The Case Against Psychotherapy
by Lawrence Stevens, J.D.
"What we need are more kindly friends
and fewer professionals."
- Jeffrey Masson, Ph.D.,
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
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. or D.O. 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
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 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.
He says: "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).
Sometimes even psychiatrists and psychologists themselves will
admit they have no particular expertise. Some of these
admissions have come from people I have known as friends who
happened to be practicing psychologists. Illustrative are
the remarks of one Ph.D. psychologist 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 higher than $50 per
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).
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."
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.
Eysenck, Ph.D., is a psychology professor at the University of
London. In the December 1988 issue of Psychology Today
magazine, the magazine's senior editor described Dr. Eysenck
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).
Emperor's New Clothes: The Naked Truth About the New
Psychology, (Crossway Books, 1985) William Kirk Kilpatrick, a
professor of educational psychology at Boston College, argues
that we have attributed expertise to psychologists that they do
In 1983 three
psychology professors at Wesleyan University in Connecticut
published an article in The Behavioral and Brain
Sciences, a professional journal, titled "An analysis of
psychotherapy versus placebo studies". 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.
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.
Garth Wood, M.D., criticizes modern day
"psychotherapy" in his book The Myth of Neurosis
published in 1986 with these words: "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" (pp. 2-3).
The superiority of
conversation with friends over professional psychotherapy is
illustrated in the remarks of a woman interviewed by Barbara
Gordon in a book published in 1988: "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." 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" (Barbara Gordon, Jennifer Fever,
Harper & Row, 1988, p. 132).
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 cited 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" (ibid, p. 50).
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).
Implicit in the idea
of "psychotherapy" is the belief that
"psychotherapists" have special skills and special
knowledge that are not possessed by other people. In
making this argument against "psychotherapy", I am
arguing only that conversation with psychotherapists is no
better than conversation with other people. 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
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) in this
pamphlet 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
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., writes: "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.
THE AUTHOR, Lawrence Stevens, is a lawyer whose
included representing psychiatric "patients". His
pamphlets are not copyrighted. You are invited to make
copies for distribution to those who you think will benefit.
See also Psychotherapy's Delusions - a
critique of psychotherapy.
"In my training [as a clinical psychologist] I heard lots about 'biochemical imbalances' and "faulty cognitions," but I can't recall ever hearing about 'loss of morale' or 'spiritual crisis.' From my experience with depression, it is always a psychological, social, and spiritual event, and providing morale for someone at a crossroads in his or her life is perhaps the most important thing one human being can do for another. ... You can look for a talented morale builder among psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, but your chance of finding one will be better if you look almost anywhere else. [p. 63] ... If you need help, forget about professional credentials and associate with those who energize you and help you laugh. [pp. 65-66] ... There is no unequivocal evidence that professionally trained therapists and teachers are superior helpers to so-called untrained laypeople. ... research shows that nonprofessionals can be as successful as professionals in helping even those with the most severe problems in living. [p. 286] ... Authenticity has been selected and socialized out of institutional helpers. [p. 287]" Bruce Levine, Ph.D., Commonsense Rebellion: Debunking Psychiatry, Confronting Society (Continuum, New York, 2001).
Return to NCCG's Psychiatry Page
This page was created on 3 October 2008
Last updated on 3 October 2008
Copyright © 2001 Lawrence Stevens, J.D. - Reproduced with Thanks