In 1936 Saul Rosenzweig announced The Dodo Bird Verdict. Borrowing from "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland"

Photo by William Berry
Source: Photo by William Berry

he declared that all therapies had won, and all deserve prizes. This is a controversial topic in psychology, as some schools believe (and have demonstrated in studies) that their techniques are more effective than others. What is often lost sight of, however, is that no therapy is effective for everyone or even every disorder, and that the attacking of theories may be a psychological distortion to begin with.

When Freud first introduced his theory, and later altered it and the focal points, he seemed to believe he had cornered the truth of the human psyche. As Feist, Feist and Roberts put it, “Freud insisted that psychoanalysis could not be subjected to eclecticism, and disciples who deviated from his basic ideas soon found themselves personally and professionally ostracized by Freud” (p.19). The list of disciples who were ostracized includes Adler and Jung, among prominent others. This all occurred in the early 1900’s. Though there is more openness to other schools of thought today, there remains some staunch opposition to theories that differ from one’s accepted philosophy, and a continued belief one has cornered the truth.

In a TED Talk on being wrong, Kathryn Schulz describes what she calls “a series of unfortunate assumptions” about those who disagree with us. The first is, that they are “ignorant” of the facts we have. The second is that they are idiots; because they have the same facts yet can’t see the truth. And the third, when we realize they are intelligent, is that they must be evil (to disagree with us so vehemently despite being intelligent and having the facts). Perhaps this is what the psychotherapeutic schools, and to a lesser extent, individual therapists do when confronted with disagreement about their idea of the truth.

As each new theory develops, its originator behaves as if it has unveiled the truth, and other, more established theories, reel against it. This occurred again when Johann Hari’s TED Talk, proposing “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong”, was released. Quickly others took to challenging his theory. Challenging theories is good, we shouldn’t let shoddy work go unquestioned. However, often times the motivating factor is an attachment to one’s own beliefs with little room left for differing opinions.

This is true of Psychology Today’s own Stanton Peele. Although respected by many in the field of addiction treatment, he is also described as controversial. This is largely because he has purported ideas that diverge from the disease concept that is so well accepted for addiction.

The more familiar one becomes with psychology, and learns of different schools and techniques, the more similarities are perceived. Some newer theories, are said to have introduced nothing truly novel other than the combination of ideas and their application from different schools. Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which originated in the nineties, is an example. This relatively new therapy has led to the development of still others, which have taken certain tenets of DBT’s approach and expanded them into its school.

In the book, “Mindfulness, Acceptance, and the Psychodynamic Evolution” Stewart presents writings on how these seemingly new therapeutic interventions (and now schools of thought such as Acceptance and Commitment Training, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, etcetera) have always been a part of psychoanalytic therapy. In fact, all three major schools of therapy (Psychoanalytic, Behavioral, and Humanistic) can look to these newer therapies as evidence of their evolutionary process.

Individual therapists discourage clients from judging and picking holes in others. Yet when it comes to their particular school of thought, they have little trouble pointing out why another theory is lacking. Some of this may have to do with in-group out-group bias. This occurs when the group you belong to is viewed as more attractive, worthy, or otherwise better than the group you are not in. Psychologists and therapists, however, are aware of this and can rise above it.

Therapy would likely benefit a great deal if more therapists and psychologists looked to the similarities in therapy rather than the differences. There are so many individual techniques of therapy that transcend a particular school, and are worthy interventions in multiple schools.  This is not to mention that people are different, and likely respond to different techniques and schools. Some theories are more suited to certain disorders (such as DBT for Borderline PDO) but some theories are better suited for a certain individual.

Psychology speaks generically about populations all of the time. It is an unfortunate necessity. But speaking about it so frequently shouldn’t take from the understanding each person is an individual, and may not benefit from the status quo for other individuals. Maybe all of the theories have a piece of the truth. Maybe there is no truth. Or, perhaps, the truth transcends anything we can currently glimpse.

Copyright William Berry, 2015

References:

Feist, J, Feist G, Roberts, T; 2013; Theories of Personality, 8th Ed.; McGraw Hill

Hari, J; 2015; Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong; TED Talk retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_abou...

Schulz, K; 2011; On Being Wrong; TED Talk retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong?language=en#t-609199

Stewart, J.M; 2014; Mindfulness, Acceptance, and the Psychodynamic Evolution; Context Press, Oakland, CA.

You are reading

The Second Noble Truth

You Think You're A Good Parent?

Your children may be waiting for an apology, while you wait for their thanks.

Are You Even Being?

Existentialists believe non-being is an illness of our time.

It Doesn't Matter

This common phrase maybe the most existential thing you say.