Friday, July 13, 2012

Treating behavior disorders

The UK BBC just broadcast a radio program on Joseph Wolpe. (Listening requires Flash.) He was a 20th century South-African-American Jewish psychologist famous for reciprocal inhibition,
systematic desensitization, and other behavior therapies. In plain English, he cured phobias. But most of all, he is recognized for advocating that psycho therapies be based on scientific evidence. The show ends by saying that Wolpe elevated the entire field of clinical psychology by insisting that science inform the work that is done.

His ideas were resisted by the Freudians who dominated the field, and who advocated long, tedious, expensive couch-therapy psychoanalysis that never worked. He had to do public demonstrations of therapies, both live and videotaped, in order to convince other shrinks that they work. Relying on evidence was considered heresy in the 1960s, according to the show.

I have posted many times on the sorry state of the field of psychology. I don't mean to imply that the field is inherently unscientific or crooked. There are psychologists who base their opinions on evidence, and who are honest about it. I sometimes cite published research when I think that is useful. But the field is also overrun with quacks and crooks.

Psychology professor Timothy D. Wilson complains in a LA Times op-ed:
Once, during a meeting at my university, a biologist mentioned that he was the only faculty member present from a science department. When I corrected him, noting that I was from the Department of Psychology, he waved his hand dismissively, as if I were a Little Leaguer telling a member of the New York Yankees that I too played baseball.


Anonymous said...

So why do you think that Perlmutter relied on his opinion vs. evidence when dealing with you ?

George said...

I don't think that Perlmutter did rely on his opinion. He just said what he thought that the judge wanted to hear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, George, for a well-thought out posting. I agree with you that there are definitely psychologsits who base their opinions on evidence, and are honest about it. And yes, the field does have its share of "undesirables". However, if a person in need of a psychologist chooses the former, it has the potential to make positive change in that person's life. Thanks again for this post. Barbara