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The Myth That Psychology Is Motivated by Compassion
Article by Ed Bulkley
The popular image of the money-grubbing fundamentalist preacher has grown in recent years due to the excessive lifestyles of some televangelists. Most people should be aware, however, that the average pastor is on the low end of the professional pay scale. His weekly responsibilities include sermon preparation, business administration, committee meetings, hospital visitation, staff leadership, long-range planning, teaching, preaching, and a host of other tasks. In addition, his parishioners call on him for comfort, help, and advice. Rarely does he charge extra for counseling, though people often expect him to schedule sessions during evenings or weekends. Yet people are heard to whisper as the offering plate goes by, “All the church wants is my money.”
In sharp contrast, psychiatrists and psychologists seldom pass the plate for a freewill offering. Their fees are set, and if the client expects continued service, he had better pay, and pay promptly. The patients are expected to take time off from work and come for counseling when there is an opening in the doctor’s schedule. Yet the stereotypes persist that psychotherapists are motivated by compassion, while pastors are greedy money-vacuums.
The High Cost of Psychotherapy
Psychology is big business. A glut of psychiatric hospitals compete with one another for patients, fees, and insurance payments. Pastoral counselors encounter church members who have spent thousands of dollars on therapies which have failed to produce the results so enthusiastically advertised.
A woman recently drove nearly a thousand miles to consult with me about her mental condition. She had spent five months at a Rapha center at a cost of more than $100,000 and another month at the Minirth-Meier Clinic at a cost of over $20,000, and she was as confused as she had been before seeking treatment.
Newsweek magazine reported that several for-profit Christian psychiatric centers have begun franchising their services. “These groups are growing because they can make money,” said psychiatrist David Larson of the National Institute of Mental Health.1 The article reported that Christian clinics like LifeCare, Rapha, and the Minirth-Meier Clinic charge up to $1200 per day for therapy.
According to one report, Americans pay more than $17 billion annually for psychological therapies. A 30-minute consultation with a psychiatrist can cost as much as $150, with the average psychiatric fee reaching $90 for a 55-minute session. Psychologists are cheaper; they charge around $60 an hour.2 Few surveys list what a pastoral counseling session would cost, but it is fair to say that it is considerably less. Often the cost is nothing.
Though I am critical of the exorbitant fees for psychological therapy, I am not opposed to a reasonable charge for counseling. It is true that people take counseling more seriously if they have to pay something. Those who pay nothing feel that the counseling is worth just that much. With that in mind, in our church counseling service we ask for a minimum donation of $50 per session, which often runs as long as two hours. Members of our church are not charged, but those who are referred by other pastors or who come by word of mouth sign a contract. They have this choice: Either they will attend our church during the time of counseling, or they will have to pay the fee. If they miss a session without calling to cancel with a legitimate reason, they must pay the fee for that session. If they miss a service prior to a given session, they must pay the fee. Those who come from other Bible-teaching churches are charged the fee, since we do not require them to attend our services. If they are unable to pay the full fee we ask their church to pay one-half, but we insist that the counselees pay the other half so that they will be fully committed to the counseling process.
Our purpose in the fee structure is not to generate huge sums of money, and indeed it does not. We want counselees to become involved in the regular instruction of the Word of God and in the fellowship of the body of believers. As they take part in the life of the church, they can begin to learn how to solve the problems of life biblically, supported by the prayers and encouragement of other believers.
Fees and Competence
You might ask, “Do the clients of psychotherapy get what they pay for?” If therapeutic results are indicative of relative worth, the answer clearly is no. Psychiatrist Bernie Zilbergeld reports that when it comes to the common problems people bring to psychotherapy—“confusion, depression, low self-esteem, distressed relationships or inability to form a relationship, difficulties in decision-making, and so on—you can expect about the same results regardless of which therapy you choose.”3 The Ehrenbergs tell us that psychiatrists charge more than other mental-health professionals because they work under a medical label, not because their counsel is superior. “The size of the fee is not necessarily a measure of competence.”4
Justifying high psychiatric fees for ordinary psychotherapy is like saying one should pay—for the same repair job—more to a mechanic who has a college degree than to one who does not have a degree. But it is foolish to pay more for any service simply because the “expert” has a credential, if the results are not superior. Personally, I want a mechanic who knows how to fix my car, and the one with dirty fingernails and no degree may be the best choice.
As Striano says, “Some therapists with less thorough academic work and fewer years training or no formal education might be better therapists for you because they have a natural talent for the work or healthier personalities or they’re just right for you.”5
The Marketing Strategies of Psychotherapy
One Christian psychologist reveals a questionable part of the whole psychotherapeutic industry which he calls “the selling of therapy.”6 He is speaking of psychiatric hospitals and counseling services that use television, radio, newspapers, and magazines to bring clients through the doors. It is strange that he defends the motives of psychologists who use such sales techniques:
This isn’t blatant manipulation. Most therapists probably haven’t even noticed what they are doing. Subtly, however, they convince people that their lives could be better, that therapy will help them and that “a few more sessions” would be a wise investment in their future happiness and stability. Soon people who aren’t sick are willingly paying to get better.7
In my opinion this does constitute blatant manipulation! I find it difficult to accept the notion that “most therapists probably haven’t even noticed what they are doing.” Remember, these are the “experts” trained to uncover the hidden motivations of clients. They know what they are doing, and the fact is that psychologists and psychiatrists have no built-in incentive to quickly resolve a client’s problems, for the longer a person continues therapy, the more money the therapist receives.
Susan Sturdivant, Ph.D., is developing a company in Dallas to help psychologists market their services. She speaks of marketing “as an integral part” of psychotherapy. She encourages therapists to “readjust our attitudes so that we can say that this [is] an ethical and professional thing to do.” She teaches her colleagues how to market their services by inviting “clergy or a PTA group to come and talk about what worries them.” She says that “the trick is to do something we know how to do very well, which is to be nondirective and simply encourage people to talk.”8
A strategy she suggests is to send newsletters to “medical professionals, community groups, former clients” approximately every three months. “This provides reinforcement.” What is it that Sturdivant seeks to reinforce? The concept that psychotherapy is needed. “The prevailing attitude is that private practice is a step-child and therapists should strive for an unattainable goal of being an academic scientist and clinician.”9
Read her statement again carefully. Finally a therapist admits that psychologists face “an unattainable goal of being an academic scientist and clinician,” and that a primary purpose of psychotherapy is to sell itself to the public. “Running a private practice is the same as running a small business,”10 she advises her readers.
The Social Costs of Psychology
Psychology is costing our nation dearly. Sexual abuses, medical fraud, crime, intense unhappiness with day-to-day living, and consistent decreases in educational scores throughout the nation can be partially traced to the psychological industry’s pervasive influence in today’s society—an influence that impacts average citizens in a variety of ways.
Columnist Thomas Sowell criticizes educational psychologists and counselors for draining the educational system of financial resources.
Barely more than half the people employed by the New York City Board of Education are teachers.…Moreover, one-third of the money that trickles down to the school goes for psychologists and counselors alone.…What has gotten better in American schools after we flooded them with psychologists, counselors, “facilitators” and the like?…
Academic performance certainly hasn’t improved. We have yet to see test scores as high as they were 30 years ago. Maybe students are happier, healthier or something. But statistics on cheating, theft, vandalism, violent crime, venereal disease and teen-age suicide all say no.
Educators are uncomfortable even discussing actual results. They are at their best talking a good game, full of lofty buzzwords and puffed-up jargon. As long as we keep buying it, they’ll keep selling it.…
You cannot subsidize irresponsibility and expect people to become more responsible. Many of those who say otherwise, who are urging us to throw more money at social problems, are among the organized hustlers out there to intercept it if we do.11
The costs of psychotherapy must be measured not only in terms of dollars but also in terms of the damage done to family life, justice, and society in general. Two primary psychological doctrines are largely to blame: the emphasis upon self and the denial of personal responsibility.
Hardly a day passes without newspapers carrying a story of psychiatric testimony given on behalf of a mass-murderer or other sociopath with the consistent message that “he isn’t an evil man; he’s a sick man.” Rapists, torturers, child-molesters, and a host of other criminals are all too often protected from justice by the psychological doctrine that no one is responsible for his own actions.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer relates the story of a 17-year-old Milwaukee girl who stole another girl’s leather jacket and then murdered her. Her lawyers argued that she should not be put in prison, but rather should undergo psychotherapy. Their basic argument was that a brutal crime is, in itself, evidence of insanity. Krauthammer writes with disgust about “this trivialization of the law by psychiatry,” and he offers a reason that it has happened: “Some of these newfangled psychiatric syndromes are so elastic that one can always find an expert witness willing (for a fee) to pin an extenuating diagnosis on just about anybody.”12
He argues that insanity should not be grounds for acquittal. “It is absurd to permit the heinousness of a crime to become self-acquitting. That sets up a perverse standard: The more terrible the crime, the crazier, therefore the less culpable, the criminal. The man who commits incomprehensible torture is acquitted. The father who steals bread to feed his children is convicted.”13
The American Medical Association has accepted the concept of “mental illness” and fully recognizes the implications of such a definition: “The concept of mental illness is…important, for legal reasons, in determining whether a person can be held responsible for his or her actions.”14
Taxpayers are required to pay outrageous sums to maintain vicious criminals in mental institutions and prisons until overcrowding in the prisons forces early releases, and soon these offenders are back on the streets stalking new victims. I truly grieve for the criminals who grew up in harsh and abusive environments. Of course, they have also been victimized by others in their past. But they are still responsible for their choices, and I put forth the proposition that appropriate punishment is far more compassionate in the long run for the victim and the criminal.
Severe and swift punishment is a statement of compassion for the victims of brutal crimes. Why should a young girl have to fall asleep each night in terror that the rapist will return as he promised? Why should a family who loses a husband and father also have to pay the very taxes used to maintain his murderer in jail or the psychiatric hospital?
Certain punishment is also compassionate toward those who become criminals. If there were absolute assurance that crime would be punished severely, there would be an eventual decrease in the crime rate. I am aware that this phenomenon has been hotly debated for years; many studies claim to demonstrate that punishment has no effect on crime rates. Yet those studies may be as faulty as the other unscientific psychological reports which have been carefully tailored by their authors to support their sociological theories.
One such study in Colorado said that longer prison sentences did not help to lower the crime rates there. But an editorial in the Rocky Mountain News sheds light on the debate:
Just because the violent-crime rate has not declined in the past 10 years is hardly reason to conclude that long sentences are pointless. In the first place, society doesn’t imprison people merely to reduce crime rates. It also does so to make a moral statement—to balance the scales, if you will.…
By keeping [violent criminals] in prison, society undoubtedly averts other crimes.…
Once [criminals have turned to violence] the choice is clear. Lock them up for a long time where they can’t hurt people—or claim that imprisonment is no deterrent and set them free to prey on yet more of the innocent.15
Go to Singapore and see how the certainty of punishment has made it one of the cleanest and safest places on earth. Ask how many Americans import illicit drugs into Turkey, where punishment is certain and harsh for such a crime. Yes, it is far more compassionate to inform a person ahead of time that if he commits a crime, he will be punished. Deterrence is a compassionate act.
Yet humanistic philosophy continues to wring its hands in misplaced sympathy as it objects to appropriate punishment for serious offenses. How then can we expect criminals to take their actions seriously when we excuse them from personal responsibility?
Families are suffering from the psychological doctrines being spread in both secular and Christian media. Women are taught that biblical submission to their husband’s authority is a chauvinistic concept that must be reinterpreted in the light of Paul’s Jewish culture. The emphasis upon self has caused husbands and wives to turn their backs on loving sacrifice for one another. The current word is, “It’s time I finally did something for myself.” In the search for self-esteem and self-fulfillment, the security and stability of marriage begins to crumble, and divorce is the common result.
Christians who once lived in the freedom of God’s forgiveness and healing are being dragged back into their former cesspools in order to “work through their past.” Victims of child abuse are never allowed to recover, but are instructed in the philosophy of permanent victimization. Husbands who had no part in the childhood sexual abuse of their wives are now told that they have become the “surrogate abuser” because they have not “entered into the pain” their wives experienced.
The tentacles of psychology have also reached into the parent-child relationship. Social workers have nearly unlimited power to remove children from homes for virtually any cause to “protect them from psychological harm.” Parents are afraid to discipline their children for fear a schoolteacher might report them as abusive. Children have picked up on this power and threaten their parents: “If you spank me, I’ll report you.” Genuine abusers, however, are not afraid to beat and torture children without mercy because they can always plead temporary insanity.
There are eternal costs connected with psychological counseling. When people are told that the Bible cannot guide them in their day-to-day problems of living, they have every reason to doubt that it can lead them to eternal life. When we accept the doctrine that we need more information than God has given in His Word, we open the doors of our hearts and minds to the god of this age, who is at work filling us with his lies.
Only in eternity will we fully grasp the impact of the pagan philosophies which have swept into the church in the guise of Christian psychology by way of books, magazines, tapes, films, radio, and psychological counseling services. As shipwrecked saints struggle helplessly against the raging tides of despair, instead of throwing out the lifeline of God’s eternal Word, we tell them to climb into the leaking rubber rafts of psychology. Why are we amazed, then, when they slowly sink beneath the waves?
1 Susan Miller and Kenneth L. Woodward, “These Souls Were Made for Shrinking,” Newsweek, September 14, 1992, p. 60.
2 Gary R. Collins, Can You Trust Psychology? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 40.
3 Bernie Zilbergeld, The Shrinking of America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983), p. 142.
4 Otto and Miriam Ehrenberg, The Psychological Maze (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977), p. 69.
5 Judi Striano, How to Find a Good Psychotherapist, A Consumer Guide (Santa Barbara, CA: Professional Press, 1987), pp. 14–15.
6 Collins, Can You Trust?, p. 41.
7 Ibid., p. 41.
8 Denis Donovan, ed., “Marketing: Developing the Right Attitude,” Psychotherapy Today, February 1991, pp. 1–2.
11 Thomas Sowell, “There’s no problem so big that we can’t make it worse,” Rocky Mountain News, February 20, 1992, p. 49.
12 Charles Krauthammer, “Crazy crimes can lead to courtroom insanity,” Rocky Mountain News, February 10, 1992, p. 35.
14 The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine (New York: Random House, 1989), p. 678.
15 “Violent Crime and Hard Time,” Rocky Mountain News, October 23, 1992, p. 72.
Ed Bulkley "Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 1993).
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