House of Cards
House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth is a 1994 book by Robyn Dawes, a psychologist who specialized in the field of human judgment.
Robyn Dawes spares no one in this powerful critique of modern psychotherapeutic practice. As Dawes points out, we have all been swayed by the "pop psych" view of the world--believing, for example, that self-esteem is an essential precursor to being a productive human being, that events in one's childhood affect one's fate as an adult, and that "you have to love yourself before you can love another.
Review (IPT Journal):
This is an extremely important book that pulls no punches in its criticisms of current psychological practices. It exposes the myths that have allowed psychologists to develop status and authority in the absence of empirical support for their claims. Dawes' criticisms and assertions are amply supported by research, which he describes carefully and which make his arguments understandable and persuasive. He is meticulously accurate — for example, he correctly defines "negative reinforcement," which many other psychologists frequently confuse with "punishment."
The behavior of psychologists in terms of child sexual abuse, including the recovered memory movement, comes in for some of Dawes' harshest comments. He is also sharply critical of New Age psychology, and observes, "But while the New Age psychology begins with the music of Aquarius, it ends with the puerile harmony of pure selfishness" (p.233). He spends several pages on the unsuccessful research efforts to find an association between self-esteem and a number of behavioral consequences. His description of the research on the Rorschach Ink Blot test should result in psychologists abandoning the use of this test in forensic settings. He describes the research on anatomical dolls and comments that the American Psychological Association's conclusion that psychologists can use the dolls if they are competent is quite simply, outrageous (p. 162).
In fact, throughout, Dawes is critical of the American Psychological Association and he includes an account of his experience on the ethics committee when he resigned following a 6 to 1 vote (Dawes was the lone dissenter) that once a person becomes a client, regardless of the termination of the professional relationship, all subsequent sexual intimacies with that client are unethical. A client was defined as anyone who had seen a psychologist in any professional relationship for any reason, including as a student, trainee, or business person seeking consultation. (This decision was later overturned by the lawyers for the APA.)
Dawes, however, believes that psychotherapy can be helpful and effective for people who are upset to the point of feeling unable to cope. He believes that successful therapy will be based on systematic principles of behavior and theory derived from careful research studies and that people should try to find a therapist who is empathic and whose philosophy about life is compatible with theirs. But the experience and credentials of the therapist, and the costs of therapy, are not related to effectiveness.
After the preface, Part I covers (sequentially) Psychotherapy: The Myth of Expertise, Prediction and Diagnosis: More Myths of Expertise, Experience: The Myth of Expanding Expertise, Licensing: The Myth of Protecting the Public, A Plethora of Experts and What to Do About Them, and Why the Myths Are Believed. Part 2 focuses on culture; namely New Age Psychology, Paternalistic Put-Downs: Clients as Slaves to Therapists, and the Rest of Us as Slaves to Our Feelings, and finally Autonomy and Advice.
Some excerpts on CSA
Experts in the court room are incompetent
An expert in a court room setting is supposed to be competent to present an opinion with reasonable certainty. But a mental health expert who expresses a confident opinion about the probable future behavior of a single individual (for example, to engage in violent acts) is by definition incompetent, because the research has demonstrated that neither a mental health expert nor anyone else can make such a prediction with accuracy sufficient to warrant much confidence.
Overestimation and definitional ambiguity of CSA
But the worst license of all is the license to make up one's own psychological theories, to make up one's own tests, and present the "results" of one's fantasies in a legal setting as an "expert" witness. As pointed out earlier by Lee Sechrest, this horrific type of license has now been granted in the area of child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse. It began with a gross overestimation of the incidence of child sexual abuse. This overestimation has been reinforced by the definitional ambiguity child abuse: it is variously defined as any sexual contact before age eighteen with a person five or more years older, or as any encounter with a "flasher" no matter how brief.43 Meanwhile, when the general public hears of child abuse, they think of actual forced intercourse or molestation.
"Children never lie"
Said christo-adjacent "believe the children" doxa was a common and inaccurate trope of late 1980s and early 1990s abuse advocacy (see also Sonenschein: Pedophiles on Parade (1998)).
The next step in the creation of the child abuse fantasy has been to assert that "children never lie" (except, of course, when they deny being abused). One prosecutor, relying on psychologists' "expertise," is reported to have told a jury, "To believe a child's no is simplistic."46 There is, of course, no evidence that children never lie, any more than there is evidence that adults never lie. As any parent can testify, children do lie—just as adults do. But then we are asked the rhetorical question, "Why would someone lie about something so important?" The implication is that people—including children—cannot be persuaded that important events occurred in their lives when they actually didn't. The implication underlies appeals to believe incredible stories of growing up in satanic cults that sacrifice babies and so on.
Reliability and accuracy in assessment of CSA
Although doll play actually distinguishes between suspect and nonsuspect children rather than between abused and nonabused children, it follows that a majority of the children who are suspected of having been abused will be judged to have actually been abused. Thus, a diagnosis on the basis of ADDs ["anatomically detailed dolls"] can be termed "reliable," in the sense that different observers using the same test will reach the same diagnosis. The child has been sexually abused. The observers can even cite each other's opinion as evidence of this reliability. But this "reliability" is specious. If a bathroom scale consistently reads 300 pounds whenever Harry steps on it in the morning and 350 pounds whenever he steps on it in the afternoon, it is consistent ("it has test-retest reliability"). If there are two such scales that behave in exactly the same way (saying Harry weighs 300 pounds in the morning and 350 in the afternoon), their agreement could be cited as evidence of their consistency (they have "interjudge reliability"). The problem is that although they are indeed reliable, they are inaccurate.
In contrast to the reliable but inaccurate ADD, many other evaluations of child sexual abuse (whether or not they use doll play as a component63) suffer from unreliability. The experts simply disagree too much over the meaning of their results.
Clinicians are legitimized to decide whether abuse has occurred
The behavior of mental health experts in this regard would be ludicrous were it not tragic. It can result not only in the conviction of innocent people, but in disruption of the lives of children supposedly molested and in those children's belief for the rest of their lives that they were abused—whether or not they actually were. As Judge Robert Klein puts it, "what they have learned through the process of questioning over the span of time" they "now know to be fact." Further: "In fact, because the children now believe that such abuse occurred, they are unable to separate the facts from their learned experience and, consequently, their behavior is just the same as if they were abused. This abuse has become their reality."66 Child sexual abuse is an awful thing. By having license to make up theories, symptom checklists, interviewing techniques, and tests of it, the purported experts in effect engage in it themselves. The fact that they are licensed provides no protection whatsoever for these children—quite the opposite.
Many, however, are involved in helping clients recover memories of having been victims of sexual abuse as children, particularly incestuous abuse. These memories occasionally involve sexual orgies (it has been claimed that they occurred in various day schools) or even orgiastic parts of satanic cult practices.81 The process of recovering such memories is distressingly similar to that leading to accusations of mass child sexual abuse or abduction by ETs. The clients who are quite often (but not always) women in their thirties or forties, suffer from a variety of common problems (like eating problems, or a temporary lack of interest in sex), often while they are getting a divorce. The therapist believes in het or his specially trained powers to "spot" people who have such problems as a result of childhood sexual abuse. Recall the claims of CNBC's expert on sex and family, that she can tell within ten minutes whether people are "survivors" of incest from the way they walk; see Chapter 1. Then, consistent with manuals and self-help books such as Ellen Bass and Laura Davis's The Courage to Heal, the client is encouraged to elaborate on a vague feeling that "something happened": to wit, "If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you probably were."82 The theory is that the childhood incestuous abuse has been totally "repressed," but that—once again—the memory exists intact in the unconscious and is expressed through body language and in the symptoms the client presents to the therapist. These symptoms are said to demonstrate that the client is now "ready" to recall the events explicitly because, in a somewhat skewed Freudian sense, they reflect both the event and this readiness. (Exactly why current distress, such as often occurs during marital problems and divorce, places a client in the fortunate position of being able to "face the facts" is not entitely clear.) Often, in addition to working with the client personally to help recover the memory, the therapist will advise the client to join a survivors' group.