Psychology is full of theories, not ‘General Theories’, but ‘Mini-Theories’ or ‘Models’. Most Mini-Theories/Models are wrong. Unfortunately these incorrect theories and models often persist in everyday practice. This happens because Psychologists are reluctant to give up their theories. These incorrect theories then act like ‘mass delusions’, which can have consequences for others, especially students and patients.
Academic Psychology suffers from ‘delusions of grandeur’. It is as if an entire academic discipline is manifesting a chronic disorder – a kind of ‘Scientific Psychosis’. Psychologists claim that Psychology is a Science but there is no objective evidence to support it. In fact, the evidence suggests the exact opposite.
The ability to ape proper science is not in doubt. Laboratories, experiments and grants, thousands of journals, books, institutes and universities all espouse Psychology as a Science. Many psychologists even wear white lab coats and poke around in animals’ brains. The ability to mimic genuine scientists like Physicists or Biologists, however, does not make Psychology a science. It actually makes a mockery of science.
There are many reasons why this is the case. I mention here two:
1) Psychology does not meet even the most essential criterion for an authentic science – quantitative measurement along ratio scales.
2) Unlike all the true natural sciences, Psychology lacks a general theory. A general theory is held by the majority of scientists working in the field.
The shared belief of the vast majority of psychologists that they are scientists, when all of the evidence suggests that this can’t be true, is a form of professional ‘mass hysteria’. Psychologists share a belief system of scientific delusion, thought disorder and conceptual confusion. They then impose their beliefs, not only on one another, but on their students and their patients.
Students and Patients
Many students and patients are having none of it. They refuse to be suckered in by the claim. But they have to be courageous enough to come out of the closet and say it. If they dare to say it in an essay or exam, then they’d better be prepared for a grade C, D, E or F.
Researchers have found that “medical students think their psychology lectures are “soft and fluffy”; students think psychology is less important than the other natural sciences; children rate psychological questions as easier than chemistry or biology questions; and expert testimony supporting an insanity defence is seen as less convincing when delivered by a psychologist than a psychiatrist.”
On a few rare occasions, established psychologists have expressed their doubts about the scientific credentials of Psychology. For example, Jan Smedslund wrote about: “Why Psychology Cannot be an Empirical Science.” There is increasing evidence that many patients are skeptical about Psychology also.
Folie à deux (“madness of two”) occurs when delusional beliefs are transmitted from one individual to another. When one dominant person imposes their delusional beliefs on another, it is folie imposée. In this case, the second person probably would never have become deluded if left to themselves. The second person is expected ultimately to reject the delusion of the first person, due to disproof of the delusional assumptions, and protest. This protest, however, will fall upon deaf ears.
The situation I describe is far from hypothetical. It exists day in, day out, for millions of patients. One particular patient group are those labeled with ‘Medically Unexplained Symptoms’ (MUS). Within this group is a particular group of patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (“ME”) and/or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (“CFS”).
Delusional thinking certainly can hurt and embarrass the individuals having the delusion (Psychologists and Psychiatrists). It can also be imposed upon others, for example, people in their care (Patients). To the help-seeking Patient, the Psychologist (or Psychiatrist) is an expert who follows the rules of Science. The Science informs the aetiology, diagnosis, and treatment of the Patient.
Treating Patients with ME/CFS
I consider here how many psychologists in the UK treat people labeled with ME/CFS. This treatment comes with the full backing of NICE (currently under review).
Psychological treatment for patients labeled with ME/CFS is based on a Psychological Theory of the illness. This theory is highly contested and has caused major controversies that has divided Patients from Psychologists and Psychiatrists.
The main Psychological Theory of ME/CFS asserts that ‘maladaptive’ cognitions and behaviours perpetuate the fatigue and impairment of individuals with ME/CFS (Wessely, David, Butler and Chalder, 1989). These authors represent the two main professions concerned with psychological illness, Psychology and Psychiatry. They state: “It is essential to agree jointly on an acceptable model, because people need to understand their illness. The cognitive – behavioural model …can explain the continuation of symptoms in many patients.” This is where the imposition of the therapist’s model snaps in. “The process is therefore a transfer of responsibility from the doctor, in terms of his duty to diagnose, to the patient, confirming his or her duty to participate in the process of rehabilitation in collaboration with the doctor, physiotherapist, family and others.” (p. 26).
Although the Psychological Theory is contested by many scientists, patients and patient organisations who assume that their symptoms have an organic basis, i.e. a Physical Theory.
Vercoulen et al. (1998) developed a model of ME/CFS based on the Psychological Theory. However, Song and Jason (2005) suggested that the Psychological Theory was inaccurate for individuals with ME/CFS. In spite of the evidence against it, the Psychological Theory continues as the basis for cognitive behavioural and graded exercise therapies (GET) offered to individuals with ME/CFS. One reason for the continued use of an unsupported Psychological Theory is the PACE Trial, a lesson in how not to do proper science. Like most research, this trial was organised by a team and, in this case, the majority of principle investigators were Psychiatrists. This trial has been described as “one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.”
New Approach Needed
In spite of the lack of empirical support, the Psychological Theory of ME/CFS lives on. ME/CFS patients are subjected to CBT and GET. Patients and patient organisations protest about the treatments and are opposed to the Psychological Theory. Perhaps Psychologists need to turn the Psychological Theory of unhelpful beliefs upon themselves. If ME/CFS has a physical (e.g. immunological) cause, then once the cause has been established, patients will have the chance of an effective treatment and decent care and support.
The problems that exist for Psychologists’ treatment of patients with MUS and ME/CFS exist more generally across the discipline. A totally new approach is necessary. Instead of tinkering with the problems at a cosmetic level by papering over the cracks, there is a need for root-and-branch change of a radical kind. The measurement problem must be addressed and there is a need for a general theory. A new General Theory of Behaviour takes a step in that direction.