Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Renouncing Psychology

Deutsch: Phrenologie
Deutsch: Phrenologie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, maybe not quite yet. 

It did get your attention, though, didn't it? 

And it's true, I do have a beef with psychology. My introduction to psychology was accidental, a story many of you have heard. I wandered into a psych prof's office when I was getting signed up for a business degree, and the rest, as they say, was history. 

But these were academics. I got introduced to clinical psychology through Ann McAllister and Stuart Strenger, Ph.D.s who practiced together in Buckhead back in the '70s. They were wonderful clinicians and even better human beings, and I wanted to be like them when I grew up. 

Twenty years later, I was surrounded by so many psychologists whom I could not even like, never mind respect, that I began to wish I'd never let my counseling license go. I no longer wished to identify with the arrogance, callousness, unscientific thinking, unprofessional behavior, and outright greed that I was encountering on a daily basis. The profession, however, I still loved. I was proud of the science of psychology. 

Psychology was already changing, however, and I can't say I like the direction it has taken. So while I am not quite ready to disavow it, I do have a beef. 

Once upon a time, the scientists in psychology were all rat-runners. The psychotherapists were all theorists. And their theories generally took into account the whole human being. Psychotherapy was an emotional, intellectual, psychological -- dare I say it? -- even spiritual journey that the therapist and patient/client took together. 

And then, along came Skinner. That was the start of our slippery slope. 

Don't get me wrong: Behaviorism is a damn good theory, and behavioral therapies have some great applications. But what happened next was that, coincidentally with our long-standing desire to be taken seriously as doctors came the push to be included in insurance reimbursement, to be classed as healthcare providers. And that, my dears, was the beginning of the end as far as I'm concerned. 

 The number of mental illnesses we can diagnosis (and of course this is psychiatry's fault, not psychology's, but it stems from the same sources and we've been on board with it from the git-go) has multiplied astronomically from what it was 50 years ago. Everything's abnormal now, treatable, and most importantly from the point of view of many practitioners, reimbursable. 

The twin drives to be taken seriously and be paid as doctors has spawned the evidence-based practice movement, a child of the devil if ever there was one. Ironically, perhaps, it is also the part of the science of psychology with which I most identified in the early days. Why would we waste people's time and money, and offer false hope, for silly woo-woo therapies that don't work? Let's study what does! Sounds great, right? But somehow, in the process, we have reduced diagnosis and treatment if not to the level of the petri dish then to something scarily close to it.

Therapies are manualized. Follow this cookbook recipe with every client you have with this diagnosis, and they'll get better. It's pigeonholing clients, and reducing professionals to technicians. Everything, even assessment, is by the numbers. The person's humanity is out the window, all their experiences and dreams and complexity reduced to three symptoms from group A, two from group B, for a duration of not less than two years, and not due to some other specified disorder or circumstance listed in Appendix C.

Worse, the therapies don't work. Or they only work in the lab. One I got all excited about last year after a workshop turned out to be this sort of dud. Thirty percent of the potential participants in the big study its proponents were trumpeting were weeded out before the study ever started. They had more than one problem, or they were on medication, or whatever variation in their circumstances that normal human beings coming into clinician's offices every day exhibit. So at best, I'm thinking as I'm reading this, the new treatment works with 70% of people with this diagnosis, right?

Not so fast, Virginia. No fewer than 50% of the folk enrolled in the study dropped out! So now, if the new treatment helped every single one of the completers (which, of course, it didn't), we're talking about a therapy that is effective for 35% of the folk for whom a clinician might consider it. Thirty-five percent.

And yet this has now become the only approved therapy for this disorder.

I kid thee not. It works for maybe 35% of the population with this disorder, but if I don't deploy it with every one of them who walks through my front door, I will not be treating my people according to the standard of care, once this gets written into the standards, which it will. Mark my words.

Ironically, chasing the money has led us to fly directly in the face of the best and latest science, offering "treatments" that are absolutely proven not to work for "disorders" that are pretty much proven by now not to exist because they are lucrative. Jumping on the weight-loss bandwagon, as psychology has over the past year or two, is perhaps the best example.

I'm done.

I want to go back to sitting with my clients. And no, they're not patients. They're not sick! I want to go back to being with my clients, not sitting there trying to look attentive while running algorithms in my head or jumping ahead to what I'm supposed to say next according to the treatment protocol. I want to go back to the day when the therapeutic relationship was the primary healing factor, when my own best tool was my self, not a checklist with lines and boxes and graphs to complete to tell me what's the matter with the person. I want to go back to the day when my care was caring, not steps I followed in a manual, to a time when good therapeutic technique mattered, yes, but when there was an art to it.

Is that too much to ask?

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1 comment:

Lindsay said...

This is a really good post, though I'm sad that you had to write it.