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The Art of Whatever

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So, what I’ve been reading in my off time the last week or so is a book called

47) Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Jeffrey M. Lohr,  eds. Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology.

I did mean to do a long blog post on this book in general. It’s actually a collection of essays, but various authors and groups of authors, on topics like what is and what isn’t a verified method of diagnosis in cases of child abuse, or what is and what isn’t a scientifically verified effective treatment for one (supposed) disorder or the other.

I started reading this book with high hopes, because the forward outlined the vast gulf between clinical practices and assumptions and the actual science, and then listed a slew of “things everybody knows” that turn out  not to be true.

These included:

a)  almost all abused children become abusive parents


b) children who masturbate or “play doctor” hae probably been sexually  molested


c) projective tests like the Rorschach validly diagnose personality disorders, most forms of psychopathology, and sexual abuse.

If you’re somebody like me, who is mostly concerned with the ways in which pseudoscientific claptrap  is used, and called “science,” in places like schools and courtrooms, this sort of list is not entirely heartening.

On the one hand, it’s nice to  know that at least some people who call themselves psychologists and psychiatrists know that this stuff is nonsense.

On the other hand, it’s the clinical practictioners and their quasi-professional local surrogates (teachers, school nurses, social workers) who go into courtrooms and determining who gets to  keep their children.

There’s a story in that forward about a social worker who decided to remove a child from her mother, even though there were no signs of abuse or neglect, because the mother had been abused as a child and “everybody knows” that abused children grow up to be abusers.

I have my doubts that the mother in that case would have found it comforting that the “real scientists” in psychology know better.  It isn’t the real scientists either she, or we, have to deal with.

But my interest in writing about all that stuff got sidetracked sometime yesterday when I came across a paragraph in the most astoundingly idiotic “chapter” (the book calls the individual essays “chapters”) in the book.

Because the chapters are written by individual people or groups of people, the quality of the work presented varies wildly from one chapter to the next. 

Even so, most of the chapters are good faith attempts to present actual science, complete with real peer-reviewed studies, presentations of protocols and references to replicated research, and lots of math.

Some of this is interesting and well written.  Some of it is leaden and boring.  I’d recommend Chapter 7, “New Age Therapies,” by Margaret Thaler Singer and Abraham Nievod, to anybody and everybody, for the thing about the duck alone. 

And I congratulated the writers for being able to maintain the prose equivalent of straight faces while writing about–well, the duck.  And alien abduction therapy.  And…

Then we get to Chapter 15, “Commercializing Mental Health Issues: Entertainment, Advertising, and Psychological Advice,” by Nona Wilson–and here, I was stopped dead in  my tracks.

 There is a list of all the contributors to the volume at the front, along with their institutional affiliations, but not their educational background.

Nona Wilson is listed as a Ph.D at the Department of Counseling Education at the University of Wisconsin/Oshkosh.

It should not  escape your attention that she seems to hale from that part of the  profession everybody else in the book is complaining about. 

It shouldn’t escape your attention–and it’s probably got something to do with what she says and how she thinks–but the knowledge isn’t going to do you as much good as it might.

That’s because this isn’t a scientific essay.  It contains nothing of the peer reviewed studies, carefully devised protocols, and strict reliance on valid methodologies of the rest of the book.

It is, instead, a Cultural Studies essay in all the unbounded glory of idiocy such a designation implies.

It only takes about  half a page or so before you realize  how screamingly awful t his is going to be.

Wilson writes about popular culture, advertising and entertainment as if she’s a space alien from a planet that contains none of these things.

She is shocked–absolutely shocked–to discover that people choose things like novels and television shows because they find them entertaining.

And since this is incomprehensible to her, she is convinced that people only do that because they are being brainwashed  into undiscriminatory zombies by advertising, which is capable of completely rewriting our worldviews until t hey’re unrecognizable as anything that has anything to do with us.

I’d like point out, here, what I’ve pointed out before:  only about 50% of advertising has any  effect at all, and over 90% of new products fail within a year.

If this woman thinks she knows how to determine what’s succeeding and what’s failing and why, there are a lot of very well  heeled advertising agencies who’d be willing to pay a LOT of money to get in on the secret.

But,  never fear, she doesn’t know.  She doesn’t even know that the reason advertising has gone in for soft sell and irony isn’t because  it’s insidiously manipulating our brains, but because it’s desperately looking for a way to stop people from going to the kitchen for a beer instead of watching the commercials.

The chapter is full of absolutely every dimwitted cliche you’ve ever heard about entertainment and “commercialism” from Marxist academics and self-styled Cultural Critics, and just as clueless about what is actually going on.

At one point, she delivers a definition of “art” that–well:

>>>Some of the criticisms of early popular entertainments emphasized their failure to achieve the status of “art”–whose goal, unlike entertainment, is to transport the observer/participant from the physical realities of the moment toward a reputedly more worthy, eternal world of the mind and spirit (Gabler, 1998)<<<

One assumes that she got the definition from Gabler, and that’s the reason from the reference.  It turns out to be a popular book called Life, The  Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, put out by a commerical press (Vintage Books) and aimed solidly at a…let’s just call it a nonprofessional audience.

Wilson is so uncomfortable with this entire idea–art?  really?  there’s something called art? there’s some way of life that’s better than some other way?–that it’s almost painful to watch her twist in the wind.

And then there’s the definition itself, which would have startled the hell out of literally dozens of people usually recognized as great artists, including Franz Kafka and Hieronymus Bosch.

I have decided to be reasonably charitable here and decide that the woman is just tone deaf to all art forms, whether in elite or popular varieties. 

She also doesn’t seem to  have much i the way of experience with them.

At that point, we get to her real issue, which is the appalling commercialization and entertainmentization of  psychology represented by self helf books, tapes, seminars, and TV shows.

Now, let’s face it.  Some of this is just professional jealousy.  There are all those psychologists out there who don’t give a damn about professional standards, and they’re making a mint.  There are people out there who aren’t even real psychologists who are setting themselves up as counselors, and they’re making a mint too!

It’s very, very important that we see all this as incredibly sinister, because patients will look at all these implausible claims of quick fixes and not know enough to forgo them in favor of the real hard work of therapy.

In other words, Wilson’s complaint comes down to the usual:  when patients  have it in their power to choose, they don’t choose me!

In the process of making this case in as many words as possible, Wilson spends a lot of time talking about (and bemoaning) good old Dr. Phil, who just happens to be the one member of this group I’ve actually seen anything of.

And although I have no use for self help and pop psych and all the rest of it, I could tell you without hesitation why, if I were looking for a therapist, I’d go for Dr. Phil and not for the people Wilson wants to me see.

Would I be looking for easy answers?


Quick fixes?


Promises of total transformation?

Definitely  not.

What I’d be looking for is somebody who treated me like a human being, instead of a “patient” or a “client” who  is to be assumed as somebody who doesn’t really know what she wants or what’s good for her and who should be carefully  manipulated until I know better.

If there is one t hing that has universally infuriated me about every single “mental health professional” I have so far met face to face,  it is that weird empathy-speak, that way of talking that smiles and says “yes, I can see that  you’re angry” and on and on and on–so that there is never a chance of getting a straight answer to a straight question.

I have the feeling that if I asked Dr. Phil “am I being an idiot  here?”  I’d get a straightforward yes or no, and that would be the ACTUAL answer, not just a way of managing my mood that would turn out to  mean something else altogether next week, or when the “therapist” was talking to a colleague instead of to me.

It continues to amaze me that schools of psychology and psychology training programs for people like nurses and teachers have yet to figure out just how angry–and JUSTIFIABLY angry–this sort of thing makes people.

When  my sons came up against this sort of thing on and off over the years, they analyzed exactly:  you can’t trust these people, they’re two faced and manipulative, you can’t know if anything they say is true.

Dr. Phil might give me, and them, canned cliches and superficial advice.

But  he’d also speak his mind.

Written by janeh

July 30th, 2013 at 11:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'The Art of Whatever'

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  1. I guess I should be astonished that when I needed a therapist for my son, and then later for my spouse & I, we found one who did treat us as humans, even “might have been friends, if not for the professional thing”. We always felt he was a person who had his own problems (not that we ever heard about them) and so understood how people got themselves twisted up. He was a reality-check and a sounding board, and never once, that I recall, did I get that “and how does that make you feel?” crap.

    He also practiced from a philosophy of “okay, you’ve got this issue, or issues, let’s work to resolve that and then you’ll be done” rather than an eternal, ongoing therapy. He really made a difference to our family.

    So they are out there, I suspect more than you’d think, but they’re overshadowed by their noisier, less competent colleagues.


    30 Jul 13 at 12:18 pm

  2. I’ll have to pass on Dr. Phil. The name sounds vaguely familiar, but that’s all.

    The Nona Wilson chapter sounds very familiar, though. In fact, it sounds SO familiar I think she’s been hanging out with the English Department. It sounds exactly like whole schools of literary criticism: people are listening to those people and not to me, and so instead of the glorious place to which I would take them, they’re mired in commercial stuff, by people interested in making money, of all the vulgar motivations. (One presumes Dr. Wilson regularly declines her paycheck.) But notice that–as you describe it–it doesn’t support any of the “everyone knows” fallacies. It simply takes a dim view of people and shows an exaggerated respect for advertising. It’s just warmed-over Vance Packard.

    I’d have a lot more respect for these people if they’d skip the whole “manipulation” song and dance and just say I’m too stupid to appreciate their favorites.

    But her inclusion in the book is very interesting. Presumably the editors knew what they had. Either (a) they agree with her, or (b) they know she’s writing nonsense, but they owe her. She’s someone’s student, or was someone’s teacher, or maybe she gave someone a favorable review. In any event, other considerations took precedence over intellectual integrity. I find myself hoping for (a).


    30 Jul 13 at 12:31 pm

  3. I think a writer who’d been hanging out in the English department would have SOME writers she liked. Wilson has none, and she puts scare quotes around “art” as if she’s not sure it exists and indicates that she doesn’t think that a ‘better’ way of life exists.

    It looks to me more like she’s been hanging around with the sociology department–or Cultural Studies, which is where you find just this sort of thing.


    30 Jul 13 at 12:39 pm

  4. My error then, The initial post read that way, but I never saw anyone impugning the commercial motives of my artists without at the very least suggesting that Homer, Shakespeare and their own Great Artist of the Week were above such things.

    In fact, the whole thing is even loopier without that, since it’s not as though the Department of Counseling Education consisted of people who did something else for a living and covered material costs with free will offerings.

    It always amazes me how many people collecting salaries from the taxpayers think they’re above commercialism because their victims had no say in the matter.


    30 Jul 13 at 1:56 pm

  5. If someone’s curious, the entire book is on google books. I just had to find out about the duck.

    If I’m ever in a vulnerable position, well, I mean more so than normal, I’m going to get into trouble for questioning the experts. There were some absolutely infuriating episodes recently…well, the most minor and public was listening to a couple of educators from the local health care group earnestly spouting all the popular exaggerations about smoking, including the extreme risk of third hand smoke – that’s the stuff you might be able to smell off a smoker’s clothing.

    I have never smoked. I spent too much of my youth being carsick in moving vehicles with smokers. And the irrational, illogical, unsupported claims of the anti-smokers lost any support I may have had for their campaigns long ago. This was just confirmed by the author Mique recommended, Christopher Snowdon.


    30 Jul 13 at 4:27 pm

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