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The Myth That Psychology Is Effective
Article by Ed Bulkley
A woman, age 31, complains of chronic depression and low self-esteem. She has been under psychiatric care since she was a teenager, but has not improved. A fed-up husband is ready to call off his marriage because of the perpetual expense of his wife’s psychiatric sessions, which are producing no positive results. A young woman has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and has been given strong psychoactive drugs which temporarily mask her symptoms.
The majority of experienced pastoral counselors have met many such clients of psychological counseling.
You might be tempted to ask, “Why would anyone submit to psychological counseling if it never helps anyone?” Few serious critics of psychology go so far as to say that no one is ever helped through psychological counseling. A better way to ask the question might be, With its claims of superiority over pastoral counseling and its high expense, why is psychological therapy so relatively ineffective?
One Christian psychologist lists five major reasons that psychology produces disappointing results: 1) unrealistic expectations by counselees, 2) inaccurate assumptions about the ability of psychology to explain human behavior, 3) wrong motivations for seeking counsel, 4) unfounded faith in psychological “experts,” and 5) undelivered promises by the “experts.”1
These causes of failure in psychology can apply to any counseling system, secular or Christian. People often enter counseling with the mistaken belief that the counselor will solve their problems. The truth is that counseling success in any system depends more upon the motivation of the counselee to change than on the insights of the counselor.
Some psychologists, in an attempt to explain why therapies often fail, point out that patients often come with unrealistic expectations of being set free from all anxiety and achieving perpetual happiness. Ironically, psychiatric hospitals and psychological counseling services aggressively advertise their services on radio and television implying that such goals are possible…with their help.
A one-third-page newspaper advertisement for Adolescent Behavioral Health sponsored by a large hospital shows a teenage boy with his arm around his girlfriend. They are dressed in punk outfits. The ad says, “Young people frequently choose hairstyles and clothing to express healthy adolescent rebellion. But how is one to tell whether his teenager’s behavior is OK or self-destructive?”2 (emphasis added). The answer is obvious: “The professionals at the Behavioral Health System…are here to assist you in answering this crucial question.…We will help you.… Call someone you can trust.” The ad implies that parents are simply unable to understand their teenagers without the professional insights of mental health workers. And who better to trust than those who see some teenage rebellion as “healthy”?
With such glowing results promised by the mental health industry, it is no wonder that Americans have come to expect instant solutions for all their needs, desires, and problems. Our modern generation refuses to accept the fact that suffering is an inevitable part of human existence.
The unpleasant truth is that psychology is not only relatively ineffective in changing thought and behavior patterns, but in many cases is also actually harmful to its clients. Most laymen are unaware of Hans Eysenck’s 1952 study, which demonstrated that recovery from neuroses is unrelated to whether a patient receives any form of psychotherapy. Some researchers have challenged Eysenck’s conclusions and have stated that there is general agreement that psychotherapy is at least better than no therapy.
Additional research indicates the very opposite. To prove his point, Eysenck did a second study in 1965, and according to Martin Gross, Eysenck’s revision was—
a more extensive survey of published studies, with still more damaging results for psychotherapy. He now claims that psychotherapy is a general failure by the very nature of its being unessential to the patient’s recovery. “We have found that neurotic disorders tend to be self-limiting, that psychoanalysis is no more successful than any other method, and that in fact all methods of psychotherapy fail to improve on the recovery rate obtained through ordinary life-experiences and nonspecific treatment,” Eysenck states.3
Eysenck’s research is an explosive revelation that psychotherapy is a failure and is absolutely unessential. It is not surprising that many psychologists hotly dispute Eysenck’s conclusions. Gross points out that “the mere act of testing the art’s effectiveness has raised a ground swell of anger within the profession.…This defensiveness is a professional trademark in the Psychological Society.”4
As a result, Eysenck’s work has been reexamined. A review of Eysenck’s research by Truax and Carkhuff claims to validate his conclusions.5 They go even further when they state, “The evidence now available suggests that, on the average, psychotherapy may be harmful as often as helpful, with an average effect comparable to receiving no help.”6
If it is true that standard psychotherapy is superior to biblical counseling, how does one account for the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study reported in American Psychologist in 1978? The 30-year study revealed that the men who had received an average of five years of psychotherapy as boys were in worse shape, in view of alcoholism, criminal behavior, and mental disorders, than those who had not undergone psychotherapy.7
In spite of the evidence that psychotherapy fails to change people’s hearts and can even increase their “dysfunctions,” seminaries continue to insist that pastors need psychological training to help people with their problems. How can this be when there is no scientific evidence that one form of psychotherapy is superior to other forms or is more effective in achieving results? Why should pastors or parishioners have confidence in any therapeutic system? And if long-term treatment does not achieve superior results, as research indicates, what possible justification is there for prolonged psychotherapeutic sessions?
Professional Versus Lay Counseling
The psychological industry has successfully concealed its ineffectiveness from the general public. Pastors, churches, and the laity have been brainwashed into believing that only psychologically trained professional counselors are competent to deal with serious problems. Christian colleges and seminaries have bought into this incredible deception and now enthusiastically encourage Christians to submit to the insights, methods, and findings of secular psychology.
Even when forced to admit the failure of psychology, Christian mental-health experts insist that professional counselors are surely more effective than untrained laypeople in helping to relieve psychic distress. The evidence, however, does not support their claim.
Psychologist Gary Collins reports an important study done by J.A. Durlack entitled “Comparative Effectiveness of Paraprofessional and Professional Helpers”:
[The research] reviewed forty-two studies that compared professional counselors with untrained helpers. The findings were “consistent and provocative. Paraprofessionals achieve clinical outcomes equal to or significantly better than those obtained by professionals.
Ed Bulkley "Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 1993).
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.
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