Sunday, October 18, 2009

If We Are To Soar Like Eagles

We Need Both A Left And A Right Wing

In the world of free speech, religion and other human rights here in Canada, many of them made up as we go along, we lose sight of the fact that the parties that are making up these rights are seeking to do what they believe is best for society.

But, what has happened is that a veil of political correctness has crept over our society, and most of us have quietly let it happen. That is one of the premises of a book written by two members of the APA (American Psychological Association) titled "Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm". The real surprise is that the two members who have written this book are self-identified "lifelong liberal activists" and influential leaders of the APA, who vigorously oppose the illiberalism of their fellow psychologists. They are Rogers H. Wright and Nicholas A. Cummings, and what they have to say is astounding, as much for from whence it came as for what it says.

Here is what the Washington Times said about the book:
Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm documents and critiques the ascent of social activism over open-minded scintific inquiry and quality care in the current menatl health establishment. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about menatl health care in this country. The book casts a eye on much of the psychological and psychiatric professional associations' social activism over the last 30 years. Drs. Wright and Cummings cannot be dismissed as disgruntled conservatives. Their deeds validate their claim to be lifelong liberal activists..
Here is how Amazon describes the book for potential purchasers:
Is there a crisis in mental health? If there isn't one now, Nick Cummings and Rog Wright will surely make some waves with this collection of essays commenting on the state of the field in tones ranging from constructive criticism to defiant rebellion. No topic is too politically correct, no tenet too sacred, and no reputation too aloof from these probing writers with an eye for controversy. And yet, in this unique instance, the accusations, questions, doubts and call-to-arms come from insiders, indeed central players, within the very organizations they attack. Among the contributors to the book are two past presidents of the American Psychological Association, four past members of the APA board of directors, and two recipients of the American Psychological Foundation's Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement In Practice, the organization's highest honor. The editors, Cummings and Wright, are each dynamos in the field, and two of the infamous "dirty dozen" who fought for practitioner representation within the APA governance, more rigorous training standards, professionalism, and stronger advocacy at the national level. All of which begs the question, in Dr. Cummings' own words, "why would two lifelong activists edit this controversial book when our lives have been characterized by progressive social and political advocacy?" Their answer - because no one else could, and it is time that someone did.

This book takes as its inspiration the assumption that the atmosphere of intellectual openness, scientific inquiry, aspiration towards diversity, and freedom from political pressure that once flourished in the American Psychological Association has been eclipsed by an "ultra-liberal agenda," in which voices of dissent, controversial points of view, and minority groups are intimidated, ridiculed and censored. Chapters written by established and revered practitioners explore these important issues within the contexts of social change, the ways in which mental health services providers view themselves and their products, and various economic factors that have affected healthcare cost structure and delivery. In short, this book is intended to help consumers, practitioners, and policy makers to become better educated about a variety of recent issues and trends that have significantly changed the mental health fields.
Here is a quote from the authors, not coincidentally what I have paraphrased as my title above:
Sociopolitical diversity is so badly needed in APA, that "If psychology is to soar like an eagle, it needs both a left wing and a right wing ...We must broaden the debate by reducing the ridicule and intimidation of ideas contrary to the thinking of the establishment in the field of psychology"
Of course, it is my opinion that the APA is not the only place where sociopolitical diversity is wanting. It is gone or going throughout our society in both the US and Canada.

On the topic of political correctness and its damage to science, Dr. Wright opines:
(He) notes that the damage done by the obsession with political correctness prevents important research from being conducted, and contributes to personal attacks on the researchers themselves (p. xxvii). Accusations of bias, racism and bigotry have a chilling effect not only upon the research and the researchers, but upon the training of mental-health professionals and the delivery of services (p.xxviii).
An area of exposure is that of Gay Activism within the APA, and the impact of political correctness on therapies and policies, as follows:
In the current climate, it is inevitable that conflict arises among the various subgroups in the marketplace. For example, gay groups within the APA have repeatedly tried to persuade the association to adopt ethical standards that prohibit therapists from offering psychotherapeutic services designed to ameliorate 'gayness,' on the basis that such efforts are unsuccessful and harmful to the consumer. Psychologists who do not agree with this premise are termed homophobic.

Such efforts are especially troubling because they abrogate the patient's right to choose the therapist and determine the therapeutic goals. They also deny the reality of data demonstrating that psychotherapy can be effective in changing sexual preferences in patients who have a desire to do so (pp. xxx).

This is particularly troubling for the many people with Same Sex Attraction (SSA) where it is unwanted. If, as has been shown scientifically, in the instance of individuals who wish to change their sexual orientation there is help, why is it beneficial for the APA to put down that assistance in the name of political correctness? It surely cannot be done on the science, since the science proves that it can be effective. The most troubling part of this, of course is that the patient needs to have the right to choose his/her therapeutic goals with the therapist of his/her choice.

Remembering that the authors of this book come from a very liberal background, it is interesting to see them question some of the things done in the APA on the basis of political correctness, that have become part of accepted standards in the APA. They give as an example the reformulation of psychiatric diagnosis because of pressure from activists, and state the following:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association yielded suddenly and completely to political pressure when in 1973 it removed homosexuality as a treatable aberrant condition. A political firestorm had been created by gay activists within psychiatry, with intense opposition to normalizing homosexuality coming from a few outspoken psychiatrists who were demonized and even threatened, rather than scientifically refuted.

Psychiatry's House of Delegates sidestepped the conflict by putting the matter to a vote of the membership, marking the first time in the history of healthcare that a diagnosis or lack of diagnosis was decided by popular vote rather than scientific evidence (p. 9).

In this particular case, the authors are not arguing with the outcome, but how it came about, by a vote, not by science. As Cummings noted in the Chapter her wrote on the topic:
However, the resolution carried with it a "proscription that appropriate and needed research would be conducted to substantiate these decisions." Cummings "watched with dismay as there was no effort on the part of APA to promote or even encourage such required research" (p. 9).
In the same chapter, the authors discuss an APA push to label treatment of unwanted SSA unethical:
... this did not prevent its Council of Representatives in 2002 from stampeding into a motion to declare the treatment of homosexuality unethical. This was done with the intent of perpetuating homosexuality, even when the homosexual patient willingly and even eagerly seeks treatment. The argument was that because homosexuality is not an illness, its treatment is unnecessary and unethical.

Curiously, and rightly so, there was no counterargument against psychological interventions conducted by gay therapists to help patients be gay,...Vigorously pushed by the gay lobby, it was eventually seen by a sufficient number of Council members as runaway political correctness and was defeated by the narrowest of margins.

In a series of courageous letters to the various components of APA, former president Robert Perloff referred to the willingness of many psychologists to trample patients' rights to treatment in the interest of political correctness. He pointed out that making such treatment unethical would deprive a patient of a treatment choice because the threat of sanctions would eliminate any psychologist who engaged in such treatment. Although the resolution was narrowly defeated, this has not stopped its proponents from deriding colleagues who provide such treatment to patients seeking it (p. 18).

But, much of the purpose of the book is to discuss the harmful effects of political correctness in society. The authors note, as scientists that there is no empirical data to study about this topic since it is "politically incorrect to question political correctness".

But, they pose two questions and then offer hypotheses for evaluation of the questions. The questions are "What psychological functions does political correctness fulfill for the individual?" and "What is the attraction of political correctness to certain personalities?"

The hypotheses are as follows:
  • Political Correctness Harbors Hostility
  • Political Correctness Reflects Narcissism
  • Political Correctness Masks Histrionics
  • Political Correctness Functions as Instant Morality
  • Political Correctness Wields Power
  • Political Correctness Serves as Distraction
  • Political Correctness Involves Intimidation
  • Political Correctness Lacks Alternatives
Tomorrow, I will give their take on victimhood, and on homophobia.

I find their writing to be most intriguing, bearing in mind their liberal backgrounds, and their strong desire to stay with the science. It is a valuable approach to take. Much of the screaming going on about areas that the APA works in are because patients, and those observing from the outside are unable to see the scientific basis of some of the things that are being taught and then said along the way. We, the unwashed are not by our natures stupid. We know a whitewash when we see one, so many of us want answers not politically sanitized psychobabble. Good on them for writing a difficult book.

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