"What we need are more kindly friends
and fewer professionals."

-Jeffrey Masson, Ph.D., a psychoanalyst, in
his book Against Therapy (Atheneum 1988, p. XV)

The best person to talk with about your problems in life usually is a good friend. It has been said, "Therapists are expen­sive friends." Like­wise, friends are inex­pensive "therapists".  Contrary to popular belief, and contrary to propaganda by mental health professionals, the training of psy­chia­trists, psy­chologists, and other mental health profes­sion­als does little or nothing to make them better equipped as counselors or "thera­pists".  It might seem logical for formal credentials like a Ph.D. in psychology or a psychiatrist's M.D., D.O., M.B.B.S., or M.B.Ch.B. degree or a social worker's M.S.W. degree to suggest a certain amount of compe­tence on his or her part. The truth, however, is more often the opposite: In general, the less a person who is offering his or her services as a counselor has in the way of formal creden­tials, the more likely he or she is to be a good coun­selor, since such a counsel­or has only competence (not creden­tials) to stand on.  Generally, the best person for you to talk with is a person who has worked himself or herself through the same problems you face in the nitty-gritty of life. You usually will benefit if you avoid the "profes­sion­als" who claim their value comes from their years of academic study or professional training.  Peter Breggin, M.D., a psychiatrist who does only counselling or "psychotherapy" and never recommends psychiatric "medications" (except while withdrawing from them) or electroshock or psychosurgery, put it this way in one of his books about how to do psychotherapy, The Heart of Being Helpful (Springer Publishing 1997, p. 69):

One solution requires recognizing the real qualities required for becoming a good psychotherapist. Advanced degrees, such as an M.D. or Ph.D., contribute little or nothing to a person's ability to do therapy. Instead, contemporary academic training and supervision can stifle intuitive skills and spontaneous caring. The competitiveness of the academic process winnows out more empathic people in favor of more obsessive and competitive ones. The arduous and largely irrelevant training required to obtain professional credentials encourages the graduates to demand higher prices for their services. The difficulty of getting the required degrees and the myth that the degrees confer an automatic level of expertise allow professionals to create licensure monopolies to enforce their higher prices.

Dr. Breggin makes a similar observation in his book Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition (Springer Publishing Co. 2008, p. 440):

Being an effective therapist begins with being a person that other people can trust with their most vulnerable feelings. In this regard, by creating an authoritarian and manip­u­la­tive attitude, most contemporary training programs in psycho­therapy do more harm than good.  They almost always teach a relativistic, self-protective ethic (doing what works; collaborating with psychiatrists; using drugs along with therapy; making cookie-cutter diagnoses; referring desperate or suicidal patients for drugs, electroshock, or incarcer­ation).

When I asked a licensed social worker with a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree who shortly before had been employed in a psychi­at­ric hospital whether she thought the psychiatrists she worked with had any special insight into people or their problems her answer was a re­sounding no.  I asked the same question of a judge who had exten­sive experience with psychi­atrists in his court­room, and he gave me the same answer and made the point just as emphati­cally. Simi­larly, I sought an opinion from a high school teacher who worked as a counsel­or help­ing young people overcome addic­tion or habitua­tion to illicit plea­sure drugs who both as a teacher and as a drug coun­selor had consider­able experience with psychi­a­trists and people who consult them.  I asked him if he felt psychi­atrists have more understanding of human nature or human prob­lems than himself or other people who are not mental health profes­sionals.  He thought a few moments and then replied, "No, as a matter of fact, I don't."
          In his book Against Therapy, a critique of psychotherapy published in 1988, psychoana­lyst Jeffrey Masson, Ph.D., speaks of what he calls "The myth of training" of psychotherapists:

Therapists usually boast of their "exper­tise," the "elaborate training" they have under­gone. When discussing competence, one often hears phrases like "he has been well trained," or "he has had specialized training." People are rather vague about the nature of psychotherapy training, and therapists rarely encourage their patients to ask in any detail. They don't for a good reason: often their training is very modest. ... The most elabo­rate and lengthy training programs are the classic psycho­analytic ones, but this is not because of the amount of material that has to be covered. I spent eight years in my psychoanalytic training. In retrospect, I feel I could have learned the basic ideas in about eight hours of concentrated reading [Atheneum/Mac­millan Co., p. 248].

          In his lecture at the 2011 Empathic Therapy Conference in Syracuse, New York, Alaska psychiatrist Douglas C. Smith, M.D. (Doug Smith), said he personally had psychoanalytic training, which is a separate program unrelated to a typical psychiatrist's three or four years of residency training in psychiatry, but Dr. Smith said training in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is not included in a typical psychiatrist's training.  Dr. Smith said "You don't get therapy training in psychiatry. No one does.  You get just a smattering, but you don't even learn inter­personal skills, let alone therapy in psychiatric training." In his book The Death of Psychiatry (Penguin Books 1974, p. 65), psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., says "Psychiatrists, then, who turn out to be good 'psychotherapists' do so in spite of, not because of, their medical training." Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, M.D., says the training psy­chia­trists get is actually counter­productive:
We get trained out of our humanity even if we had a lot to begin with. And then what do we learn? Now as a psychiatrist we don't learn to do therapy.  That's going to be done by the social worker, you see, because psychiatry went broke trying to compete doing therapy with social workers and psychologists: We charged twice as much and were not as good.  So it got taken over by the social workers and psychologists and family therapists. We don't even get trained in it anymore.  I was, but I'm 70 years old! The young guys [young psychiatrists] don't get trained in therapy.  So how are they going to change? They don't have anything! The only tools my colleagues have is drugs and shock treatment and an occasional lobotomy. [Peter Breggin, M.D., Changing Our Minds—Clear Thoughts on Depression, Drugs, and Alternative Paths to a Healthy Mind, Living Life Films (DVD), 2004/2010, "Extras" interviews]

Psychiatrist Daniel Carlat, M.D., disagrees, but his description of psychotherapy training may make you question its value:
In all psychiatric programs there is a large psychotherapy component, and what that typically means is that you are really thrown into the room—it's kind of like being thrown into a lion's den, is how it feels when you're first doing therapy, because you have no idea what to say—you get basically thrown into a room with a patient, you wallow around a bit, try to be as helpful as you can, and then you leave, and you talk to a supervisor, and you learn that way. ["Daniel Carlat-Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry", YouTube.com, at 33:41, uploaded Sept. 11, 2012]

In the same lecture (at 6:45), and in his book Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry (p. 189), Dr. Carlat says in a 2005 survey it was found that 29% of psychiatry visits entail psychotherapy and that only 11% of psychiatrists offer psychotherapy to all of their patients. The vast majority of what psychiatrists do now is prescribe counterproductive "medications".
          A psychiatrist's perspective on whether psychotherapy is part of psychiatric training probably depends on whether it was part of his or her training.
          In his book Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health (HarperCollins 2003, p. xviii), psychiatrist William Glasser, M.D., says "Many medical schools, such as the prestigious Johns Hopkins, no longer require their psychiatric trainees to study psychotherapy." In a Mood Disorders Symposium I attended at Johns Hopkins, called by Joann Ellison Rodgers, its Director of Media Relations, "the home of biological psychiatry", I heard Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor Raymond DePaulo, M.D., say "medi­ca­tions" and ECT and little or no psychotherapy are how he treats patients.
          Some of the admissions about psychiatrists and psychologists having no useful expertise I have heard were from people I have known as friends who happened to be practicing psychologists. Illustra­tive are the remarks of one Ph.D. psy­chologist in the 1970s who told me how amazed members of his family were that people would pay him $50 an hour just to discuss their problems with him. He admitted it really didn't make any sense, since they could do the same thing with lots of other people for free. "Of course," he said, "I'm still going to go to my office tomorrow and collect $50 an hour for talking with people." Due to inflation, today the cost is usually much higher than $50 per hour.
            In his book The Reign of Error, pub­lished in 1984, psychiatrist Lee Coleman, M.D., says "psychiatrists have no valid scientific tools or expertise" (Beacon Press, p. ix).
           Garth Wood, M.D., a British psychia­trist, included the following statements in his book The Myth of Neurosis published in 1986:
Popularly it is believed that psychiatrists have the ability to "see into our minds," to understand the workings of the psyche, and possibly even to predict our future behavior. In reality, of course, they possess no such skills. ... In truth there are very few illnesses in psychiatry, and even fewer successful treatments ... in the postu­lating of hypothetical psychological and biochem­ical causative processes, psychia­trists have tended to lay a smokescreen over the indubi­ta­ble fact that in the real world it is not hard either to recognize or to treat the large majority of psychi­atric illnesses. It would take the intelligent layman a long week­end to learn how to do it. [Harper & Row 1986, p. 28‑30; emphasis in original]

          A cover article in Time magazine in 1979 titled "Psychiatry's Depression" made this obser­vation: "Psychiatrists themselves acknowledge that their profession often smacks of modern alche­my​—​full of jargon, obfuscation and mystifi­cation, but precious little real knowledge" ("Psy­chiatry on the Couch", Time magazine, April 2, 1979, p. 74).
          I once asked a social worker employed as a counselor for troubled adolescents whose back­ground included individual and family counsel­ling if she felt the training and education she received as part of her M.S.W. degree made her more quali­fied to do her job than she would have been with­out it. She told me a part of her wanted to say yes, because after all, she had put a lot of time and effort into her education and training. She also mentioned a few minor bene­fits of having re­ceived the training. She conclud­ed, however, "Most of the things I've done I think I could have done without the education."
          Most mental health professionals howev­er have an under­standable emotional or mental block when it comes to admitting they have devoted, actually wasted, several years of their lives in graduate or professional education and are no more able to under­stand or help people than they were when they started.  Many know it and won't, or will only rarely, admit it to others.  Some cannot even admit it to them­selves.
          Hans J. Eysenck, Ph.D., a psychology profes­sor at the University of London, is described in the Decem­ber 1988 issue of Psychology Today maga­zine by the magazine's senior editor as "one of the world's best-known and most respected psychologists" (p. 27). This highly regarded psychologist states this conclu­sion about psycho­therapy: "I have argued in the past and quoted numerous experiments in support of these argu­ments, that there is little evidence for the practi­cal efficacy of psychother­apy...the evidence on which these views are based is quite strong and is growing in strength every year" ("Learn­ing Theory and Behavior Therapy", in Behavior Thera­py and the Neuro­ses, Pergamon Press 1960, p. 4). Dr. Eysenck said that in 1960. In 1983 he said this: "The effective­ness of psycho­therapy has always been the specter at the wed­ding feast, where thousands of psychia­trists, psychoanalysts, clinical psychologists, social workers, and others celebrate the happy event and pay no heed to the need for evidence for the premature crystallization of their spurious ortho­doxies" ("The Effectiveness of Psychothera­py: The Specter at the Feast", The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6, p. 290).
          In The Emperor's New Clothes: The Naked Truth About the New Psychology, (Cross­way Books 1985) William Kirk Kilpat­rick, professor of educational psychology at Boston College, argues that we have attribut­ed expertise to psychol­ogists that they do not possess.
          In 1983 three psychology professors at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, in an article published in The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a profession­al journal, titled "An analysis of psy­chotherapy versus placebo studies" question the value of "psychotherapy".  The abstract of the article ends with these words: "...there is no evidence that the benefits of psycho­therapy are greater than those of placebo treat­ment" (Leslie Prioleau, et al., Vol. 6, p. 275).
          George R. Bach, Ph.D., a psychologist, and coauthor Ronald M. Deutsch, in their book Pairing, make this observation: "There are not enough therapists to listen even to a tiny fraction of these couples, and, besides, the therapy is not too successful.  Popular impression to the con­trary, when therapists, such as marriage counsel­ors, hold meetings, one primary topic almost invariably is: why is their therapy effective in only a minority of cases?" (Peter H. Wyden, Inc. 1970, p. 9; empha­sis in original).
          In his book What's Wrong With the Mental Health Movement, K. Edward Renner, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychol­ogy at the University of Illinois at Urbana, makes this obser­vation in his chapter titled "Psychothera­py": "When control groups are included, those pa­tients recover to the same extent as those patients receiv­ing treatment. ...The enthusiastic belief expressed by therapists about their effec­tiveness, in spite of the negative results, illus­trates the problem of the therapist who must make important human deci­sions many times each day. He is in a very awk­ward posi­tion unless he believes in what he is doing" (Nelson‑Hall Pub­lishers 1975, pp. 138‑139; emphasis in original).
          An example of this occurred at the psy­chiatric clinic at the Kaiser Foundation Hospi­tal in Oakland, California. Of 150 persons who sought psychotherapy, all were placed in psycho­therapy except for 23 who were placed on a waiting list.  After six months, doctors checked on those placed on the waiting list to see how much better the people receiving psychotherapy were doing than those receiving none. Instead, the authors of the study found that "The therapy patients did not improve significantly more than did the waiting list controls" (Martin L. Gross, The Psychological Society, Random House 1978, p. 18).
         In the second edition of his book Is Alco­hol­ism Hereditary?, published in 1988, Donald W. Goodwin, M.D., says "There is hardly any scien­tif­ic evidence that psychotherapy for alco­holism or any other condition helps anyone" (Ballantine Books 1988, p. 180).
           Dr. Vernon Coleman, a British physician, criticizes psychotherapy in a chapter titled "Why Mental Health Care Isn't Always Worth Having" in his book How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You (European Medical Journal 2003, p. 115):
What do psychotherapists do? Good question. Basically, they listen to (and occasionally talk to) their patients.
          Do they do any good? I don't think so.
          I suspect that a chat to a hairdressser or to a barman will do a patient as much good as a chat to a psycho­therapist and that patients who are treated with psycho­therapy are slightly more likely to become mentally ill, become alcoholics or commit a major crime than are patients who get no psychotherapy.

          British psychiatrist Garth Wood, M.D., criticizes modern day "psychotherapy" in his book The Myth of Neurosis (HarperCollins 1986, pp. 2-3):
These misguided myth-makers have en­couraged us to believe that the infinite myster­ies of the mind are as amenable to their pro­fessed exper­tise as plumbing or an automobile engine. This is rubbish. In fact these talk thera­pists, practitioners of cosmetic psychiatry, have no relevant training or skills in the art of living life. It is remarkable that they have fooled us for so long. ... Cowed by their status as men of science, deferring to their academic titles, be­witched by the initials after their names, we, the gullible, lap up their preten­tious nonsense as if it were the gospel truth. We must learn to recog­nize them for what they are—posses­sors of no special knowledge of the human psyche, who have, nonetheless, chosen to earn their living from the dissemination of the myth that they do indeed know how the mind works.

          The superiority of conversation with friends over professional psychotherapy is illus­trated in the remarks of a woman interviewed by Barbara Gordon in her book Jennifer Fever:
For Fran­cesca, psychotherapy was a mixed blessing. "It helps, but not nearly as much as a few in­tense, good friends," she said. "...I pay a thera­pist to listen to me, and at the end of forty-five minutes he says, "That's all the time we have; we'll contin­ue next week." A friend, on the other hand, you can call any hour and say, "I need to talk to you." They're there, and they really love you and want to help." [Harper & Row 1988, p. 132]

In an inter­view with another woman on the same page of the same book, Ms. Gordon was told this, refer­ring to pain from losing a husband: "Good shrinks can probably deal with it; the two I went to didn't help."
          Martin L. Gross, a member of the facul­ty of The New School For Social Research and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social History at New York University, has argued that "the con­cept that a man who is trained in medicine or a Ph.D. in psychology has a special insight into human nature is false" (quoted in "And ACLU Chimes In: Psychiatric Treatment May Be Value­less", Behavior Today, June 12, 1978, p. 3).
          The June 1986 issue of Science 86 maga­zine included an article by Bernie Zilber­geld, a psychologist, suggesting that "we're hooked on therapy when talking to a friend might do as well." He cites a Vanderbilt University study that com­pared professional "psycho­thera­py" with discuss­ing one's problems with interest­ed but untrained per­sons: "Young men with garden variety neuroses were assigned to one of two groups of therapists. The first consisted of the best professional psycho­therapists in the area, with an average 23 years of experience; the second group was made up of college professors with reputations of being good people to talk to but with no training in psycho­ther­apy. Thera­pists and professors saw their clients for no more than 25 hours. The results: "Patients undergoing psychotherapy with college professors showed ... quantitatively as much improvement as pa­tients treated by experienced professional psycho­thera­pists" (p. 48). Zilbergeld pointed out that "the Vanderbilt study mentioned earlier is far from the only one debunking the claims of professional superiority" (Id, p. 50).
          Similarly, in his book House of Cards—Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth (Free Press 1994, pp. 8 & 101-102), psychology professor and former president of the Oregon Psychological Association Robyn M. Dawes, Ph.D., says this:
Virtually all the research—and this book will reference more than three hundred empirical investigations and summaries of investigations—found that these professionals' claims to superior intuitive insight, understanding, and skill as therapists are simply invalid. ... Evaluating the efficacy of psychotherapy has led us to conclude that professional psychologists are no better psychotherapists than anyone else with minimal training—sometimes than those without any training at all; the professionals were merely more expensive.

          In his defense of psychotherapy in a book published in 1986, psy­chi­atrist E. Fuller Torrey makes this argu­ment: "Say­ing that psychotherapy does not work is like saying that prostitution does not work; those enjoying the benefits of these per­sonal transactions will continue doing so, regard­less of what the experts and re­searchers have to say" (Witchdoctors and Psychia­trists: The Com­mon Roots of Psycho­therapy and Its Future, Jason Aronson, Inc., p. 198). If you really are desper­ate for someone to talk to, then "psy­cho­therapy" may in fact be enjoyable.  However, if you have a good network of friends or family who will talk to you confiden­tially and with your best interests at heart, there is no need for "psy­chothera­py".  Just as a happi­ly married man or a man with a good sexually inti­mate relationship with a steady girlfriend is unlike­ly to have reason to hire a prostitute, people with good friendships with other people are unlikely to need "psycho­ther­apy".
          What if you need information about how to solve a problem your family and friends can't help you with? In that case usually the best person for you to talk to is someone who has lived through or is living through the same prob­lem you face. Sometimes a good way to find such people is attending meetings of a group organized to deal with the kind of problem you have.  Examples (alphabetically) are Alcoholics Anonymous, Alzhei­mer's Support groups, Ago­raphobia Self‑Help groups, Al‑Anon (for rela­tives of alco­holics), Amputee Support groups, Anorexia/Bulimia sup­port groups, The Aphasia Group, Arthritics Caring Together, Children of Alcohol­ics, Coping With Cancer, Debtors Anon­ymous, divorce adjustment groups, father's rights associ­ations (for divorced men), Gamblers Anon­y­mous, herpes support and social groups such as HELP, Mothers Without Custo­dy, Nar‑Anon (for rela­tives of narcotics abusers), Narcotics Anony­mous, Overeaters Anon­ymous, Parents Anony­mous, Parents in Shared Custo­dies, Parents With­out Partners, Potsmokers Anonymous, Resolve, Inc., (a sup­port group that deals with the problems of infer­tility and miscar­riage), Shopaholics Ltd., singles groups, Smokers Anonymous, The Stutter­ing Support Group, wo­men's groups, and unwed mothers assistance organizations. Local newspa­pers often have listings of meetings of such organi­zations.  Someone who is a comrade with prob­lems simi­lar to yours and who has according­ly spent much of his or her life trying to find solu­tions for those problems is far more likely to know the best way for you to deal with your situation than a "pro­fessional" who supposedly is an expert at solving all kinds of problems for all kinds of people.  The myth of professional psy­chotherapy training and skill is so widespread, however, that you may find people you meet in self-help groups will recommend or refer you to a particular psy­chiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. If you hear this, remember what you read (above) and disregard these recommen­dations and referrals and get what­ever counsel­ling you need from nonprofession­al people in the group who have direct experience in their own lives with the kind of problem that troubles you. You will probably get better advice and—​importantly—​you will avoid psychiatric stigma.
          In their book A New Guide To Rational Living, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist, and Robert A. Harper, Ph.D., say they follow "an educational rather than a psycho­dynamic or a medical model of psychotherapy" (Wilshire Book Co. 1975, p. 219).  In his book Get Ready, Get Set...Prepare to Make Psycho­therapy A Successful Experience For You, psy­chotherapist and psychology professor Har­vey L. Saxton, Ph.D., says "What is psychotherapy?  Psychotherapy is simply a matter of reeducation.  Reeducation implies letting go of the outmoded and learning the new and workable.  Patients, in one sense, are like students; they need the capac­ity and willingness to engage in the process of relearn­ing" (University Press of America 1993, p. 1).  In their book When Talk Is Not Cheap, Or How To Find the Right Therapist When You Don't Know Where To Begin, psychother­apist Mandy Aftel, M.A., and Professor Robin Lak­off, Ph.D., say "Therapy...is a form of educa­tion" (Warner Books 1985, p. 29).  Since so-called psychother­a­py is a form of educa­tion, not therapy, you need not a doctor or thera­pist but a person who is qualified to educate in the area of living in which you are having diffi­culty. The place to look for someone to talk to is where you are likely to find someone who has this knowl­edge. Someone whose claim to exper­tise is a "profes­sional" psy­chotherapy training program rarely if ever is the person who can best advise you.

Recommended Videos

Peter R. Breggin, M.D., Empathic Therapy, a psychotherapy training film, available at breggin.com: In this film, Dr. Breggin shows how anyone, including a person without professional training, can be an effective "psychotherapist".  Applying the principles in Dr. Breggin's 22 minute introduction will make you a better person to talk with than many if not most professional "psychotherapists".

  A Former Therapist's Critique of Psycho­therapy               by Daniel Mackler, M.S.W.

copyright 2018
Permission to reproduce is granted
provided the reproduction is accurate
and proper credit is given

The author is a volunteer (pro bono) attorney for the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (psychrights.org) and may be reached at wayneramsay (at) mail (dot) com

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