Tana Dineen, PhD
Author, Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People
Special Presentation on February 6, 1998 at the Harassment Law Update 1998 Conference; The Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. Canada
I have, undeniably, broken ranks; I speak very critically of my own profession. And, in the next few moments, I will begin to put my concerns as they pertain to sexual harassment litigation “on the table.” From the outset, I would like you to know that I can back up anything I say, including those statements which clash dramatically with widely accepted ideas. I’m a serious researcher and an obsessional file keeper. I will encourage your skepticism, welcome your questions, gladly provide you with my sources, and invite you, at any time today or in the future, to examine them and to challenge me.
I was, in fact, drawn to the discipline of psychology by the intriguing questions that it asked and by the insistence that any answers, and all statements, be examined from every angle and seriously scrutinized. For almost 3 decades, I worked as a clinician, trying to apply the knowledge from my discipline. But Psychology has changed; today there are too many answers and too few questions; the humble curiosity has given way to an arrogant certainty. It seems that psychologists have discovered that Questions don’t pay, only Answers do.
Five years ago, I forced myself to step back and take a cold hard look at what my profession has become. I am still a psychologist by license here in B.C. and in Ontario but I am NOT practicing. What I see being done under the name of psychology is so seriously contaminated now by errors in logic, popular myths and personal beliefs, and it is doing so much harm to people, that I find myself in this strange role of working to curb the pervasive influence of my own chosen profession.
Long ago I lost any expectation that any necessary corrective actions would come from within the profession; so, I find myself speaking most often now to people outside my profession—to philosophers, to ethicists, to the clergy, to educators, to criminologists and to lawyers. Last Fall, in Halifax, I had the opportunity to address the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges. The topic they gave me was: Judicial Skepticism: Judging Psychology and Psychologists, and my message to them, put simply, was that:
(1) psychology is an industry masquerading as a profession,
(2) this industry is aggressively targeting the judicial and legal systems as growth markets for its services.
(3) the current business formula of this industry is:
(4) trusting psychologists is so dangerous to the Justice System that judicial skepticism is not only warranted but urgently needed!
The topic I was given for today’s luncheon talk is the question: Are we manufacturing victims? The short answer is “YES;” now let me elaborate.
Over 30 years ago, I walked into my first psychology class at McGill. The professor was a lean, older man who walked with a limp. His name was Donald Hebb, and he was one of the most respected neuropsychologists of this century. I can remember him saying something to me which I have only recently come to fully appreciate. He kept insisting that psychology must be “MORE than common sense;” that psychologists must be obliged to go beyond what people commonly believe, to test out notions and see if they stand up under scrutiny. He insisted on science—on investigation. Unfortunately, psychologists seem so dedicated now to confirming their own notions that the voices of those who remain committed to examining these notions, testing them and disproving them are rarely heard. So, it is the untested, unproven psychological notions which have come to influence thinking and discourse. People, throughout society, are mistaking “psychological notions” for “psychological knowledge” or they are so enamored with these notions that, even when the ideas make no sense at all, they refer to them as “common sense.”
The Justice System, and sexual harassment litigation in particular, is an area in which such notions are having a profound effect. I’d like to point them out and ask each of you to consider the implications from your own vantage point. First, I am going to ask you to consider a disturbing reality, that is that the profession we call “Psychology” has actually become “THE PSYCHOLOGY INDUSTRY.”
1. The psychology industry
We are accustomed to viewing psychology as a scientifically based profession and psychologists as healers and helpers, striving to reduce suffering and eradicate social problems. But this is the promoted image—the public image. I’m asking you now to consider an alternate image—that of Psychology as big business and of psychologists as those who profit from the sale of psychological products/services/influence.
What if Psychology is actually an industry? And what if, like most industries, it is focused on:
- protecting its own interests
- expanding its market
- increasing its influence.
The implications are serious and, before discussing them, let me first give you a bit of the history of Psychology. At the beginning of the 20th century, it emerged, first, as a discipline, comparable to philosophy or anthropology; then, very quickly, it became a “a profession,” like medicine and law and; then, with virtually no-one noticing what was happening, it became an industry. When the American Psychological Association (APA) was formed just over 100 years ago, there were only a dozen or so members; they were primarily physicians or philosophers; not one of them was “a licensed psychologist.” Now there are 151,000 members of that association alone and professional licenses abound.
This credentialing actually started as recently as the 1950’s, when Medicine was threatening to designate psychotherapy as a medical procedure. Basically, medical doctors were saying that they, and only they, should diagnose mental illnesses and treat people for psychological problems. To protect themselves from becoming quickly unemployed, psychologists established licensing boards, which means that they gave themselves licenses; then, they used these licenses to create monopolies and to qualify themselves for third-party payments. Protecting the public had nothing to do with it; self protection did. Not surprisingly, Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and a whole range of people, offering mental health services followed their lead, establishing licensing boards of their own. And, even as we sit here today, new credentialing bodies are being formed.
For example, five counseling organizations, including such groups as the B.C. Association of Clinical Counselors and the B.C. Art Therapy Association, have applied recently to the Health Professions Council of BC, for designation under the Health Professions Act, in a move to have “counseling” designated as a restricted act. Yet, there is no consensus or even clear idea of what counseling means, and to qualify for membership in some of these organizations, there is no minimum academic requirement and no training is required other than experience. These people, who claim their areas of service to include the counseling of “sexual abuse” victims, if they aren’t there already doing so, may soon be among the “experts,” who offer services to you and your clients. Are they professionals? You decide. Is this a business move? It certainly is!
Another group wanting to get licensed, recently posted on the Internet the following statement:
“Certification is one of the major ways in which unrecognized or under-recognized professions achieve parity and recognition.”
And that’s precisely my point! Licensing, certification, credentialing in psychology is about money. It’s about looking credible and getting paid.
When I use the term “psychologist,” I use it with a small “p,” referring to all of these people who sell expert opinions, market their workshops about stress and trauma, diagnose/label people as suffering from psychological injuries, offer victim support and do counseling and psychotherapy. When I use the term, “The Psychology Industry,” it’s the business, the packaging, promotion and sale of these services that I’m talking about.
If we consider just the big “P” licensed psychologists like me, we have per capita 1/4000 but if we consider all of them (including the Abuse Counselors, Trauma Counselors, Social Workers, Crisis Workers,.) the estimate would be about 1/250. Keep in mind that this is a better ratio even than lawyers. An APA president has jokingly said that soon there will be more psychologists than people in America and a Psychiatric Association President (not joking at all) has said:
“actually, no less than the entire world is a proper catchment for present day psychiatry (and psychology), and psychiatry need not be appalled by the magnitude of the task… Our professional borders are virtually unlimited”
Howard Rome, 1968 President, American Psychiatric Association
Like anyone with something to sell, these people need customers.
Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in wanting to earn a living, even a good living. That’s an issue for all of us. But there is a problem when people, claiming to be professionals, ignore both the lack of a knowledge base for what they are doing and fail to acknowledge the existence of research which suggests that their services may be ineffective or even harmful.
The increase in users of psychological services looks something like this:
60’s-14%; 70’s-26%;1990-33%; 95-46% and some are projecting that, by the year 2000, 80% of the population will be users.
II. The justice system as a growth market for psychology
The Psychology Industry, while trying to appear confident to its customers, is having its troubles. As more and more competitors appear and, and as money for health care decreases and along with it psychologist jobs, there is considerable worry, even panic, being expressed. Listen to a couple of recent quotes from Executives in Canadian psychological associations:
“Psychologists are expensive to feed and painless to drown.”
“Our profession is under siege. Government spending cuts for research, health care and education have gone well beyond the fat and are now deep into the muscle and bone.”
“Like it or not we have got to do business differently. This is not a false alarm but a wake up call; at issue is survival.”
Finding new target populations and new markets is a major activity and, progressively more, psychologists are seeking their survival within the Justice System.
As early as 1976, the APA, in its guide to career opportunities for psychologists, expressed the “expectation that in the future forensic psychologists will roam confidently and competently far beyond the traditional roles of psychologists…”
A 1995 membership survey of the APA indicated that almost 40% of members had been expert witnesses in court proceedings; almost half of licensed psychologists consider themselves to be experts and the courts agree.
The same year the Practice Directorate of the APA addressing the issue of income security, stated that “diversification is a viable form of self-preservation… Psychologists may still get a steady stream of clients paying out-of-pocket, but not enough to replace third-party payments…Forensics offers broad opportunities for psychologists.”
In September of last year the 1997 APA president stated: “I believe that forensic psychology is a growth area within psychology.”
The December issue of the APA’s flagship journal, American Psychologist, featured an article about a conference at Villanova Law School in which participants agreed that psychology “is poised to grab a more prominent role in law after years of hanging in the sidelines.”
If psychology is an industry and if it is, as seems evident, targeting the Justice system as a major market, what does this have to do with sexual harassment? Well, psychologists are earning money diagnosing your clients—putting labels on them, providing treatment, and, of course, offering their “expert opinions” to the Courts.
Remember the business formula?
That’s what they’re using, not consciously,—I don’t mean to imply that an official business strategy has been adopted or to suggest an actual conspiracy but, if you look at how the Psychology Industry is operating, the formula fits. And here is a very quick overview of how I see it working.
I would suggest to you that there are three types of sexual harassment victims’:
REAL VICTIMS are the people who have been trying to deal/cope with a difficult situation; they are the women and men who come forward with reports that are true; they are the people who really have been sexually harassed or even stalked or sexually assaulted. I don’t question the existence of this group and I doubt that any one of you does. These people exist and they should be given respect and offered whatever protection and compensation is appropriate. Unfortunately, I see them being “used” by the Psychology Industry, which profits from focusing on psychological consequences, interpreting for them (and you) what they are going through, using terms like Chronic Stress, Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD), and low self-esteem to label them, and promising eventual recovery but only through treatment. The Psychology Industry, in many, if not most cases, is creating/intensifying/prolonging these psychological consequences. By describing how the typical victim reacts, telling us what we all supposedly need to know about stress and trauma, it forces these individuals into a stereotype of a “victim” and turns them into patients. The research, extensively reviewed in my book, does not support any of these notions and, in fact, suggests that turning real victims into stereotypic victims is unwarranted and may be harmful in many ways.
COUNTERFEIT VICTIMS are the liars, the self-made victims who learn to fit this stereotype by making use of the scripts provided by the Psychology Industry. For a variety of reasons, which you can likely list as well (or better) than I, people make false claims, often in a very convincing manner, covering up inconsistencies with confusion, managing to sound believable. And when exposed, their “crying wolf” stories, as well as hurting those they accuse and being costly to the system, have the effect of making it more difficult for real victims to be believed. Last year there was a dramatic, very public case at Simon Fraser involving an attractive female student and her swim coach. It certainly disturbed people and started many wondering just how many cases like this one there were, and how to deal with the reality that some alleged victims do lie. Most, if not all of us here, would concede that Counterfeit Victims exist and that they present a disturbing problem.
But there is a third type of victim you may or may not already be aware of and I would suggest that this third type, which I refer to as Synthetic Victims, presents an even more disturbing problem than Counterfeit Victims.
SYNTHETIC VICTIMS are the people who become persuaded that they have been sexually harassed and often they appear to be truly suffering the psychological consequences. These people are the “honest liars.” They are, for example:
– the woman (or man) who seduces a boss or coworker and then, feeling disappointed when it ends, remembers it differently;
– the hard worker who, needing to find an explanation (besides him/herself) for not getting an expected raise or promotion, rethinks some incident;
– the person who, having experienced incest or some more recent real sexual abuse or assault, is hypersensitive to sexual cues and already trapped in some self image of being victimized;.
– the person who describes a scene to a co-worker, a spouse or maybe to a psychologist or even a lawyer and is provided with encouragement to think about it differently, perhaps as an incident of harassment or assault.
Memories change; reactions change; feelings change AND stories change. Relatively trivial events can become dramatic; they can be molded, edited and modified to fit the sexual harassment script which people can easily find in pop psychology books, women’s magazines and on talk shows and now even on the Internet. As Mordecai Richler puts it in his most recent book Barney’s Version, these are people who “are tinkering with memory, fine-tuning reality.”
It is interesting that, although most of us would have no problem accepting the idea that Counterfeit Victims exist and might even be willing to consider the possibility that there are Synthetic Victims, the Psychology Industry gives some very authoritative and, I think, seriously misleading messages which discourage us from doing so. While I was preparing this talk, one of the first things I did was pull up on the Internet a Public Affairs document, intended to educate the public (including the legal community) about sexual harassment. It was an official statement posted by the APA. If anyone wants to take a look at it. I’ll tell you where to find it but let me now give you just one of the stated FACTS:
“Research shows that less than one percent of complaints are false. Women rarely file complaints that are false.”
Where, one might ask, does this “fact” come from? In this instance, I did what I have done on many other occasions; I searched out the source. First, I posed my question in a e-mail message to the Public Affairs Directorate which had posted it. No response; so, I tried again. No response. So, after a week, I phoned the Secretary of APA and he suggested that I contact the CEO which I did, sending to him copies of all unanswered requests for information. The CEO contacted the Public Affairs Directorate and, finally, I received a response saying that the document was written by two psychologists, Louise Fitzgerald and Lenore Walker and directing me to the senior researcher, Dr. Fitzgerald. I contacted her by e-mail and she responded in a style which has become painfully familiar to me, saying: “There are so many resources that it is difficult to know exactly where to start.” She mentioned a few books, such as No Safe Haven and The 9 to 5 Guide to Combatting Sexual Harassment, which she said were “more basic for the lawyer crowd” and ended her message with “Good luck.” I wrote back saying that I was quite familiar with this literature, could find no data in it to back the statement and asked her again for a response to my question. This time she wrote back a long, friendly message saying: “The actual study, which appeared in Signs some years back, which is the only systematic study ever conducted on this topic as far as I know, found that only 1% of claims were fabricated; this determination was made by the actual institutions against whom the claims were made. I always forget the exact reference, but I can look it up for you if it is important.” Well, facts are important to me; so, I e-mailed her back that “yes, it is important” and asked her to look it up of me. That was a couple of weeks ago now and I am still waiting for the reference. Now, in the same response in which she had mentioned that study, she said that “There is a similar study, although I’m not sure it was quite as good, that appeared in Working Women magazine a while back. I think it was done by Freda Klein in Boston; it is referenced in the Bravo book (I think.)” So, I did look that one up and what I found was a survey reported in the December issue of Working Woman. It was a survey of Fortune 500 managers and the conclusion was based on statements like this: “Every story I hear is very specific and detailed, too much so to be made up.” Now, aside from being a decade out-of-date, there are serious flaws with this survey. One of the most glaring of these is the notion that believing a story to be true proves that it is factual. I’ll get back to that topic shortly.
Right now, I just want to stress that it is important to ask where such numbers and “fact statements” come from. The type of information, such as that posted on the APA Sexual Harassment web-site and derived from such surveys can be considered to be “advocacy data:” numbers created to make a point or support an argument. This intentional misuse of numbers to set policies or win court cases has been termed “data rape.”
My concern is that such statements serve to influence people, those who make reports of sexual harassment and those who listen to these reports. Individuals become more likely to misinterpret situations, to see themselves as victims and to become unintentionally caught up in deceit and false claims. And all of us become more likely to accept, at face value, the stories both they, the Synthetic Victims and the intentional liars, the Counterfeit Victims, tell.
I don’t know what proportion of sexual harassment claims are false. But I have no reason to accept this “less than 1%” figure. When I asks lawyers, I get quite a range of responses and generally these are much higher. A few weeks ago, a U.S. lawyer who specializes in this area, said that he suspects that now about 10-15% of the claims being filed are made by Counterfeit Victims and about 60-70% of the claims being filed are made by Synthetic Victims. Has it gone that far? Well, I don’t know but I think that, because we don’t know, investigation in these cases becomes extremely important.
Aside from the influence of advocacy data, there are three pervasive ways in which the Psychology Industry contaminates sexual harassment litigation: psychologizing, pathologizing, and generalizing.
Psychologizing — “turning life into a theory”
As a society, we have become accustomed to seeking psychological explanations for every part of life and to relying on experts or specialists to give guidance, direction or approval. Who questions the notion that psychologists can see inside people’s heads and hearts, know their thoughts, intentions, motives? Who questions what the experts have to say about our lives from birth to death? Who questions that psychologists know best how to parent, make marriages work, combat violence, resolve conflicts, and grieve?
I’ll take just one of these, Grieving, as an example. Virtually everyone is familiar with the idea that there are stages: anger, denial, etc. and that it is basically a good thing to get people to talk, express their feelings and tell their story. But how many people are aware of the research which shows that grieving is a very personal, individual experience and that the idea of stage is just an unproven theory? And how many people are aware that there is research to suggest that when we encourage people to talk, express feelings and tell their painful stories, we may actually, in the long run, be interfering and preventing them from “getting over it”?
What one serious researchers who investigates the fascinating questions about how people experience loss and how they “get over it,” has termed the “bereavement industry,” is flourishing; The Association of Death Educators and Counselors (ADEC) boasts 2,000 members. When this researcher, George Bonanno attended the Association’s annual meeting last year to present the results of experiments, which clearly bring into question much of what these people are selling, there was virtually no reaction. These “professionals” simply continued to share their success stories and talk about the importance of the ‘caring’ and ‘healing,’ they provide, quite oblivious to the implications of his research.
Whether we are talking about grieving or about sexual harassment, what we are encountering are these ever-so-popular theories that imply that psychologists know how “victims” react, the stages they go through, the psychological consequences and the support that is required for recovery. Who is questioning them? Well, I am hoping that you will watch for the theories and examine them carefully to determine the extent to which they are nothing more than biased opinions and unsubstantiated beliefs.
The next time you listen to an expert, either in or out of court, I’ll ask you to think about this example of what a prominent psychiatrist, a professor at Harvard Medical School has said. This man has testified in many high profile cases involving accusations of sexual abuse/assault/harassment, presenting the expert opinion that all memories are valid and suggesting that a witness’s testimony must be true. This is an excerpt from a transcript of an interview on “Frontline”:
VAN DER KOLK:
“Every time people tell a story, it’s basically a story that is looking for somebody to believe you to—be convinced. Of vital importance for a person’s well-being, own well-being, is to make a narrative of their own life that makes sense to them. And for people’s own well-being, the accuracy of one’s own story about oneself is not critical. We all tell tales about ourselves. We all have images of ourselves that are not entirely in keeping with the reality of one’s life, but we need to have a coherent version of ourselves.
“So what do you do? How do you ever know what the patient is saying actually happened?
VAN DER KOLK:
“It’s like reading a novel. You read a bad novelist, after a while, you put the book down because the story doesn’t cohere. The story doesn’t make sense. People don’t talk this way and people don’t interact this way and the book is lousy. If you read a great book and the characters are true to life, that’s how people really feel and interact with each other. And eventually, when you do clinical work with people, the internal coherence of the story, how it all hangs together, is not very different from what the great novelists do.”
Apparently, all you need in order to be a credible witness is to have a good script, an interesting story, something that fits with the expert’s theory.
There is, in fact, a considerable body of research, which demonstrates that clinicians, such as this expert are as bad, or even worse, than most of us at distinguishing the truth from the lies and the fiction from the non-fiction. And most people, even the people who conduct the surveys on sexual harassment, seem either unaware or unconcerned. They accept the naive idea that if someone believes a story to be true, it is true. Think back for a moment to the survey from which the conclusion that less than 1% of sexual harassment claims are false. Remember the quote from one of the managers about how he knew a particular story to be true? “Every story I hear is very specific and detailed, too much so to be made up.” We need to recognize how difficult it is to distinguish the truth from the lies and the fiction from the non-fiction and, to realize that when we bring in psychologists to help at any stage of the process, we may well be compounding that difficulty.
Fiction, fantasy, lying and deception have been aspects of clinical practice since its inception, and something to which clinicians have adjusted. Janet, a contemporary of Freud, said that it is sometimes in the best interest of the patient to lie for “there are some to whom as a matter of strict moral obligation, we must lie.”
Such an attitude is not the exception with many psychologists humming the same tune that it is not a matter of whether something is true or not, it is a matter of what the client believes and what makes her or him feel better.
Dan Sexton, Director of the National Child Abuse Hot Line, stated publicly: “I’m not a law enforcement person, thank God! I’m a psychology person, so I don’t need the evidence. I come from a very different place, I don’t need to see evidence to believe… I don’t care what law enforcement’s perspective is, that’s not my perspective. I’m a mental health professional. I need to find a way to help survivors heal to the trauma that they had as children and to help support other clinicians who are trying to help survivors and victims of this kind of crime.”
And here is a similarly oblivious statement made by a local physician/hypnotherapist, described as an internationally recognized authority who, just a few weeks ago in an article published in the Vancouver Sun, tried to “speak up on behalf of therapists” whose credibility was wavering in the light of some disturbing publicity about an unsuccessful prosecution of a teacher for alleged sexual abuse recalled during therapy. Marlene Hunter said: “I am a therapist; I discover dissociation, not lost memory.”
This blurring of the boundaries between fantasy and reality is rampant in the Psychology Industry and so too is the predominant theory that says that, “victims” of anything, from a brutal rape to an off-color joke suffer serious psychological consequences. Now that theory takes us directly to the second process what I call Pathologizing.
Pathologizing—“turning situations into sickness”
By pathologizing, I mean the turning events, feelings and problems into a variety of disorders requiring professional services without which the individual would get worse or society would be at greater risk.
Consider this statement:
“Verbal abuse is literally dangerous to our health, in the same way that contaminated food and polluted water and toxic waste are dangerous. There’s nothing “metaphorical” about this danger; it’s real.”
This was another claim for which I sought out the source. When I posed my question to the author, she responded with the usual line about there being so many resources that it is difficult to know where to start and ended up being unable to provide a single study to support her claim. Her statement is another example of advocacy data and one which makes use of “fear appeal”—a particular advertising strategy which is listed in the Marketing Dictionary. Fear appeal is what advertisers use to encourage us to rush out and buy products such as burglar alarms and earthquake insurance. And it is what is used to promote a wide range of psychological services, including those pertaining to sexual harassment.
The monthly newspaper of the APA, in the January/98 issue, states that sexual assault/ harassment is among the most serious of what, according to the APA are “hate crime.” The victims, it is claimed, need five years to overcome the emotional distress as compared to only two years for other, what psychologists call, “non-bias” crimes. (Five years of treatment at $100/session, given 4 weeks vacation per year; amounts to $24,000 and that’s not bad for business!)
Going back now to the Web-site posted by the APA to educate the public (including the legal community) about sexual harassment, listen now to what it says about the consequences of being sexually harassed::
Being sexually harassed can devastate your psychological health, physical well-being and vocational development. Women who have been harassed often change their jobs, career goals, job assignments, educational programs or academic majors. In addition, women have reported psychological and physical reaction to being harassed that are similar to reactions to other forms of stress. They include:
Depression, anxiety, shock, denial
Anger, fear, frustration, irritability
Insecurity, embarrassment, feelings of betrayal
Confusion, feelings of being powerless
Shame, self-consciousness, low self-esteem
Guilt, self-blame, isolation
Sleep Disturbances, nightmares
Phobias, panic reactions
Is all of this based on any objective research? NO! It is yet another example of “fear appeal” advertising and of pathologizing. If people really have (or think they have) been sexually harassed, such lists and statements can serve to suggest to them that they will begin to experience one or more of these problems. As well, psychologists argue that comments or behaviors are abusive or harassing if they lead to “poor self-esteem, depression, psychological sequellae requiring therapy, etc.” So, events, which had at the time seemed only annoying, can come to be reinterpreted as episodes of sexual harassment.
Back in 1961, in the first edition of his now classic book on psychotherapy, Jerome Frank wrote:
The demand for psychotherapy keeps pace with the supply, and at times one has the uneasy feeling that the supply may be creating the demand…Psychotherapy is the only form of treatment which, at least to some extent, appears to create the illness it treats.
Now, just as I would never question the existence of sexual harassment or of sexual assault or of discrimination, I would never question the existence of serious mental illness. The diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia does, I think, mean something but labels such as PTSD, Depression and Chronic Stress are more often than not inappropriately applied and serving not to identify an actual illness but rather to make people appear sick and disabled. Some of you may actually have seen cases in which you have suspected that such labels have actually gotten in the way of clients ever getting back work or getting on with their lives.
Aside from this psychologizing and pathologizing there is a third way in which the Psychology Industry is applying it’s formula and that is what I call “Generalizing.”
Generalizing—“it’s just as if…”
By generalizing, I mean the turning of progressively more trivial events into dramatic incidents. The verbal abuse quote that I mentioned earlier is one example. It seems that, while, as kids, most of us might have chanted “sticks & stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,” and learned to shrug off the occasional nasty comment, we are now being taught that words do hurt and that our emotional injuries, especially if we ignore them, are every bit as debilitating as physical wounds.
Getting back now to sexual harassment, the process of generalizing is remarkably evident.
Here is one example of a survey question used to determine the occurrence and frequency of Sexual Harassment: “Have you ever been looked at in a way that made you uncomfortable?” and another “Has anyone ever said to you anything with sexual content that made you uncomfortable?”
What is sexual harassment?
In a mailed self-report survey of 916 US female family practice residents, reported by the American Medical Association (AMA), it was stated that 37% reported having suffered from Sexual Harassment. However saying “yes” to ever having been “the target of malicious gossip” could classify a person as having been sexually harassed. What, one might ask, do people mean by “malicious gossip” and how does it get translated to mean “sexual harassment?”
A Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) article on abuse of medical students considered “shouting at you” to be a form of verbal abuse, “prearranged time for teaching not followed up or canceled” a form of emotional abuse, and “use of sexist teaching material” a form of sexual abuse. The psychological effects of such abuse were said to be indicated by “diminished interest in or enthusiasm for courses or studies.”
I understand that, recently, the term “Covictimization” was coined to refer to the “victims” of second-hand knowledge of sexual harassment, an occurrence which is said to be high, especially among women. So now, just knowing, or hearing, about “sexual harassment is in itself a form of harassment” and a cause of psychological problems. Likely most if not all of you, given that you hear about such cases, could easily be diagnosed as suffering from this condition.
As you may know, there is a well known lawyer/feminist who has advocated charging construction workers who whistle at passers-by not merely with sexual harassment but with sexual assault. When someone wrote an unflattering review of her book, she claimed that the effect was that of rape: “He wanted me as a violated woman with my legs spread.” There may be unflattering reviews of my book, too, but I cringe to think that these reviews would turn me into a rape victim and the reviewer into a rapist.
Blurring the lines
This “slippery slope” logic is blurring the distinction between ordinary, everyday events, which many of us women are not only be able to cope with but might, on occasion, even enjoy, and brutal assaults, such as rape. And it is also blurring our understanding of legal concepts. How does one determine now when sexual harassment becomes sexual assault? I wonder sometimes whether, if the Justice system continues to be influenced by this definitional ooze, there will come a day when every issue you are dealing with now has become a criminal issue. For not only are we manufacturing victims; we are also manufacturing crimes, but that’s another topic and I’m running out of time.
So here I will end my rendition of what, at the beginning, I described as “a disturbing reality.” A prominent Toronto psychologist has dismissed my concerns, calling my book, Manufacturing Victims, “The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of Psychology.” However, I doubt that these concerns can be so easily dismissed. The endnotes in my book, which number about 1,000, cite material which is neither obscure nor merely freaks of nature. And, once again, I will invite you to scrutinize my sources and, as I end, I will express my hope that you will:
1) Scrupulously investigate any sexual harassment report that lands on your desk, looking not only for corroborating evidence, but, also, for possible contamination by the Psychology Industry. This contamination can take place, not only directly in psychotherapy but indirectly through pop psychology books, self-help manuals, media reports, support groups, comments made by family or co-workers, and even information posted on the Internet. For anyone interested, I have recently had my attention drawn to a new set of guidelines, from the Minister of Justice in the Netherlands regarding investigation of sexual assault allegations following psychotherapy which, I think, could be adapted to fit the investigation of sexual harassment claims.
2) As much as possible, try to help people avoid becoming labeled as suffering from PTSD, Depression, Chronic Stress or “low self-esteem” and from getting themselves caught up in the “victim stereotype.” Do what you can to avoid, and to help others avoid, the notion promoted by the Psychology Industry that people who make reports of sexual harassment go through a particular series/sequence of reactions and the suggestions that they are likely to suffer specific psychological consequences.
3) Try to prevent your clients, including those who are real victims of sexual harassment, from being turned into patients. Whenever possible, resist the conversion of cash settlements into payments for counseling or therapy. Get the money directly to the victims of sexual harassment and not into the hands of the industry which profits from maintaining them as patients.
4) Do what you can to stop the Justice System from being turned into a bogus healing process and used as a cash cow for the Psychology Industry.
I will leave you with one final quote:
“One waits in vain for psychologists to state the limits of their knowledge.” – Noam Chomsky
I have been waiting a very long time and now I look to people outside my profession, and especially to lawyers, to set limits on the Psychology Industry.