Abnormal Psychology Textbooks: Valid Science or Political Propaganda

By Simon, Laurence | Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview
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Abnormal Psychology Textbooks: Valid Science or Political Propaganda

Simon, Laurence, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

It is argued that an examination of various abnormal psychology textbooks reveals that they read more like political propaganda than fair, valid science. All of the examined texts conformed closely to the psychiatric medical model as represented by the latest version Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Occasional critiques were levied at the DSM, but they were invariably dismissed and not debated in any serious manner. All of the texts involved in this study invoked the name of psychiatric critic Thomas Szasz and either dismissed his ideas without adequate representation or stated that he need not be taken seriously because he is too radical or possibly disturbed. All manner of assertions were present in these tomes as to the validity of the biogenic etiology of the disorders discussed without either presenting valid empirical evidence to support the assertions or discussing the rich and varied literature that refutes the biogenic hypotheses. It is concluded that students are not being served by these expensive textbooks and should be exposed to a variety of primary source material representing the many sides of conflict within the mental health field.

Keywords: DSM; propaganda; Thomas Szasz

In the late 1970s, I read Thomas Szasz's classic book The Myth of Mental Illness. I was deeply affected by the work and the conclusions I personally drew from it: The field of clinical psychology, like the field of psychiatry on which it is modeled, is a fraud and a pseudoscience based on its insistence that unwanted, hard-to-explain behaviors are illnesses to be cured no differently than diabetes or cancer. I soon discovered that any attempt to discuss Szasz's ideas with virtually any professional colleagues were futile and dangerous. I was labeled crazy and/or dangerous for suggesting that terms such as "schizophrenia" were more pejorative labels defining moral failure than true medical conditions. People seemed to be aware of Szasz and his growing oeuvre but treated his books like so much toxic waste that could not be ignored but could not and should not be approached too closely. I slowly became an outsider and pariah to a field I loved and found myself forced to develop a variety of strategies to continue both to earn my living and to be a part of clinical psychology.

In the last 30 years, I have watched the majority of my colleagues suffer economically, morally, politically, and intellectually in their refusal to face the George Albee's truth: that the 1947 Boulder Conference decision to model psychology after psychiatry was a tragic mistake that has led to its failure to live up to its promise as a science and as a moral enterprise. I have largely given up on trying to gain the sympathetic ear of my colleagues in the profession, and instead I try to reach the next generation of psychologists while they are still in the classroom and not yet ideologically and economically wedded to the medical model of psychiatry that treats human misery, folly, and a host of individual differences as if they were medical conditions that require "diagnosis" and "treatment." I believe that if psychologists reject the medical model and build their own conceptual house-a task I find necessary and whose goal I am sworn to help achieve-they must begin by opening the minds of the next generation of professionals to explanations of "abnormal" human behavior other than in medical terms, and this means starting with the textbooks that introduce and familiarize students with the enterprise that will occupy their professional lives. I have discovered that in order to provide my students with a balanced view of the field, I have had to avoid the use of textbooks that in general reflect the worst of psychiatry and avoid what might be best in psychology.


I recently taught a course titled Psychology of Personality, and I suggested to the chairperson during the interview before hiring that I despised textbooks and would instead opt for some original materials as course readings.

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Abnormal Psychology Textbooks: Valid Science or Political Propaganda


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