Mary Lou Serafine comments on “The Practice of Psychology”

Reply from Mary Lou Serafine to Dr. Mary Gresham and Christine Massey, in response to their comments on this site.

I respect and am grateful for the various people who have posted comments, especially Dr. Gresham, because it takes up one’s time to put up a post and exposes one to dissent.  But I agree with Christine Massey.  Among a free people there can be no issue of who should or should not give advice, or what one may “call themselves,” even if it is misleading or, as the Court of Appeals implied, an outright lie.

The issue is, rather, who is to decide if it is true or untrue?

Unelected government bureaucrats?  Politicians?  The American Psychological Association?  “Experts”?

Each of these, at heart, is authoritarianism.  I concede there are a couple of exceptions:  “misleading” when it leads to fraud, other crimes, intellectual property infringements, and slander should be and are prohibited.  The list is short.

My complaint is not against psychologists.  It is against government.

And government’s award of monopoly status to the psychologists’ lobby.

Psychotherapists give advice, often overtly, and at least implicitly.

The very act of therapy is advice that working with the therapist is good for you.  That may be true.  But it is certainly opinion and advice.

In the trial of this case, Serafine v. Branaman, and in the many briefs filed by the Texas Attorney General on behalf of the Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the board repeatedly made the argument that I see has been made here on my website:  that psychologists do much more than give advice and opinions.  What they do is “practice psychology.”

I repeat here the challenge I gave elsewhere:  Give the examples of what constitutes the “practice of psychology” upon which the majority of psychologists would agree.  They can’t do it.  There is no such thing.

In study after study, psychotherapies based upon opposite assumptions about how the mind works all have equal effects, usually not much better than treatments other than licensed psychotherapy.  This is not good news for defining a “practice of psychology.”  Almost in desperation, at least one research team, led by Norcross, has tried to show that, if psychologists cannot agree on what is good psychotherapy, at least maybe they agree on what is bad psychotherapy, or bad psychology programs, or quackery.  No luck.  Expert psychologists can’t even agree on what is or is not quackery.

Exception:  There was some agreement—though not universal—that methods such as angel therapy and crystals were believed to be “discredited.” (There’s little or no research on angels and crystals, however, to my knowledge.  Which is to say, maybe the crystals work.)

Worse,  opinions of quackery were significantly correlated with—let me say it—one, gender; and two, the school of thought of the psychologist.  This is very bad news for the claim that this is a profession based upon a body of knowledge that should be awarded a government monopoly.  A purported profession that wants a license to prevent the rest of the citizenry from “practicing psychology” with a broad and vague definition, when they themselves cannot distinguish what they do from absolute quackery, does not warrant a license.

Again, after four years of litigation, the Texas psychology board and its trial expert could not come up with a single method that defines the “practice of psychology.”  Reason:  There is none.  My challenge is still open.

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