to explain how human beings could do this to their fellow human beings. That is Lanzmann's point. Any attempt to understand the Holocaust or any other comparable trauma is doomed to failure. And not only that, but the attempt to understand is also immoral.
So, Lanzmann talks about the obscenity of understanding. For example, he says, the question: why did the Nazis kill the Jews, is an obscene question. Because, if a psychologist would look for the answer, he would look for it in the way a particular Nazi was raised by his parents as if that would explain the horrible atrocity of his deeds. To bring it closer to home, Why would a father sexually molest his three-year old daughter, inflict physical pain on her, violate her body, take away her trust in people, and condemn her to a lifelong depression? Why would a man do this to his own flesh and blood, his own child? That is an obscene question. There is no explanation for such a deed.
the reason why psychologists and psychotherapists give psychological answers to
inexplicable questions is to absolve us from feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety
Why do psychologists, and society by implication, come up with these questions and these cheap answers to them? I think it is essentially because the atrocity of such deeds deeply disturbs society and answers that pertain only to the psychology of individuals absolve society from having to face the question of its complicity in the deed. Asking these questions and coming up with cheap answers keeps us from asking what it is about our society as a whole, and about me in it, that we, that I should allow these terrible things to happen. Psychological answers to inexplicable questions absolve us from guilt feelings and feelings of anxiety. We can avoid feeling bad about these atrocities when we can say, He did that to her, not me, or, it happened to her, not to me. Psychological answers allow us to send victims of atrocities to therapists for individual or group counseling to be healed from their individual problems. It allows us to pretend that we are not involved and that it is not our problem. But think like that is immoral.
psychologists and psychotherapists should bear public witness to attrocities
committed in secret
So, what should psychologists and psychotherapists do instead? First, they are in a unique position to bear witness to these atrocities as these are told to them by the victims of these deeds. So they should listen and not turn away. Then they should testify wherever they can publicly, make the deeds perpetrated in private, public in such a way that the public becomes uncomfortable with these behaviors happening in society. It goes without saying of course that they do so under anonymity for their clients. But they can speak in general terms.
psychologists and psychotherapists should become public advocates for the
victimized in society
In short, psychologists and psychotherapists, without really being able to understand what it is to be victimized, should become public advocates for the victimized in our society. When that happens, people will begin to see these problems as their problems rather than as problems of other individuals. So, all mental health professionals should become advocates for the weak, the persecuted. They should become agitators for positive change in society. Incidentally, when you make an atrocity public you upset the public. Maria Root talks about "insidious trauma" which cause those women who were never abused or raped to walk in fear of being abused or raped simply because rape has become public. Perhaps you may say at this point, I am a man. What do I know about the fear of rape while walking the streets alone at night? I'm not a woman! Even so, without fully understanding that fear, men should care.
psychologists and psychotherapists should listen to the pain of wounded hearts
and respond with compassion
Second, even though it is impossible for us, who were never abused to really understand the experience of the victims of abuse, we should listen with our soul to their stories of pain. Magda F, the lady I quoted earlier as saying that outsiders cannot understand, Magda F. as she wraps up telling her horrible Holocaust story to her sister looks up and says with surprise: "Sister, you are crying!!"
The other day, one of my clients, who was severely sexually abused as a child, told me that she had gone to a pastor and told him the story of her abuse. "And then, Harry," she added, "then John, the pastor cried. Harry, a pastor cried for me!! I can't tell you how healing that is for me, some one, a man, a man of God, crying for me." Maybe that is all psychologists and psychotherapists are asked to do. Perhaps we, healers of the soul are asked to listen to the pain of the wounded hearts in our society, without fully understanding it and to bear witness to the pain of these wounded hearts to society. And then to cry for them.