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Psycho-Quackery: A Trojan Horse III

By Lindell Mitchell

religion, articles, christianity

Because of boundless faith in what is considered science, psychotherapy flourishes. Because the number of people labeled "mentally ill" is rapidly expanding, psychotherapy thrives on promises of change, cure, and joy. Promises of help are augmented by enthusiastic testimonials from people "cured" by psychological interventions. (If I had spent fifty thousand dollars for a month of "treatment," I would be tempted to justify my actions, too.) However, a growing body of research tells a different story about the effectiveness and limitations of psychotherapy. Due to the inroads of psychotherapeutic interventions in society, we must ask: Do psychotherapeutic philosophies and interventions offer Christians something better than the church has provided since Pentecost?

A landmark study conducted in 1952 by the eminent British scholar, Hans J. Eysenck, examined the success and failure rates of psychotherapy. He compared patients treated by psychotherapy with people receiving little or no treatment. The results showed a higher improvement rate in patients receiving no treatment over those undergoing psychotherapy. After examining the outcome of over eight thousand cases, Eysenck concluded:

... roughly two-thirds of neurotic patients will recover or improve to a marked extent within about two years of the onset of their illness, whether they are treated by means of psychotherapy or not (Hans J. Eysenck, "The Effects of Psychotherapy: An Evaluation," Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 16, 1952, p. 322).

Failing to demonstrate any advantage of psychotherapy over no treatment, Eysenck observed:

From the point of view of the neurotic, these figures are encouraging; from the point of view of the psychotherapist, they can hardly be called very favorable to his claims (Eysenck, pp. 322-323).

The weight of that statement is overwhelming. If (on average) people do as well without psychological counseling as with it, why bother?

Since Eysenck dropped this atomic bomb on the psychotherapeutic community in 1952, the controversy has raged over whether counseled patients do substantially better than the non-counseled. Some years ago Smith and Glass reviewed a large number of research studies; their results were encouraging to psychotherapists. The review seemed to show that psychotherapy was more effective than no treatment. A massive amount of research was covered and highly sophisticated statistical instruments were employed; effectiveness had been established. However, such conclusions proved to be far from unassailable.

The Smith and Glass report was critiqued in The Effects of Psychological Therapy, by S. J. Rachman, Professor of Abnormal Psychology, and G. T. Wilson, Professor of Psychology. They cited many glaring errors and violations of sound statistical analysis.

Smith and Glass are naive in prematurely applying a novel statistical method to dubious evidence that is too complex and certainly too uneven and underdeveloped for anything useful to emerge. The result is statistical mayhem (S. J. Rachman and G. T. Wilson, The Effects of Psychological Therapy, 2nd enlarged Ed., New York: Pergamon Press, 1980, p. 251).

Donald Klein, Professor of Psychiatry, said before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee, "I believe, that at present, the scientific evidence for psychotherapy efficacy cannot justify public support" (Donald Klein, Proposals to Expand Coverage of Mental Health Under Medicare-Medicaid, "Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Finance," Ninety-Fifth Congress, Second Session, August 18, 1978, p. 45). As a result of those hearings, Jay Constantine, Chief, Health Professional Staff, wrote:

Based upon evaluations of the literature and testimony, it appears clear to us that there are virtually no controlled clinical studies, conducted and evaluated in accordance with generally accepted scientific principles, which confirm the efficacy, safety, and appropriateness of psychotherapy as it is conducted today (Jay Constantine letter, printed in Blue Sheet, Vol. 22 [50] December 12, 1979, pp. 8-9).

After an extensive review of the effects of psychotherapy, Rachman and Wilson made this stunning statement:

It has to be admitted that the scarcity of convincing findings remains a continuing embarrassment, and the profession can regard itself as fortunate that the more strident advocates of accountability have not yet scrutinized the evidence. If challenged by external critics, which pieces of evidence can we bring forward? ... The few clear successes to which we can point are out-numbered by the failures, and both are drowned by the unsatisfactory reports and studies from which no safe conclusions can be salvaged (Rachman and Wilson, p. 77).

Psychotherapy has not proven effective as a treatment for chemical dependency. Newsweek reported, "Individual psychotherapy, the rehab experts agree, is notoriously ineffective in treating addiction (Jean Seligmann, "Getting Straight," Newsweek, June 4, 1984, p. 65). A noted addiction researcher, Stanton Peel, asserts:

Among people in therapy to lose weight, stop smoking, kick a drug or drink addiction, as few as 5% actually make it (Stanton Peel," Out of the Habit Trap," American Health, September/October, 1983, p. 42).

A disturbing example of therapeutic promises contradicted by results is reported in Psycho Heresy Update, Winter/Spring, 1992. A series of articles originally carried in the Minneapolis Star Tribune is cited. The arrest, release, and re-arrest rates of rapists and child molesters in Minnesota are studied. Minnesota is one of those progressive states providing psychological treatment for sex-offenders at taxpayer expense.

The reporters investigated the records of 767 rapists and child molesters convicted of first-degree charges in the 1980's. They found that in Minnesota the average rapist has been charged with more than three sex crimes; the average child molester, with four. And the legal system hasn't stopped them.

Not only has the legal system bolstered by psychotherapy not stopped them, one of the sub-headlines declares: Arrest rates are higher after therapy.

The data showed that Minnesota's sex offenders completing the prescribed program were more likely to commit new sex crimes than those receiving no treatment. The Star Tribune declared:

Minnesota's much praised treatment programs don't work. in fact, their main impact is to keep many sex criminals out of prison. (If you are interested in this series, enclose a check for $1.50 made out to the Star Tribune and send it to: Rape Report, Star Tribune, 425 Portland, Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55488).

Sadly, some brethren who are psychotherapists are making unsubstantiated claims concerning the nature, degree, and extent of emotional problems in the Lord's church. In calling on two Christian psychotherapists to produce the facts supporting their charges of widespread incest in Christian families, especially preachers' families, I have been accused of vilifying them. If this is what constitutes vilification, so be it!

When it is shown that widespread sexual perversity exists in God's church, especially among preachers, I will do whatever is required to help correct the problem. When it is shown that such problems exist because of a skewed concept of male headship commonly taught in churches of Christ, I will lead the charge against it. Until then I intend to keep preaching the whole counsel of God to an overwhelmingly sane, sensitive, and sensible brotherhood.

If the lame defense offered by one psychologist for such silly assertions is the best the psychotherapeutic community has to offer, I do not expect to alter my present current course. This tepid defense for assertions of widespread sexual misconduct and abuse in Christian families appears in an obscure journal. The journal is designed to cater to the whims of disgruntled liberals bent on "bold change." J. E. Choate called its editor a "cultic leader" who is "so controversial that his effectiveness is compromised beyond repair in the thinking of many brethren" (J. E. Choate, "Prolegomena: The Second Incarnation: A Book Review," Firm Foundation, July, 1992, p. 19).

The author makes incredibly ill-founded statements based on dubious research. For example, in a vain attempt to prop up the charge that churches of Christ are afflicted with widely practiced incest, he says: "We must not assume that because sexual abuse is not obvious in church families it does not exist" (Paul L. Cates, "The Real but Hidden Problem of Sexual Abuse," Wineskins, June, 1992, pp. 8-12). (Paul L. Cates is an elder at the Harpeth Hills church where Gayle Napier is employed. He also is a counselor at David Lipscomb University.) First, no one is so foolish as to assume that such problems do not exist. Incontrovertible evidence clearly shows its ugly presence in America, and it appears to be increasing. However, no data has been produced which suggests that it is widespread among faithful members of the Lord's church.

Second, no one has shown that such problems are the result of adhering to biblical mandates concerning family relationships. To the contrary, these problems have increased as brethren have strayed from the biblical directives. With such flawed reasoning brethren could be proven guilty of any vile crime. For example, one could argue: "We must not assume that because bestiality is not obvious in elders' families it does not exist." Then we could assert that vast numbers of elders are sexually intimate with barnyard animals! Since we do not see it or even hear about it, this must be the last taboo! It's only the tip of the iceberg, so let's put all elders into therapy before it is too late!

This bit of unguarded silliness is also offered for consideration:

It would be tragic if we lost sight of the real problems of abuse in families within the church in a debate over whether one theory or another accurately explains its cause. We must not stand around and debate why the victim got run over while he is dying in the street (Paul L. Cates, "The Real but Hidden Problem of Sexual Abuse," Wineskins, June, 1992, p. 9).

The real tragedy would be to charge ahead with dramatic interventions that are not needed or effective. If a patient is suffering from a hemorrhoid and is treated for a heart attack, he is not helped. In cases of severe trauma no time can be wasted, but the attending physician must take sufficient time to make an accurate diagnosis. Having done this, he must carefully administer only those treatments proven safe and effective. When the police arrive on the scene, it is imperative that they arrest only those persons responsible for the injuries. When the courts mete out punishment, they must bring punitive sanctions to bear only on the guilty.

What we see happening in the Lord's church today is something quite different. Some charge that widespread abuse and sexual perversion is caused by conservative church leaders' insistence on adherence to a warped view of biblical mandates concerning family relationships. One speaker at David Lipscomb University asserted that 70% of our families are dysfunctional. Dr. Gayle Napier was quoted in two major newspapers as saying "conservative churches foster incest." He also said that the biggest problem facing Christians families is that "we have so warped the concept of headship and submission that we have produced a pathological marriage model."

Napier did not present these assertions as theories; he spoke with authority as if he knew what he was talking about. When called upon to show evidence supporting the assertions, he initially denied making them. In a private letter he later grudgingly acknowledged making the statements but offered no evidence to support them. Instead he attempted to side-step the issue by saying we ought not to lose sight of the problem of incest debating about its cause. However, the central questions remain: How does Napier know instances of incest are as prevalent among churches of Christ as he says they are? How does he know that conservative Christians are the source of this problem? What evidence is there to indicate that he knows how to remedy the problem if it exists?

Now this new champion, Paul L. Cates, has entered the field of battle in bold array. His colors are flying in proud defiance of his enemies. He has engaged us with puny weapons. From the obscure pages of Sour Grapes he comes with "scientific studies" purportedly showing widespread sexual dysfunction and abuse among churches of Christ. He proposes to provide hard data validating Napier's assertions. But alas, only one of the studies cited was conducted among members of the Lord's church! This lone study did not examine instances of incest. It examined the degree of sexual promiscuity among Christian young people (plenty disturbing). Some of the studies alluded to examined alcoholism, while others were concerned with spousal battery. Even if the studies cited are valid, it tells us nothing relevant about the Lord's church, because these studies do not look at God's church. If data indicated the presence of widespread incest in Christian families, it would not prove or suggest the cause was conservative Christians' insistence on doing what the Bible says.

What this article represents is a desperate attempt to prop up ill-founded assertions emanating from radical Christians within the psychotherapeutic community. If they could substantiate their ridiculous charges, they would have long ago. The house of cards is crumbling and great shall be its fall! Hopefully men of moderation, balance, and biblical loyalty from within the psychotherapeutic community will devise helping mechanisms consistent with biblical teaching.

When such helping mechanisms are developed, they must possess a statistically significant number of reproducible observations and, above all, controls. These are imperative if the mechanisms are to be called scientific. Because psychotherapy has no status as a science and because it is nonsense as medicine, people choose it by blind faith. Psychotherapy currently falls short of the objectivity and the testability of science.

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, seek help now. Do not take it any more. Go to family members, elders, or the local preacher. Be sure that the authorities are notified. (I remind preachers, elders, and brethren, that it is a crime in most states to know of abuse and not report it.) If you do not act to stop the evil, it will be repeated. It must be exposed and put far from God's people; no denial, no excuses-action!

To prevent abusive relationships from developing, follow these simple steps. First, treat one another as you want to be treated (Matt. 7:12). Dads and moms, resolve to treat your spouse as you wish to be treated. Do not neglect your intimate relationship (I Cor. 7:1-5). Parents, show your children the consideration you desire from them. Children, treat your parents with the respect you want them to afford you. Second, husbands love your wives as Christ loved his church; love her as you love your own body (Eph. 5:25-3 1). Third, wives, be submissive to your husbands as unto the Lord in all things consistent with biblical teaching (Eph. 5:22-24). Fourth, children, be obedient to your parents in any matter consistent with God's word (Eph. 6:1-3). Fifth, fathers, teach your children how to walk with God (Eph. 6:4). Ladies, if you run into difficulties, seek the counsel of an older Christian lady who has done well with her family (Titus 2:3-5). Gentlemen, if you have similar problems, seek the advice of a Christian grandfather who raised a faithful family (Titus 2:2). In all things be guided by God's word. It will out-perform and outlast the silly systems of men.

Deo Vindice,


Published November 1992