Psychology and politics

Is psychology a science? It has obtained the status over the years and what follows is an argument for a re-evaluation.  In addition, it is argued here that the understanding of co- incidence in tems of a psychologist's  ability to accurately assess the nature of reality justifies a questionnarie such as the one devised by the writer of this article. 

 

Here is a type of questionnaire that is suggested as possible to be given to mental health workers, (psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, clinical psychologists, and psychiatric nurses ): It is designed to assess how the mental health professional assesses reality, in detail: 

 

1. You are sitting in a cafe and think back to how you left your overdue library book in the house. You notice that a man at the next table drops his spoon on the floor just as you think it. You think this is : 
1. Co-incidence
2. Strange
3. You suspect you are being spied on somehow
4. You think it is normal and see no connection to yourself in it

 

2. You are talking to a person on the street. After the conversation you continue down the street. People walk past you and say phrases that you said in the conversation. 
You think this is : 
1. Co-incidence
2. Strange
3. You suspect you are being spied on somehow
4. You think it is normal and see no connection to yourself in it

 

3. You are in a shop and had planned to buy some tissues. You notice that they have been placed next to a newspaper talking about people who make shopping lists being obsessive types of people. You think this is : 
1. Co-incidence
2. Strange
3. You suspect you are being spied on somehow
4. You think it is normal and see no connection to yourself in it

 

4. You are in a doctor's office and sitting with patients writing notes. As you are about to write something personal that you plan to give to the doctor as part of the notes you stop and hesitate. Nearby a patient coughs. Then you stop and hesitate again on another point. A patient nearby coughs again. 

You think this is : 
1. Co-incidence
2. Strange
3. You suspect you are being spied on somehow
4. You think it is normal and see no connection to yourself in it


5. You go into a restroom where some girls are. You have previously been complaining about being followd and harassed. A girl says to the others: 'I'm following you, you're following me: get over it!' to another girl in the group and shuts the cubicle door. 

You think this is : 
1. Co-incidence
2. Strange
3. You suspect you are being spied on somehow
4. You think it is normal and see no connection to yourself in it

 

6. etc.

 (copyright: author of this article, KW). 

 

The above is suggested as a questionnaire designed to assess a psychologist's perceptions of what is suspicious or not. It is designed to measure how a psychologist sees and interprets reality. It obviously requires further development. 

It is written (by the author of this blog) because the psychology profession thinks that certain things are paranoia - they are the ones who decide.  These decisions are based on the psychologist's understanding of reality and co-incidence therefore, so it could be argued that it's entirely reasonable that this understanding is measured prior to them being hired.


For example: superstitious belief can be seen as a form of a willingness to take co-incidence at face value to a ridiculous extent and it could be incorporated as a measure in the test (level of superstitious belief) because in some instances it is not normal to take things at face value and a psychologist who did it could be considered superstitious. That is: they might also then believe in unsubstantiated magical beliefs such as crystals waving and an illness that heals after that, to be normal also. Or that it is bad luck to walk under ladders. Both are superstitious beliefs - both interpretations suggest a person interprets reality in a way that jumps known or 'socially understood' logic.


The other reason to insist that psychologists explain their own beliefs about reality is that it helps prevent the situation where a psychologist just says: 'this is paranoia' without being able to understand and explain to themselves and others in logical terms what it is that forms the basis of this diagnosis in their own judgment. They have the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental diorders) to refer to, it is true, but to look at a book that says: 'this is included' and that is 'excluded ' is what anyone could do. What is it about the mental health professional themself, that defines their expertise? They argue as a profession they are scientists and can be relied on for expert judgment. That expertise then must be publically justified it is argued here, so the public can be confident the mental health workers are not ignorant and do not just pick up a textbook or DSM category and 'apply it' to a client without also being able to assess that client's situation logically themselves.


In fact if the psychologist cannot explain exactly why the client's beliefs are fitting this or that diagnosis in detail in a way that an objective observer would agree is logical, then it could be argued they are not experts. A rubbish collector can pick up a DSM book and start diagnosing eveyone witihin twenty five feet after all, as 'paranoid', or 'neurotic'.  It does not make him an expert.


Similarly the counselling profession should also have to take such a test. This is also important because counsellors can refer clients to psychologists or psychiatrists or to doctors who then do. If the assessment ability of the counsellor is superstitious in any way, they are not to be trusted as an objective referer. So it's important that they also are asked to show their understanding of the nature of reality before they write something like: 'the client has neurotic symptoms' or 'the client is very superstitious' or 'the client is a paranoid individual who thinks others are following her and I think should be referred to a doctor or psychiatrist ' They must be mentally and intellectually competent to judge reality themselves.


It's been an-often discussed subject in the psychology profession: the level at which cousellors should be allowed to be called experts. Some psychology training courses demand or perhaps imply that psychologists have a certain minimum level of IQ (based on Ravens matrices culture fair IQ test, or other IQ tests for example). This could seem discriminatory, but in considering the damage of what they could do to a person's life if they are not able to assess complex situations accurately it does not maybe seem so unfair. (Assuming IQ testing is, in fact, fair). One wrong diagnosis can mean years of lost happiness by the client, or a life ruined. 


For this reason, asking that all mental health workers take a test such as one that measures their ability to assess co-incidence (regardless of any IQ or other test) and to accurately judge the nature of reality in this respect (as suggested at the beginning of this article) would be very useful. It provides a good idea of how the psychologist sees the nature of co-incidence which after all is very fundamental to the assessment of paranoia -  a major classification in mental health terminology and a diagnosis they may one day make regarding a client.  It helps to prevent the situation where a client is falsely diagnosed due to the lack of mental complexity needed on the part of the therapist to judge reality accurately themselves or an unthinking approach to the client that just says:  'oh it's paranoia' or 'oh you are delusional' or whatever, without having the faintest idea what they mean by this and are unable to logically explain it themselves.


It's particularly important that the use of  'jargon' is avoided here. That it is not used as a smokescreen, or in an attempt to convey knowledge the psychologist may not have:  The ability of the psychologist to hide behind impressive sounding words to conceal the fact they actually cannot explain the basis for their judgement is a risk for any client. It is not enough it is argued  to allow mental health workers to do this: they must explain in detail the basis for every argument they make and not be allowed to expect others necessarily to rely on their 'expert testimony'. It is argued their decisions and diagnoses and the basis on which they are made has to be publically verifiable : a theoretical test maybe where it is asked if the public in a courtroom woud agree with the psychologist's assessment detail- by- detail.  The mental health worker, including clincial psychologists, cannot just throw labels on a situation and then sit back and expect it to be accepted, is what is argued here.


Not only that, it is suggested here that it is very negligent to allow psychologists as courtroom witnesses because it is not proven that psychology is a science - despite it being often accepted in law that it has scientific credibility.  That is not proof. It is argued here that the psychologists and mental health professionals have to be able to logically argue the basis for their decisions. Every decision. If asked. 


Examples of the type of questions that could be asked to a mental health professional in a legal or evaluation situation are: Why is this paranoia? What do you base your assessments on? What statements has the client made you think show paranoia? Would you agree if these things happenned to you that it would be reasonable to take a different interpretation and can you explain in detail what that interpretation would be? Without using jargon.

 

Finally, one question that is probably not asked but it is argued here should be:

 

'Can you prove the client is not telling the truth?'   If no?  Then it is not science, it is opinion.

 

For example, does the psychologist go out and personally sit in his or her car outside the house of a client who has said they are being harassed to see if people are stalking the client?  Does the psychologist watch the client go into shops and listen to comments, sit on trains, or buses and see if the client is in fact, being harassed? Obviously, it is most unlikley any mental health worker would do that. So how can they state with scientific accuracy that a client is 'paranoid', if they say they are? It does not matter how you argue it: fact is fact and opinion is opinion. If a person bases expertise on opinion it is still only opinion.

 

So it is argued here the basis of the mental health workers assessments of reality are very important because that is what forms the judgment they make. Their judgments and opinions. This is often what is the basis of their  'expertise', and that demands an ability to accurately assess the nature of reality and co-incidence. Therefore they should  be willing and able to demonstrate that their view of reality is the same as the any logical oberver, or perhaps, if they consider themself a scientist, that it is at the same level of logic used in a qualitative sense, as would be used by a person who is a physics lecturer. That is: logic must apply. 

However, even if this is done, it is still perhaps not science.  If the answer to the question of : 'Can you prove the client is not telling the truth ?' is 'No' , for instance, the psychologist might argue: 'but you have to rely on my assessment because I am an expert'.  But that is not science. Science is based on the ability to prove what you say with facts, and not opinions only. 

So it is suggested here that no matter how good an opinion is, or how effective a mental health worker might be at helping a client occasionally or even often, it is still not science and that it is possibly negligent on the part of the legal profession to allow psychology to call itself a science, if this logic is accepted. 

 

It is suggested several things could be done, and that some of them definitely should be: 


1. A questionnaire as above to every mental health professional, measuring their understanding of the nature of co-incidence (also to every doctor, because they also are involved in psychological assessments and prescribe drugs to patients: psychiatric drugs). This is essential it is argued, to allow assessment of how they personally see reaiity, in detail, regarding the interpretation of co-incidence. It has relevance for diagnoses of paranoia, delusional disorder and many other things that mental health workers deal in. They have to be able to understand the basis of their reasoning, in order to be able to accurately refer, at minimum. 


2. That psychology is banned as a 'science'. That it is made a crime to market it as 'science'. That the law is changed such that any psychologist or mental health worker who calls it a 'science' has to remove this description from their marketing, if they use it (and possibly if they also convey it in any way) or be prosecuted.


3. To question whether it is valid to allow psychologists to be 'expert witneses' in courtroom trials, and more generally, to question use of psychologists assessments as having legal validity. To question whether it is right for the judiciary to allow in their assessments the 'expert' testimony or statements of mental health workers such as psychologists or psychiatrists. It could be argued that this represents an 'easy way out' for lawyers to avoid having to argue complex cases using fact, provable fact, and provable evidence. It could be argued that a psychologist's statement might contribute to a case if it supplies factual evidence that is provable but that 'opinion' is not acceptable. 

 

Finally: the question: Is psychology a science? Has it shown and justified itself to be, in the eyes of the world in the last 40 years? Has it helped society in the way it says it has or has it undermined confidence in the judiciary and become a catch-all and possibly even an easy way out for some lazy lawyers, and judiciary?

 

In a different and more historical context:  has the psychology profession helped the world? Or has it done more damage than help? These are questions that could also be asked. It should be assessed without the bias implicit that it is automatically a good thing.


Has this ever been assessed objectively: that psychology as a profession has been proven for society to be good thing? It is a good thing? Says who? 
In wartime, it is shown that psychological illnesses decrease not increase. This is evidence that much of what goes on can be considered the indulgence of the worried well. To prey on this and allowing such individuals to be mollycoddled is to reinforce not only thier own possibly mistaken views that they 'need help' but also  society's view that there are 'many people out there who have mental illnesses and who need assistance' -  but it may not actually be always true. It cannot be ignored that psychology is a business and these people therefore, like any business, have incentive to get customers. Therefore it's not unreasonable to ask if they also deliberately create or have incentive to create the impression that they are needed.

These are the facts: are they paid for their services? Yes, usually.

Then can it be argued that they do not have incentive to obtain business? No.

It can be argued that they might not 'create' business for themselves,  but you cannot argue that the incentive for them to do so does not exist.  

So it is argued here, based on this logic, that no matter how a person looks at it, the mental health profession can be said to have an incentive when they argue that mental illness is 'rife in the community' and 'has increased since...' and so on. If they were not paid for their services, then maybe it could be more objective, but mental health is a business like any other. (Of course charities also can be incentive-motivated due to the wish for individuals to do something with their lives, or share their experiences of life by giving back to the community - and such personal motives can also be questionned, as to objectivity, no matter how well-intentioned).

Yet a critical approach to the usefulness of psychology profession is rarely seen, it seems.  Most organisations seem to uncritically accept the 'statistics of mental illness' , or report things like:  'mental health professionals report an increase in the number of cases of depression in the community and are asking for more support from the community for intervention to help people with this type of mental disorder' - type of presentation. The statistics are sometimes or often from the people who stand to gain from it, and even if not, they are rarely challenged.  The media, in reporting such statistics, often does not present any contrary argument,  or seem to appear to even see any reason why they should. The acceptance appears, often, uncritical - which perhaps also indicates the degree to which the mental  health profession has worked its way into the very fabric of society to such a level that its justification is no longer questionned. 

 

It is argued here that it should be. 

 

The profession that started out as an art practised by Sigmund Freud all those years ago, has developed. Today it has millions of practitioners and legal power as described above. The mental health professon is in schools, in hospitals, and it is known that police or lawyers will sometimes refer people who complain of crimes to a psychologist to see if the person is mentally competent. Surely it is possible that this is likely to reduce the incentive to complain of crime, for some people. It is perhaps arguable in this instance as to whether the profession has helped or hindered society. Similarly with a lawyer who tells a client that they have to get a 'psychological assessment'. Why? Is the lawyer's judgment not sufficient to assess the evidence the client is presenting? It is to take the easy way out in a way. It could be suggested  that to make the job of the lawyer the job of a psychologist is not what the client is paying for. Not only that, it could make the client reluctant to argue or persist if they know they have to go to a psychologist first. Again, has this helped or hindered society - if it is true? Has any study been done to find out if it is true? 

 

Particularly with crime, the psychology profession could unknowingly have done a lot of damage. As mentoned, first, by being offputting to a complainant of a crime - if it is perceived by a victim of a crime that going to authorities will result in them being told to go to a psychologist for an assessment - are they likely to go? But also, there is a second reason: It could help the perpetrators of crime.

 

If criminals know that a psychological assessment is going to be asked for if their victim complains, then they might take advantage of this and bully a victim with it, into silence. Even more so, if it gets known in a community that a victim has previously complained and was referred to a psychologist, for instance.  Even if the criminals don't use obvious bullying tactics, they might assume and be right, that the victim will not complain. The psychology profession has made a great fuss over how people who go to psychologists should not be stigmatised, and it is advertised on television 'sufferers of mental health are part of the community' and so on, and job advertisements  internationally often point  out: 'we do not discriminate on the basis of... ' and can mention mental health as one basis they say they do not discriminate on - but possibly this is niave. Surely there is evidence that regardless of what the psychology profession tries to argue, some people just do not like to hear a person has gone to a psychologist and it may well be a reason that some people will avoid going to authorities to report crime if they know the result will be a psychological report on them. Of any sort, good or bad. 

 

In these ways,  the profession of psychology itself, by having gotten itself into the legal system as expert witnesses and courtroom witnesses and expert psychological assessment report writers -  might have or be unknowingly contributing to crime. Because it could give the criminals the confidence that the victim, in many cases, will not complain.

 

As mentioned, the judiciary  internationally, has in many countries allowed the profession of psychology legal status. There are, as has been mentioned earlier, arguments against this: One is that a  person who goes to a lawyer pays the lawyer for being a lawyer. If during the conversation the lawyer says: 'you have to go to a psychologist to get an assessment before we can proceed with this claim', they are making the psychologist the expert. In addition, this assumes the psychology profession has earned the right  to be considered 'expert'.

 

Has it? Are they? Is seems it is implicitiy assumed by the judiciary that they are 'experts'. Or why else defer to their expertise? To take this further: are they then assumed to be 'scientists' as well? The profession often refers to itself as a science. It has the DSM: a diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, after all. It is surely implying or stating that the profession is a science. Does the legal profession see psychology as a science?  What is the implicit judgment being made here by the legal profession? It seems it is reasonable to conclude they have confidence in the profession or they would not ask for assessments from such people at all. Why ask for a psychologist assessment unless you believe the profession is competent to judge? So this confidence is then, implicit. That is: an unstated acknowledgement that the psychology profession is considered by the legal profession to be competent. 

 

Regarding the status of 'science; Do the legal profession also consider the profession of psychology (counsellors, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, and possibly those on their teams such as social workers) to be 'scientists' as well? Or only clinical psychologists? Or only psychiatrists? What crtieria do they use to decide expertise and scientific status?


What is the basis for these referrals for 'psychological assessment' from the legal profession? Not only that - is it seen by themselves as a science?  Psychology ? If so, on what basis is it considered as such and acceptable in law? The law after all relies for its very logical existance on the argument that facts must be used in law, and law must be based on facts and evidence. That there is no place for  'charletans', witchcraft, 'cystal wavers' or the superstitious or the bigoted. 

 

Is there place for 'opinion' in law then? It seems so.  Because as has been argued, the psychology profession is a profession that is very much based on opinion. Can the psychologist or courtroom counsellor say, for instance, that they know for a fact that when a client tells them something the client is wrong, mistaken, or lying?  No, usually they do not verify with facts what the client says and are not expected to. They judge by psychological evaluation, based on their expertise. This is 'opinion'.  It could be argued that at the very least, it is hoped that this opinion is very credible indeed, and that the psychologist is capable to argue each and every point.  At the worst, it could be said to be negligence to allow a profession to provide evidence that they cannot and have not themselves verified. 

 

To conclude:  It is argued that psychologists should have to prove they can logically justify their arguments and diagnoses, and no counsellor or other mental health worker should ever be able to write a diagnosis unless they also can justify it - without recourse to jargon of any sort at all, without using 'psychiatric language' (it should be explainable without that), and without relying on the DSM or any other criteria provided to them. That is: independently based on their own logic.


Or, it is argued, they are not experts.

 

So it is argued that mental health workers should have to take a test that can show if they judge reality accurately themselves. A specific test. A test that forces the psychologist or mental health professional to put their own reasoning on the line and in detail, regarding the nature of co-incidence, for example.  Not some vague test to assess their competence at the beginning of a university degree or at an interview that asks questions to assess their mental state such as: 'do you think that others are following you ' and so on, and 'do you think you are being watched' or so on.  It is too vague. It does not really get to the issue: what exactly is the psychologist believing about the nature of reality in detail? A test that forces the psychologist or mental health professional to put their own reasoning on the line and in detail. They can't then excuse ignorance or knowingly avoid difficult questions by using  generalised terms and generalised situations.

 

Is psychology a science?  This is the last question. If it isn't, then it could be argued the law must be changed to ban psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses from being allowed to say 'science ' in any way and make it a prosecutable offence for doing so.
One couild also insist that if it is accepted that psychology is not a science, that the law also changes to prevent lawyers or others requestng psychological assessments of clients, or at least to question: why is this acceptable? 

 

It is suggested that, if psychology were to be banned as a 'science' , or considered to be not competent to legally judge fact, that it would then be not acceptable for those in any legal system who request psychological assessments to justify it by arguing things like the following:
'Well yes, of course, it is understood that all judgements are subject to review and we do of course not take the word of a psychologist as total truth and we incorporate all aspects of the situation in our final decisions and there is no need to think that one report will bias our decisions and ....'


It could be argued that this is somewhat qusestionable because it is implicit in the very action of requesting a psychological assessment that there is an unstated trust in the competence of the psychological  profession to make accurate assessments and to be able to judge reality accurately.   It could be argued that it is not realistic to believe that a psychologist's judgement cannot sway a lawyer or another person, due to this implicit acknowlegement that they are professionals and experts, whose word deserves to be accepted often without any corroborating factual evidence. 

 

That is incredible power, that the psychology profession has.  Are these people deserving of such power? And even more, are they competent experts sufficient to justify the status of scientists? The 'science of psychology'.  Do psychologists deserve the right to call themselves scientists and is psychology a science? Have they earned the right to be keep this status that they have often petitioned for, and requested? 

 


If not, it is argued that to protect the public and judicial credibility even, that this designation should be removed from the profession. Legally removed. Making it illegal for the profession of psychology to call itself a science (if it is agreed it is not one). That a legal decision must follow. To protect the public in such a case and to protect the integrity of the principles of justice that evidence is evidence and facts are facts. If psychology is deemed to be not a factual field as such, and not usually being in the business of being able to prove facts either, is it fair to allow it into a courtroom?

 

Is psychology 'science'? Should it be returned to the orginal status it once had: an art.  Useful, well meaning, often very helpful to people  - but not science. 

 

It is suggested here that there are a lot of reasons for changing its legal designation. 

 

The mental health profession has in the current decade and in the last 40 or more years increasingly been given a lot of responsibility. It has changed dramatically from the days when the profession first set up so many years ago. It has increasingly demanded more and more power, and has petitioned governments to allow it the right to call itself a science and it seems it now is often uncritically accepted as a scientific subject throughout most of western society, at least.

 


It is argued that it is time to re-evaluate that. 

 

 Written by Katrina Wood

July 2017

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