Q: I’m new to reading you, but it appears that you don’t have much in common with other psychologists. You don’t agree much with their approach to children and parenting. Correct?
A: Correct. I’ve been licensed to practice psychology since 1979. Since then, I’ve concluded that psychology is an ideology, an unscientific philosophy that’s way off the proverbial mark when it comes to understanding human beings.
I fail, for example, to be persuaded of the efficacy of any form of psychological therapy. One can find studies that say cognitive behavior modification, for example, works quite well across the board and one can find studies that say otherwise. Some studies say it works no better than placebo therapy. In other words, it may be that a certain form of psychological therapy works if the therapist succeeds at persuading the client it’s going to work.
That’s one of several reasons why I do not believe children (including teens) should be the objects of psychological therapy. Again, there’s no consistent body of evidence leading to the conclusion that therapy works reliably with people of any age, but conversations with many parents over many years convinces me that psychological therapy with a child or teen can and often does make matters worse.
I have heard that tale of woe in many forms from many, many parents over the past forty years. I concede that some of the parents in question may have misrepresented something, but the number of parents who report that the longer therapy with their child went on, the worse the problem with their child became is too large to be dismissed on that basis. In many cases, I get the impression that the therapist encouraged the child’s belief that life with his parents is a soap opera in which they are the villains and he is their misunderstood victim.
Then there’s the matter of therapists who rip off an insurance provider by playing board games (see, for example, last week’s column) and doing arts and crafts with said child or teen. What problem is being addressed? What research verifies the treatment efficacy of board games? None and none.
The further problem is that children cannot be counted on to represent adult behavior accurately. They have not been adults; therefore, they have no appreciation for the nuances of adult behavior. That’s why, when parents ask me if I’m going to talk to their child about a problem, I point out that their child is not in a position to report objectively. As such, talking with him would be an exercise in futility and taking their money. I have made exceptions, mind you, but nearly every exception has proven the rule.
When parents ask my help concerning a child, I talk with them. They run the home (or need to learn how to do so effectively). I don’t lead conversations about people’s feelings or childhood memories. As is the case with this column, I’m a problem-solver, pure and simple. Furthermore, I don’t think one needs to go to psychology school to give good advice on childrearing issues. One needs experience with children and common sense.
The problem — I experienced it firsthand — is that common sense comes primarily from the heart, not the head, and graduate school in psychology fills only the head. Furthermore, it fills the head with what I believe to be misinformation about human beings and the human condition.
Which is why the first question I frequently ask parents who are seeking my advice is “Have either of you asked your parents for advice concerning this problem and, if so, what did they say?”
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.