Friday, January 15, 2021

Comments by RonD

Showing 4 of 4 comments.

  • Sorry for the long delay in replying, some personal issues….

    Thank you for your reply and your care and concern. I love your saying “I really think studying clinical psychology is second only to studying psychiatry as a sure way to become stupid about life.” I think clinical psychology tries to tiptoe in the dark, like Santa Claus bringing us the gift of peace and happiness, and not bother attempt to seek clarity about it’s philosophical foundations or value system. And since most people do benefit from some kind of therapy, for reasons that are still not quite clear, be it a myth or reality let the the jolly old man bring us gifts and why bother turn on the light. 😉

  • Thank you Dr Fancher. I have not unfortunately found a satisfying way to be of use in the world out there, as you say, and it’s been a long journey but hopefully I’m close enough to the answer. It’s about coming to terms with reality, imo, and it’s painful and confusing and exasperating and also elating. The very fact that I was able to communicate–in my stream-of-consciousness style–some of these ideas here on this blog feels strangely cathartic.

    Often times the psychologists and psych students I’ve met have shown no interest in philosophical discussions. I know that in the world out there, there are practical concerns. There are the practical matters such as making enough money to survive and also the fact that we have limited time on Earth and try to make the most of it given our limited resources. Every path taken is another path not taken. We can’t do it all.

    My thirst for knowledge and need for having a meaningful purpose and staying true to my romantic notions and ideals need to be balanced against these other concerns. but I try to reach out and hopefully through looking inward and communicating with others such as yourself I will get closer to answers. Thanks again for responding to me. We need more people like yourself who are intelligent and educated and open minded and willing to question fundamentals, lead and not just follow.

    Sara, thank you very much, you’re too kind. I certainly recommend “Cultures of Healing” to you or whoever is interested in examining different schools of psychology and examine some of their fundamental differences from a more philosophical point of view that is still very accessible to non-philosophy students. And I agree with Dr. Fancher that therapy DOES work. It’s amazing that it does despite all these differences. Which is why for many decades there has been all kinds of debates about what it is that makes it work. As far as that, I also recommend Frank’s “Persuasion and Healing” and “The Heart & Soul of Change” by Duncan.

  • Oops, the last paragraph did not get through. Sorry, this is become awfully long and I’m all over the place but it’s like finding an old friend, you just let loose.

    I wanted to say that I’m shocked that your book has not gained more fame. It should be taught everywhere. After I read your book, I started looking for other similar books written by yourself or others, but did not find any. I was very happy when recently I found an interview of yours on I particularly found insightful your comment on different research methods used by different “cultures” and you referred to process studies of the 80s. I wish we were doing those kinds of studies these days. I wish you could write another book and go into much more details. Anyhow, sorry for this very long post but again, really enjoyed your book and I hope some of what I have said makes sense.

  • Greetings Dr Fancher. I really enjoyed your book “Cultures of Healing.”

    I like to make a few comments that are not directly related to this particular blog entry but since I came across this blog entry by accident today and see that you are replying to some entries, I might as well use this opportunity and make these comments with the hope that you get to see them.

    Years ago I graduated from college with a degree in psychology. I was originally studying biology but because of my mother’s mental illness, and generally a family environment that was hostile to emotions and could not understand nor contain them, I was slowly drawn to psychology, in the hopes of gaining some power and understanding over these matters especially because I was a particularly emotionally sensitive kid.

    I obtained a degree in psychology but years later when I did apply to and get accepted to a great and very scientific clinical PhD program, I found myself very much torn as I started to have more and more questions. I was unable to fully commit to the program because for starters I was less interested in the actual conducting of research, and more drawn to the readings and discussions in my principal clinical class–which covered philosophy and history of clinical psychology.

    I felt I was being vaccinated against certain powerful worldviews seeing how we were fed certain superficial philosophical views that formed the foundation of the program’s psychological school of thought. I suddenly had all these questions and nobody was interested in going deeper. Covering the philosophical stuff was merely a formality apparently. Not only that, religion and religious beliefs were “explained away” using psychological concepts and I thought to myself this is not right. I was never a devout religious person but always had a spiritual side to me and felt that it is presumptuous to psychologize religion that way, given that psychology was not some hard scientific and somehow more valid point of view, and that if it were, I was not given a chance to go down the basement and look at its foundation. In short, I felt I was being taught a lot of dogma.

    I was similarly disturbed by the field’s problems in defining “mental illness” and also the weaknesses of “harmful dysfunction” concept. The idea was that we should essentially ignore the concept of mental illness and simply treat whoever comes to us. That was philosophically weak! That’s why drug companies can advertise for drugs and create that need in people. So apparently if I, based on ads or a society hostile to my personality makeup, feel like I need help, then I will go to a therapist and get help. Great, the therapist makes money, I get help, everybody’s happy and we did not have to boher with all the messy stuff like if I actually needed help in the first place and for what kind of problem and why not go to a friend or philosopher and not a therapist. :p Doesn’t sound very scientific to me.

    There were other problems too, like all this emphasis on what’s “functional” or not. It gives society and status quo too much power. So if I live in a fast paced society and within a culture that values assertiveness or independence, my shyness or closeness to my family can be seen as pathological and dysfunctional, and I would be encouraged that it’s “healthy” to be independent or more assertive (and bullshit my way through a job interview). Suppose if I lived in a different place/time, it would be “healthy” for me to eat another human being because hey, there is nothing more heartwrenching than a depressed cannibal. 😉

    In short, becoming a psychologist felt like the wrong thing for me. Fell way short of my ideals. Not only I realized I could not help many people (not everything can be changed, people have to want to and even then…) but more importantly, I realized that this supposedly sure scientific endeavor was not what it claimed to be. So I quit school.

    I came back home, went into a deep depression for several years. I have always had two aims in life: understand the world and people, and help people. As a younger person I was more religious and hoped religion would help me do both. It fell short, especially when it came to understanding the world and people. It seemed that science and psychology were quite better than religion in some ways but also quite worse in other ways. Trying to help people to make the most of whatever they got or become happier did not seem sufficient at all. Nor was giving people the full authority of being the writers and narrators of their own lives. A certain kind of authority seemed needed, one that was not created by people themselves. It had to come from outside.

    Because it is a fact that science and in particular psychology keeps coming face to face with all this messy stuff called “values.” Psychology keeps coming up against philosophical and spiritual concerns. We can’t do a double blind study to help us define values. We can’t do a double blind study to help us decide if existentialism is better than humanism. It is comforting and wonderful to be told by a therapist that “You are valued.” But it is a fact that neither the physical world nor people around the person convey that message to the patient all the time or even that often. It’s nice to read that Yalom values a certain patient but so what? Unless the patient is going to depend on Yalom for the rest of his/her life, s/he needs to believe in that idea and not because it’s functional or it makes them feel good.

    Psychology divorced from religion and philosophy is weak. Last couple of decades there has been an emphasis on mindfulness. Buddhism is safe, political neutral enough, it was smuggled in carefully. Now it’s in thousands of articles. Mindfulness is good for this and good for that. But what some people don’t realize is that all those other aspects of religion are what make a religion a powerful system of thought. It is like trying to take the theory out of physics, to try to focus only on what you can see with the naked eye, so no atoms, no gravity, no quantum physics. Spirituality opens one’s eyes into another world the way theoretical physics opens one’s eyes into worlds beyond our senses. To say that mindfulness is therapeutic or “good” because some studies showed that it makes people less anxious is not the same as finding a magnetic field useful in that it moves certain electrons across. We are not television sets with limited use and made for a known and limited purpose. Frankly, the arrogance of the therapeutic thinking and certain practitioners who see journal articles or DSM as Bible, is disturbing. Similarly, it is not religion itself but the dogma and narrow-mindedness of the fundamentalist religious folks that is disturbing. It was the disproportionate power of the church that was and still is in certain circles, the cause for concern. But these days everywhere I look some therapist is psychologizing a certain matter as if there is no other way to look at something.

    Anyhow, so one day at the library I came across your book “Cultures of Healing” which I read with great excitement and energy. Before reading your book, I had considering going to grad school and studying philosophy but I realized I needed to take two years of philosophy courses (senior level) in undergrads and even then unless I get a PhD in philosophy and perhaps become a professor, I can barely make a living with a masters in philosophy. Not to mention that philosophy students are amongst the brightest and that getting into a grad program is as hard as a clinical psych program.

    But I digress. But when I read your book, I did note that in the introduction you mentioned how philosophy did not have much real life application which is partly why you decided to become a therapist. You were also disenchanted with your public policy career. That was saddening. I felt that no matter what area of study I choose, I will be sourly disappointed, be it choosing to help others by reaching a deeper level of understanding of the world through philosophy and communicating that to others, or as a therapist and by focusing on helping people gain understanding/control over their emotional life and become more “functional”, or at higher levels as a sociologist or public policy expert.

    When you learn philosophy or general science or psychology, when you are able to see the many ways something falls short of your expectations, and when you have no tools to help others in a way that feels meaningful and genuine, that’s recipe for helplessness and depression.