Psychology Is Not in Crisis

Response to NYT Article: Psychology Is Not in Crisis

Elizabeth Handy

As a practicing psychotherapist, I am deeply concerned about Barrett’s postulation that psychological science does not need to be replicated or empirically validated. This idea that science can exist for the sake of science, right or wrong, is dubious at best. If science does not need replication and empiric validation, anyone could theoretically say anything, call it science and apply it in any way they choose. That is dangerous. Feldman Barrett is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. Do PH.D. candidates she supervises not need to prove their null hypothesis? Can they just publish gibberish and call it science because that is the “nature of science?”

When I began my internships as a student, I noticed how genuinely unwell psychiatric patients can be. Many had been in treatment for multiple years and prescribed ever-increasing doses of psychotropic medications which have sparse proof of efficacy. I began to feel that the field of psychology was a “soft science” at best and considered a career change—but then I started learning about EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and more recently, Brainspotting. The application of these modalities has not only enabled me to help patients heal and become cured, it has empowered patients to be free of psychotropic medications and their horrific side effects.

I practice psychotherapy the same way I practiced emergency medicine in Maine for 20 years. Clients come in, get “fixed,” and graduate from therapy able to lead their lives.

I receive many newsletters on “how to grow your practice.” Those newsy letters suggest keeping clients as lifelong patients. A myriad of busy work is recommended from groups to workshops about non-empirically validated topics. I feel my field has become a scam. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), is still taught at every graduate program in our nation. CBT’s benefits are limited, if not entirely ineffective, and its patients are in therapy for years and in many cases are far worse when they leave their therapist. There exists over 500 therapeutic theories and practically as many modalities. Many therapists appear to jump from one theory and modality to another sometimes in the same session, befuddling patients and activating them in the process. Feldman Barrett mentions the “wonderfully twisty path” of scientific discovery. What she seems to forget is that our patients don’t have time for that.