- Mental Health
Psychology: Interpretive Art Posing as Exact Science
It's Really an Art, Not a Science
Whether we may be talking about psychiatry or a home study course in psychotherapy, or anything in between - it's not an exact science like math, chemistry, or physics, but an interpretive one, which defines it more as an art. It means that more than in some other fields of health care you are likely to hear a different second and third opinion.
Now, don't take me wrong, I have nothing against amateurism, and I understand that with new evidence and data becoming available every science may update itself making obsolete yesterday's conclusions. That's plausible about science, as it doesn't show so much of a tendency to turn into a dogma.
Not that such a tendency is completely nonexistent, and that's how we are often talking about something like "mainstream science", and "alternative", or "progressive" one, which then gets treated as "heresy" is treated in religion.
However, the question remains of the effectiveness of an applied science like psychology, and the statistics are showing so low rate of success that the above consideration of the science constantly updating itself can't serve as its valid excuse.
Academic Pride of an Unreliable Science
Instead of a due humbleness that would keep it at an experimental level of so many alternative modalities in the field - until it proves itself to be a little more reliable - it's recognized as a bona fide science marching proudly side by side with medicine in a parade of academic vanity.
With all advancements in medicine, you could find some honest medical scientists who will admit how, due to an enormous complexity of human being medicine is still in its diapers. That complexity is so much more pronounced in psychology where the variables are practically countless, and squeezing them into some solid "constants" is bordering with a naïve ambition.
In order for a theory to be considered scientifically sound it has to be repeatable with the same results, which is not so in the case of psychology. Psycho-chemical individual differences between people oftentimes turn 2+2 not to be equal 4, leaving psychology with no reliable parameters, which actually sometimes look like measuring distances with pounds.
More or less, depending on the case history of a patient, it's not more than a guessing game and improvising that's characteristic for an art.
A Questionable Professionalism
All in all, psychology and psychiatry are not dealing with some solid constants that would justify their status among sciences - including those fees that are being charged for their guesswork. Psychiatry is in somewhat better position because it has its big sister medicine to hold it up there, with all those psychoactive drugs which make a difference in the way that the patient may feel their symptoms, although ultimately not making a substantial difference in the underlying cause.
But it's a highly invasive method, and oftentimes the patient is exposed to an experiment rather than a sure treatment. Something like "brain chemical imbalances" has never been established for a fact, and yet patients are given all kinds of chemicals, often highly addictive to "correct" a problem that doesn't exist, except in some textbooks that have never been updated.
Success in treatment of a whole range of smaller emotional problems could easily be ascribed to the good, old placebo effect, where patient is trusting the good shrink and his prescription pad so much that the trust itself produces positive changes. Indeed, nowhere else a professional is allowed to deliver services and charge for them while acting as an amateur that's only learning - while trusted by desperate customers.
A Passion for Academic Cosmetics
Due to some diagnosable bunch of symptoms that are common in people's behavior, psychology can't be said, in all fairness, that it's "completely" in the business of guessing, but rather in it's more acceptable form of so called "educated" guesses. So, at its best, it's dealing with some established probabilities in its work, although so much in the course of a treatment is left to artistic improvising.
Educated professionals in this field tend to mask their confusion over countless variables with a phraseological cosmetics, while making themselves at least sound as if they know for sure what they are talking about and doing.
Indeed, so many "schools" and theories, each with its own terminology, as if they were talking about different species. If there was a similar disagreement present in the rocket science, we would be hearing about rockets going to Pluto while sent to the Moon.
Dubiously Long Therapies
Trusting patients may spend a decade or more on the analyst's couch, and thousands of dollars later they may end up worse off than before therapy. Depending on individual cases, not everyone may benefit from that constant digging into the past and touching the old emotional wounds.
From the pure perspective of neuroscience, whatever pattern of experiencing we repeat, we make it stronger - according to their familiar adage: "Brain cells that fire together, wire together".
In terms of simple morality, it's not fair to the patient to keep prolonging a line of treatment in which the professional is only specialized, if the marked improvement is not noticed after a certain amount of time, and it should be discontinued, before even a possible damage is done.
With one reservation referring to those mild complaints where the patient - or better "client" - is using their therapist for a "paid friend", and doesn't mind the fee because they find beneficial those regular "emotional tune-ups" which allow them to vent it all out without a worry to be either ridiculed, criticized, or gossiped about afterwards. To some folks that opportunity is "priceless", just like a good massage.
A Bartender May Do a Better Job
As much as it may sound simplistic to some of you who are of an opinion that "complex problems require complex measures" - sometimes a casual talk to bartender or a close friend may do more for a troubled person than those years on the analyst's couch.
For a little illustration, some folks like eating at fancy restaurants, as that ambient itself somehow adds to the enjoyment of eating and consequently digestion of the food. But then there are others whose sweetest meals are those at their home where they can make a loud burp afterwards, with no one staring at them from a few tables away, with no commotion and loud, irritating laughs around them.
Just as they are likely to digest their food much better at home than in a classy restaurant, the minds of such folks may process some simple life truisms much better when they are allowed to swear, to have a beer, to act freely.
There they can be more open-minded to an honest and simple opinion of an ordinary person who is not "piercing into their soul with a cold scalpel of professionalism". So, a sympathetic and street-wise bartender may do a better job - while charging only for that beer.
"Medico, Cura Se" (Doctor, Heal Yourself)
Interestingly enough, some of the biggies in the field - actually considered to be "fathers" of psychoanalysis like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacques Lacan apparently needed more therapy than many of their patients.
Well, you be the judge, don't take my word for it. Freud was suffering from fainting spells at a slightly more demanding task - couldn't function under stress at all. He got impotent in his thirties, which was an irony of the nature considering that one of his main themes was sexuality, and one would assume that he would "excel" in that field.
While he was probably trying to cure some of his patients' addictions, he couldn't stop smoking his cigars, not even after several surgeries on cancerous growths in his mouth. And, although he must have tried to save a few marriages in the course of his practice with a sound counsel, he was badly mistreating his own wife. The famous doctor ended up by an arranged assisted suicide. Hey, the dude's teachings are still studied in universities and widely practiced all over the world.
Little less could be said about Carl Jung, except that he was, by his own admission, contemplating a suicide for the most of his life, even at the peak of his rewarding career and prestigious place in the scientific community.
But then, a small book could be written about Jacque Lacan, a Parisian bonvivant and showman parading with a ridiculously intricate and hard to understand phraseology and theorism that hasn't been completely decoded to this day, with all study groups religiously believing in his "genius". The dude was literally smacking his patients, having sex with some, and at the peak of his career he was giving only ten minute sessions - dying as a rich man from all those fees.
A metaphorical question may be in order here : Would you buy an "elixir for hair regrowth" from a bald dude?
"Prevention Is Better than Cure"
I would like to emphasize how this article was not intended to turn anybody away from their mental health caretakers. Despite some rather harsh criticism, I can't be totally unfair to their honest trying to help their patients by any means available to their science.
It is not the practitioners to be blamed for those numerous failures but rather the level of development in science. Likewise, medicine as a science is still searching for answers to many tantalizing questions, but that doesn't mean that we should stop seeing our doctors.
It was my main intention to bring the attention of the public to the universal need for something like personal "mental hygiene", so that we minimize the need to see those professionals whose science may, or may not provide the answer to our emotional issues.
Except for those unfortunate individuals with extreme problems, the majority of us could do a lot for our mental health by merely practicing some sort of stress management - by using mostly a common sense.