Posted in psychology, science, Therapy, Voices

Is Psychology A Science? Part 1.

That question won’t be answered in this post.

This will be a multi-part series I think. There is a lot to say here, a lot to absorb, and it’s not really a matter of opinion. That tends to turn people away, because they want their opinion heard and other’s heard. Your opinion can be heard, just know its validity lies in facts and not how much you (or anyone else for that matter) believes in it.

We hear a lot today that disorders are on the rise, specifically ADHD, Autism, and Bipolar (in children). We hear that there are all these new holistic approaches. We hear about EMDR, we hear about Mindfulness, we hear that long-term medication is the only reasonable approach for certain experiences. We hear supplements will one day replace these medications. We hear psychiatry kills. We hear psychiatry saves. We hear a mix of the two–not sure how you can both kill and save someone, but psychiatry seems to be pretty good at it.

So, how do we make decisions on what is accurate and what is not? Most of the time it’s a matter of opinion. You read something good on the internet, an article that cites specific sources and looks very professional and so you trust it. You do the same with your doctor. You hear things from friends and somehow generalize their great experience to all the population of mental health consumers and suddenly you’re an advocate for acupuncture exercising demons from the tips of your fingers and you’re not quite sure how you got there, but now you’re there and you really believe it.

The thing we don’t ask for is research. The things doctors don’t read is research.

There are about 40,000 psychological research papers published each year. The majority of clinical psychologists read 1 of those research papers a month. That’s about .03% of all psychological research papers.

So let’s talk about what’s going on. There are two main issues:

  1. Practitioners rely more heavily on their intuition than repeated, peer-reviewed research (which they haven’t read).
  2. The actual science of psychology is basically the quantum physics of social sciences.

We’ll start with number 1.

We talked in the last post about the differences between a Ph.D and Psy.D (both psychologists), MFT’s and LCSW’s. We talked about how the technique the clinician uses dictates the effect on the client more than the supposed higher or lower degree/education level of the clinician. What we didn’t talk much about is why a lot of repeatedly proven therapeutic techniques are being replaced with new fad-like “holistic” and “client-centered” approaches. There are a couple reasons and one of those reasons has to do with practitioner intuition.

They have gone through years of school. Residency for some. Internships. Hours upon hours of supervised practice (3000 for those who want licensing in my home state of California, 1000 most everywhere else). They’ve made sacrifices for this, thrown themselves into debt, worked shitty jobs, lived in cramped situations. They gave up a lot for their passion and now they can be called an expert. That means they’re, well, the expert.

It’s very difficult to read a paper that says your technique has been proven multiple times to present no significant effect on the wellness of most people (we’ll talk about this idea of “most people equating to the general population later, that’s related to my second point) and be forced to change your method of practice that you’ve grown comfortable with. It’s hard when you have to admit you may very well be wrong. It’s much easier to come up with reasons why the research may be wrong–you’ve seen the progress in your clients (confirmation bias; you want to see that, so you will see that), your colleagues are using the same techniques with great success (they may be biased in the same way, and may have not read the research), and you’ve read articles which said this technique is effective; in fact, you went to a specialized school for that technique. And so you ignore the shoddy research–there’s probably no control groups, a poor sample size/selection, not evidence of peer review, and a lot of pseudo-science talk telling you that this new discovery they’re providing you with is being “stifled” and “shunned” by the medical community.

It boils down to practitioners struggling to admit they may be wrong. Ironic considering the work they’re in.

The issue with this isn’t their pride. The issue is that by not considering the possibility that they don’t know everything, they don’t have the chance to learn something that could indeed improve their practice and the well-being of their clients.

Now, the effectiveness of clients (as much as I despise that word, it’s appropriate for what I’m talking about) is measured by behavior noted by neutral observers. To properly do this, behavior is measured before and after “treatment”.

From this scientific approach, we’ve learned that ECT has been “effective” (when effective is defined as a positive change in behavior, and “positive change” is defined as the patient’s depression lessening). But, the effects have been found to be temporary, we don’t know why it temporarily works, and it causes a myriad of health issues, most severely memory loss.

We’ve learned that CBT treats panic disorder better than no treatment, better than a placebo, and better than Alprazolam (A version of Xanax). 87% of participants reported they were free of symptoms 15 weeks into CBT. 50% reported freedom after 15 weeks of Xanax. 36% with the placebo, and 33% with no treatment–they were told they were put on a waiting list (Klosko, 1990). Now what this shows us is a couple things.

  1. CBT works pretty damn well for those struggling with panic disorder.
  2. With the simple passing of time, people get better. That’s very important to consider in this field with certain experiences.

The scary thing is a lot of people who struggle with panic don’t get CBT treatment. I didn’t, not for many years.

Now, I have two examples of practitioners believing more in their expertise than research. One is a wide-spread example, and the other is a personal experience from 10:30am this morning.

I’ll start tomorrow’s post with the wide-spread example, because there is a little background needed.

This personal experience of mine sent me in a tail spin. My thoughts today have been taken over with good and evil (not the separation of them, but the unification of it) and the spirits, the voices, have essentially been trying to thwart my success and I’m struggling with whether they’re doing it to save me or to torment me for both. They played a particular song to mock me in the store today, and there was a woman following me around, going where I went, picking products next to me just to let me know that they’re here with me again, the spirits. And so this is an example of why clinicians need to pay attention to how they speak with people.

I literally just did a panel presentation on this shit to some local mental health workers yesterday, and then this asshole comes along.

He wasn’t trying to be an asshole, I know this. He is a young psychiatrist, very kind, and struggled to find the right words to dominate me with. I made an appointment with him because the person who’d been recommended to me had appointments months out and I couldn’t wait; I’m looking for a PRN for my panic as my current techniques (CBT, and processing my emotions) haven’t been working as well lately. I want it for short-term use so I can get back on track. I am on no other medications right now.

Problem is, I was prescribed Percocet and Valium for my back two weeks ago. And he saw this.

He didn’t ask me much about myself. Which was strange; usually psychiatrists go very in-depth at the first appointment. He asked what my diagnoses had been. I told him one psychiatrist couldn’t decide between Psychosis NOS or Schizoaffective. I told him my current therapist believes Bipolar 1 with Psychotic Features (mainly because she believes schizoaffective means your psychosis is only in your depressive episodes; we’re discussing this).

In ten minutes, he says he thinks I’m Bipolar 2.

This is after I tell him about my voices. This is after I tell him I was hospitalized after the Vegas shooting as it perpetuated a delusion of mine. He didn’t ask me about the voices really, or the delusion.

The problem with his diagnosis is that psychosis doesn’t happen in Bipolar 2. That would automatically make it bipolar 1. I also haven’t been depressed in over a year, and Bipolar 2 is mainly depression and hypomania. He believes my manic episode in the beginning of college was not mania because I’d get at least two hours of sleep every day. I understand that reasoning. But it’s not a reason to conclude bipolar 2 in ten minutes.

So he didn’t believe the voices. Why? I’m not sure. He didn’t ask if they were external or internal. He asked me what they said and I gave him a couple examples. He asked me if I’d heard them within the last week. I said yes, and within the last month. I told him it’s not a constant roll of voices all the time, every day. When i’m doing well, it’s less frequent. When i’m not doing well, it’s constant.

He didn’t want to prescribe a PRN because of the Oxycodone prescribed to me. I told him I’m not using the Percocet for back pain; I have 16 out of the 20 pills left. I don’t need them. He seemed intent of giving me more Valium. I said I didn’t want Valium; it has a half life of three days and I don’t want a slight risk of physical dependence.

He suggested Gabapentin (the nerve pain and anti-convulsant that keeps being prescribed in psychiatry even though it shouldn’t be, like many other drugs)or Busbar. Both are taken daily. I said no. I told him three times SSRI medication did not work well for me, and he respected that. But he still tried to squeeze it in there, advertising it as a safer drug than Valium.

What this ended with is me with a 30 day supply of Klonopin (which I’ll use maybe once every two months??? I don’t need it all the damn time) and a lot of anger. A lot. I felt invalidated. Ignored. He was young, confused maybe, thinking I was lying, manipulative, and the voices told me that’s what he thought and I believe them. He thinks I was there for drugs and he didn’t believe my psychosis.

Who lies about psychosis?

This sprung a lot of thoughts. The store I stopped to shop in was malevolent. Class was difficult. My thoughts are not nice, they’re disorganized right now, and I’m disheveled.

But it’s an amazing example for today’s post: if you’re a clinician or a psychiatrist and you rely heavily on your intuition, you’re invalidating the tiny scientific standing psychiatry has in the medical community.

Take a day off and read some research.

To Be Continued . . .


Writer. Reader. Science advocate. Living well beyond the label Schizoaffective.

7 thoughts on “Is Psychology A Science? Part 1.

  1. Most psychiatrists are drug pushers. In 20 years I have yet to hear one ask me about my diet or exercise or meditation, etc. They don’t want you to get better. They just want you to keep coming back. My current psych has a staff of about 8 psych nurses. You never get to see the main dude, just a nurse. One nurse there would literally give me any drug I mentioned. As a former addict, I know this wasn’t good. But I wanted my uppers and my downers. Now, thankfully I am on a better path. Great post


    1. I’ve had one psychiatrist which asked about my physical health, which was a pleasant surprise. But it’s a shame that the medical industry in general has turned into a business and shied away from the humanities. Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing your experience with us all.

      Liked by 1 person

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