As predicted, a number of the prominent mental health professionals who have signed my statement of support are now being brought into the smear campaign, the latest being the well-known social psychologist, Carol Tavris. I am honored to be in such company. Fortunately, most of these people are established enough that the anonymous cyber smear campaigners have no power to harm them.
I continue to be very grateful to the 47 people who signed this statement of support in helping the days of the therapy guru who is immune to questioning and criticism, come to an end by adding their voices to this ongoing conversation (this is not to say that they are all criticizing and exposing the same individuals — what they have in common is that they are exposing various forms of pseudoscience and other forms of questionable practice, as well as advocating research and evidence-based practice).
[In a later posting, I elaborated on who I do and do not consider a “therapy guru”. Since those anonymous WordPress bloggers have been attempting to twist these words and interpret them in a ludicrous way that no reasonable person would, to set the record straight, I was not talking about “terminating” or doing violence to anyone (I haven’t a violent bone in my body!) I was talking the continuing nonviolent cause I have been involved with for the past seven years of educating and advocating for therapy consumers. I was not “alluding” to the most recent set of questions I asked Ronald Federici and Heather Forbes. What I am talking about is bringing those days where therapy gurus are immune to questions and criticism and dissenters are silenced to an end by speaking out and being a strong advocate for evidence-based practice and critical thinking. I don’t just mean one particular therapy guru (I was using the term generically here). I mean the many therapy gurus that are still out there who cannot deal with having their claims challenged and instead launch smear campaigns against anyone who questions or criticizes or as one “cult expert” did, bring in a third person to attack me on a list serv where I had expressed a disagreement with a statement the person had made to CNN.] The message from these 47 people is that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. They way the anonymous smear campaign bloggers attempted to twist this message is only further evidence of the propaganda campaign.
That doesn’t mean that we are “demanding answers”. What it means is that therapy gurus who feel they are above answering questions will be seen for what they are by educated consumers. As Margaret Singer pointed out, one of the most telling signs of whether a mental health professional is trustworthy is the manner in which they respond to questions.
All 47 of those people have in some way made substantial contributions to ending the days when questioning a therapy guru is not allowed. And yes, anyone has the right to ask those questions, not just people within the profession. Licensed mental health professionals are here to serve the public and that means that anyone in the public, regardless of their position does have the right to question them.
Lately I am being attacked for posting to the internet of all things. Much ado is being made over the fact that sometimes on a busy month I might average around 4 postings per day to Google Groups. These are mostly postings that take me, on average, all of 5 minutes to do, so that’s about 20 minutes per day, far less time than most people would spend on some hobby and hardly the “astonishing number” that are being portrayed.
What is happening is that some of the followers of other therapy gurus and self-proclaimed top “experts” who I have questioned and expressed disagreements with (e.g. Steven Hassan who has proclaimed himself to be America’s Leading Exit Counselor), are popping out of the woodwork, glad to see this smear campaign against me and essentially informally aligning themselves with Ronald Federici and his supporters, not necessarily with Dr. Federici’s consent and approval and not in any kind of conspiracy, but essentially they are taking his side when they pile on in this smear campaign. I have questioned Mr. Hassan’s claims that the therapy he offers to ex-cult members is superior to that of other mental health professionals, since no direct comparison studies (or even uncontrolled studies, for that matter) have ever been conducted on Mr. Hassan’s approach and yet he charges fees that are quite high for a masters-level licensed mental health counselor ($2500 per day plus $100 per hour just for travel time and $200 per hour on weekends for travel time and even higher rates for holidays). What this means is he is charging $100 per hour on weekdays and $200 per hour on weekends just to sit in what he requires to be a business class section on a plane or in an airport while traveling. Some of us are lucky if we make that amount for an entire day’s actual work and don’t get paid for any travel time, yet he makes it just for one hour of sitting on a plane in the comfort of business class. On a weekend on a coast-to-coast flight, that could amount to $1000. How can he charge this? He has convinced enough people that what he does is very special and unique, yet where is the evidence? His infomercial-style website, lacking transparency, does not list these fees and says instead to call for fees and repeats his phone number multiple times, but the word has gotten out anyway.
I have also expressed my disagreement with Mr. Hassan for claiming that most ex-cult members need therapy to recover. Again, this seems to be a prime example of the kind of propaganda tactic described by Eileen Gambrill in a recent publication of a propaganda index. Among other issues, the article discusses as one propaganda tactic, problem framing in such a way that it medicalizes and pathologizes life problems that may be more successfully worked out by means other than psychotherapy and not labeling the person with a mental health diagnosis, as Mr. Hassan is prone to do (e.g. he labels cult members has having “dissociative disorders”). A classic propaganda tactic is to 1) claim that a particular problem is highly prevalent, without empirical support for its prevalence and 2) claim that the problem is under-treated and I would add, 3) if left untreated by so-called experts in the area (who often charge very high fees for their services) that the problem will not get better or will even get worse.
This may be good for business, but not so good for the consumers who may spend time and money in therapy that not only wastes their money that could have been put to better use and may not help, but may even do more harm than good. If a therapy is not well tested, we do not know whether it helps, does nothing, or harms. We are basically taking a gamble based on misplaced trust in authorities who market their treatments ahead of testing them to see if it works. Again, it’s the old “trust me, I’m an expert” line.
This is a prime example of what I would encourage prospective therapy clients to question when interviewing therapists or people to conduct cult interventions who, in the absence of good research, claim that their approach is superior to others. It is the clients who are hiring the therapist and have every right to demand that a therapist who is making such claims provide good, sound evidence, rather than the kinds of testimonials from “grateful” mothers and the like, that we see on Steve Hassan’s website, to support those claims. Testimonials are simply not enough.
The issue and conflict here is between therapy gurus who are offering treatments based on testimonials and self-published books who are not used to being challenged vs. the critical thinkers and mental health consumer advocates who are concerned about the welfare of mental health consumers and in essence, putting these therapy gurus and their followers on notice that their days of being immune to criticism and questioning are over. We are getting, predictably, a great deal of push back on this from people who have a vested interest in this not changing and their followers who go ballistic at the thought of any criticism of their therapy guru.
PS: For the record, it is already well known that I left and completely repudiated Scientology 35 years ago. As my account of my experience makes clear, even during the time I was involved in Scientology I was never involved in any kind of violence (as the anonymous WordPress bloggers have been implying as they once again demonstrate their inability to comprehend figures of speech). While in Scientology, I never had that kind of power and was always on the receiving end of the abuse, not a perpetrator although I never experienced any physical violence the entire time I was in. During the time I was involved that was many years before the current leader who is the one who has been alleged to be violent, came into power and I was long gone before any of that happened.