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Is Mental Health Treatment A Fraud?

Opinion Editorial
March 14, 2000

By Linda Gorman

According to Robyn Dawes, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University and a distinguished researcher on psychological evaluation and decision-making, the evidence is quite clear.  Mental health practitioners possess no special insights into the individual human condition.

Dawes agrees that psychology has “developed a number of effective measurement devices and ways to predict future behavior.”  But those devices, he says, are statistical in nature, model aggregate behavior, and can be administered and interpreted by people with minimal training.  The best known predictor of future behavior is past overt behavior.  The data offer no support for the claim that an “expert” can analyze an individual’s life in great detail and determine what caused what.  “No personal skill has yet been developed–or assessment instrument devised–that allows us to predict who will change, when, and how,” he writes.[1]

If true, Professor Dawes’ arguments, which are painstakingly laid out in his book, House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth, have enormous implications for public policy.  We live in a time when mental health “experts” are treated with a level of respect bordering on reverence.  Like the clergy in times past, the profession as a whole is in danger of becoming arrogant, paternalistic, and increasingly contemptuous of individual rights.

If you are an adult and you want to use a home test kit to test for HIV, the American Psychological Association thinks you need counseling.  Since home tests would let people skip mandated pre and post test HIV counseling sessions with big Mother, the APA urged the FDA to forbid their development.  Has something bad happened at a school?  Flood the school with professional grief counselors.  They have never met your child, but they can understand his woe and fix his psyche better than you can.

The conduct of mental health professionals in child abuse investigations bolsters Professor Dawes’ case.  Suspect abuse?  Mental health “experts” arrive with their hodgepodge symptom lists, their “children never lie” nonsense, and their manipulative interview techniques.  After enough bullying by adults unwilling to take no for an answer, even the toughest child will agree that he was raped weekly in church.  When 8-year-old Alicia Wade was sexually attacked in her home, she steadfastly denied that her father had done it.  It took a year of “therapy” to change her story.  After the mental health “experts” delivered their verdict, her father was charged with the crime.  Only then did DNA tests ordered by the courts clear him and turn up the real attacker.

The misuse of psychology in the child abuse witch hunt has become such a scandal that Dawes and others advise that “If the reader suspects a child of having been abused, do not permit that child to be examined by any licensed expert but a medical one.  Otherwise the process of examination may well end with [the child] believing that he or she was abused, even if no abuse actually occurredParents have the right to refuse to allow their child to be interrogated and tested.  Exercise that right.”[2]

Legally, we have given mental health workers an unparalleled power to use their opinions to affect the fates of other individuals.  Their intuitive opinions constitute evidence, and streams of clients are forced into the “counseling” sessions they recommend.  Since Columbine, they have been claiming that since they can identify and treat children prone to violence and “other disorders,” we should write them a blank check.

Despite the loose talk about “treating” the “disease” of mental illness, objective definitions of mental illness are scarce.  Medical quality data on the safety and effectiveness of psychological treatments are lacking, and few of the diagnostic categories mental health workers use have the combination of a fairly well understood cause, a physiological nature, a set of associated behaviors (symptoms), and a fairly predictable course over time that characterizes a physical illness.[3]

Given the horrific abuses perpetrated by mental health professionals in child abuse cases, the growing body of evidence on its misuse of drugs like Ritalin, and the lack of evidence that their “treatments” are safe and effective, one would think that officials would hesitate to give them carte blanche in the schools.[4]  One would be wrong.  In a nightmare replay of the reporting requirements that caused the child abuse fiasco, SB 112 would require that teachers and any other public school employee who observe a student that they might “reasonably believe would benefit from mental health services” report him to a liaison for a community mental health center.”  The community mental health center would then contact his parent for “permission” to assess the child.

With rich pots of money from third party insurers at stake and a state bureaucracy conditioned to consider parents abusive monsters, does anyone give a fig for the chances of a parent who refuses his consent?

[[1]] Robyn M. Dawes.  1994.  House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Build on Myth, New York: The Free Press, pp. 26-7.
[2] Robyn M. Dawes.  1994.  House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Build on Myth, New York: The Free Press, p. 166.
[3] Ibid. p. 66.  Attributed to H. Tristram Englehardt, Jr.
[4] For an overview of some of the issues involved see Spencer Harris Morfit.  1994.  “Challenge to Psychotherapy:  An Open Letter to Psychotherapists Concerning Clinical Practice as Seen Through the Lens of the ‘Recovered’ or ‘False Memory Debate,'” Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 20, 4, pp. 234-245.  http://www.fmsfonline.org/morfit1.html, as of 6 March 2000.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.

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