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Are many therapists like science deniers?

Mary S

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I just came across this website, titled "How to Talk to a Science Denier". As I read it, it seemed to me that therapists often are like science deniers. So I am wondering if the advice in the website about how to talk to science deniers might also help someone talk to a therapist. Has anyone on this list actually tried some of the methods in the linked website? If so, how did it go?

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 10/13/2022 at 4:31 PM, disequilibrium1 said:

My therapists unfailingly claimed their version of The Truth, even when it was about me. I'd say something--they talked over me.  They claimed supremacy, burying my interpretations, opinions and observations when it conflicted with theirs.

Yes, they so often sounded arrogant, like they knew it all --  and who was I (a mere client) to disagree with them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, it might seem crude to reduce therapists to two groupings... but I'm going to do it anyway.

There are the more process based or experiential models, that might have more of their roots in, say, new-age movements, a more spiritual basis, more abstract sources, notions of medical science from some time ago (like Freud), or simply originate outside, initially, from academia, and they will, most likely, have less in the way of academic studies to point to in order to legitimise themselves in the face of scrutiny. However, this is not always the case. Some of this ilk do originate within academia. For instance, Carl Rogers was meticulous in his approach regarding gathering data with the aim of making the client-centred approach empirical (in theory). Lacking this academic interest doesn't mean they are less worthy than other models, I would contend. I'd say it's much more arbitrary than this, and a big factor is who is founding the model in the first place. A careerist psychologist with a standing in the field has a much better chance of gaining approval and funding for studies, for obvious reasons, also with a better prospect of other academics attempting to replicate those studies, than someone on the outside looking in. Also, health insurance companies just might have an interest in funding studies of limited session models, but I cannot think why *extracts tongue from cheek*. Of course, notoriously, L. Ron Hubbard was someone on the outside looking in, and he - thank the heavens - didn't gain mainstream approval for his 'model', not that it prevented him from getting rich off of it, but, frankly, his methods are arguably no less arbitrary than the so-called empirical ones.

Meanwhile, there are the 'evidence-based' models, which are embraced to the bosom of academic clinical psychology, and trumpet their empirical credentials directly into the eardrums of not only to the afflicted, but to their loved-ones, to multiple government departments worldwide, and, I believe, they have transmissions making their way to the outer reaches of our solar system as I type, just in case those intergalactic denizens are feeling stressed by their travels.

The trouble is that claims of proof don't always come with credibility, and this is arguably the case with even the most vociferous of flag-bearing empiricist clinicians. In the NHS, here in the UK, not only is there such downward managerial pressure that numbers are fudged on the way upwards to appease the paymasters, but the very models themselves, by design, punish the clients (through interpersonal means) that don't display improvement, and reward them when they display even a modicum of compliance, which means that the validity of any self-reporting is highly questionable. If someone was clearly unpleasant towards any of us when we displayed one behaviour, but nice as pie when we did the opposite, but all in a subtle and sneaky enough fashion to mask the agenda, the vast majority of us would be vulnerable towards complying, and trying to please the individual, even if we didn't know we were doing so. This, actually, I would contend, forms much of the basis of contemporary clinical psychology. It's not so much the science of helping as the science of compliance-gaining. This, much of the time, is less about the outcome - long-term - for the client, and more about a statement upon discharge that can be used as evidence on behalf of the clinician, agency/institution, and model itself. I've done this myself, as a client, and shortly afterwards, in confusion, wondered why the hell I did, as it dawned on me that I was no better off for the treatment. The bulk of these types of models consists of Milgram, Bandura, Skinner et al. distilled into a methodology of interpersonal skills that are meant to be imperceptible as skills, as methodology.

The first group, the more experiential tribe, also have 'clinical skills'. You are trained like a parrot. I know, I've done it. The second group also are trained in workshops, with role-plays most prominent in BOTH settings (only with more precise technical tinkering in the second group). You are trained to be fluid, to be reflexive, for it to blend and seem 'natural'. Indeed, psychologists will even use terms like 'authentic' (without irony), which basically means that it SEEMS authentic to the client, even if it is highly rehearsed and hence simulated.

Also, regardless of the model, therapists are notoriously evasive of questions about their methods, themselves, or, well, anything other than you, the client. They feel entitled to be the interrogator and to extract all the data not by torture (arguably), but through (manufactured) 'trust'. We all know how therapists answer questions with questions. Turning the tables in this way is so standard, it's really a cliché and satire fodder. 'Socratic Questioning' is a standard method in clinical psychology which really is less about the name it's branded with and his dialectical method, and more about being a disruption technique that apes the junior that repeats 'why?' ad nauseam until mental exasperation means we have no answers left, dagnammit. These are slippery fish indeed.

My point is this (after my typical lack of brevity): even with a science denier, they might at least engage in a discourse. Therapists are incredibly hard to engage or pin down. Try hard enough, you'll probably be ejected from the 'alliance'. Also, clinicians of certain tribes will make claims of empiricism that, in practice, are highly questionable. To be fair, they are far from being in the only industry that do this. The pharmaceutical industry, for instance, are serial offenders in this respect. The link provided in the original post references the tobacco industry. With money, a PR company (which essentially consists of professionals trained in influence psychology) and the open palms of university departments starved of funding, 'science' can effectively be bought as easily as a chimp with a bag of bananas.

In the discourse about science and any counterpoint, it probably is also relevant that some claims are either dubious, disputable, or downright fraudulent even if they have been published in a 'prestigious' journal. It doesn't make one a moron to question the quality of all published studies, or to point out factors such as the file-drawer effect, institutional or journal bias, or the very human elements of pressure to not only publish, but publish certain kinds of studies that fall upon academics. Sadly, academia isn't operating in a sheltered, objective environment, devoid of the human politics that undermine all other institutions. Some fields are, admittedly, more objective. Psychology isn't one of them, in my opinion.

Obviously, science deniers can be devoid of logic and be spouting baseless rhetoric. They can be somewhat easy to expose, even if they then retreat to the choir that has previously been preached to. However, it can be social anathema to question the source of scientific assertions, as if it renders the sceptic into the bracket of backwards, time-warped, Cro-Magnon twit simply for asking. Perhaps, we should question both the denier and the believer in equal measure. Therapists can, essentially, be both.

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