An article by Gordon Hewitt in NZ Skeptic 47 states, “In June 1995…an article appeared in this publication saying counselling was no use. This judgement was based on a single study conducted in 1939.” This is not true, but as the author of the article I am obviously biased. May I urge all skeptics to read it for themselves?
My article in June 1995 elaborated the Cambridge-Somerville experiment mentioned by Dr John Welch in an earlier issue. It dealt with an experiment started in 1939 and lasting until 1978. Why did Gordon Hewitt not mention that this study ran for nearly 40 years when using such phrases as, “lack of rigor in analysis”, and “shallow analysis”?
I suggested that this was the only “large-scale, long term study of counselling which can reasonably be regarded as good science.” Far from saying that counselling was “of no use” the study found that counselling harmed the recipients.
Gordon Hewitt seems impressed with a survey that found, “Members who had been to psychotherapists were overwhelmingly of the view that psychotherapy was helpful.” Is this what he understands by “rigor in analysis”?
He also claims “The development of effective techniques in counselling is at an early stage.” As counselling has been used for longer than antibiotics, should we not have expected it to make as much progress as modern medicine? Might not this lack of progress be attributable to the rejection of scientific methods of analysis by its practitioners?
Look Forward not Back
Gordon Hewitt expresses disappointment about NZ Skeptics counselling criticism (Autumn 1998). A large body of research has assessed effectiveness of “counselling” and other forms of psychological intervention. Little evidence supports the theory that psychotherapy focused on re-living and “working with” past events, especially past trauma, is effective in changing people’s behaviour…. Literature reviews suggest that observed benefits are due to placebo rather than specific treatment effects.
Many publications now question the general usefulness of “the talking cure”, especially delving into the past to redress the future. They argue psychotherapy is often little more than a “Rent-a-Friend” business — that it is unethical and harmful for psychotherapists to replace family, friends, lovers and colleagues as the most important people in clients’ lives.
Many “dissident feminist” commentators warn that feminist social science and therapy has taken a dangerous direction. They criticise advocacy research which magnifies needs while asserting the scientific validity of these large numbers, a phenomenon at least partly fuelled by funding competition. They claim the price of feminist political activism and ideology is loss of academic scholarship, integrity and intellectual freedom.
Promotion of women as victims of male oppression requiring long-term psychotherapy to deal with traumatic pasts is counter-productive to women claiming their status as autonomous responsible adults equal to their male counterparts. There currently is no evidence that psychotherapy based on gender-feminist theory leads to improved mental health.
The indications are that preferred psychological interventions should be those shown to be effective and safe by controlled outcome studies. Effective psychological interventions facilitate change aimed at goal achievement: programmes based upon cognitive, behavioural or interpersonal theories.
In general these are short-term and involve active participation. They focus on helping people change the way they think or react, the way they behave or the way they relate to others, in a goal-orientated direction, with homework exercises to incorporate skills into everyday life. For a wonderful examination of psychological intervention’s pitfalls, read Tana Dineen’s Manufacturing Victims.
References available from editor.