Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Famous shrink dies

I missed this NY Times obituary from a few days ago:
Judith S. Wallerstein, a psychologist who touched off a national debate about the consequences of divorce by reporting that it hurt children more than previously thought, with the pain continuing well into adulthood, died on Monday in Piedmont, Calif. She was 90.

The cause was an intestinal obstruction, said her husband, Dr. Robert Wallerstein, a former chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of California, San Francisco.

In 1971, Ms. Wallerstein began studying 131 children from 60 divorced families in Marin County, Calif. She followed them for 25 years, conducting intensive interviews every five years.

Not unexpectedly, many of the children were extremely distressed soon after the divorce. But she was surprised to find that the problems often lasted; 10 and 15 years later, half the children were still suffering and, she wrote, had become “worried, underachieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women.” ...

Feminists accused Ms. Wallerstein of trying to guilt-trip women into staying in destructive marriages. Some researchers questioned her methods, particularly the relatively small number of subjects, the lack of a control group and the use in her books of composite characters cobbled together from multiple research subjects. ...

Ms. Wallerstein appeared on “Oprah” several times, as well as on morning news shows, and in 2000 she was invited to lecture to a gathering of the chief justices of all 50 states. The only other speaker was Sandra Day O’Connor, the associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Judith Hannah Saretsky was born in New York City on Dec. 27, 1921. Her interest in children and loss grew from her own early life. Her father, a director of Jewish community centers, died of cancer when she was 8. She had not known he was ill, little was explained, and it took her a long time to believe he had died. The painful memories heightened her awareness of the bonds between parents and children, and she later saw herself in some of her research subjects.
My quarrel with her is for her notorious role in the California Burgess and LaMusga cases, not mentioned by the obituary. These were the California move-avay cases. She argued that the social science research favors letting custodial moms move to other states, because kids do not need dads, and non-custodial dads just cause trouble. Here briefs were criticized as wrong and irresponsible by other experts, such as by this brief:
We are united in our judgment that the Wallerstein et al. Brief offers a skewed and misleading account of the social science evidence relevant to this case. Although it purports to be an objective summary of knowledge, the brief runs counter to the prevailing opinions of the majority of experts who conduct divorce research and of those who apply this research to their clinical and forensic practices.
Also this brief:
The Burgess opinion adopted the claim of Wallerstein et al. that most children’s well-being is tied to continuity of their care by a “primary” parent. Burgess goes on to assume that when a parent is chosen to play the larger caretaking role in early childhood that allocation of parental responsibilities will continue to meet the needs of an older child. Neither of those views is a majority view within the community of professionals who study the impact of divorce on children.
I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but the NY Times understates why she was so controversial. She was a Berkeley feminist psychologist with her own personal daddy issues. The anti-family NY Times gives the impression that she was controversial because she said that divorce is bad for kids. But saying that divorce is bad for kids has been the conventional wisdom for millennia. No one has any studies saying that divorce is good for kids.

I often criticize sloppy psychology research, but her work was much worse. She used her academic credentials to force her feminist view on California, depriving kids of their dads. She claimed that the research backs her up when it does the opposite.

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