Therapeutic Credulity

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Commenting on this article which is as hilarious as it is infuriating.

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/a-psychiatrist-falls-for-exorcism/

 

I don’t even know where to begin with this article, so I’m just going to dive right in.

This quote: Gallagher could benefit immensely from even a basic understanding of cold reading and mentalism (not part of psychiatry training).

While I’m no psychiatrist, these concepts actually are covered quite extensively in psychological/therapist training, and I’m pretty sure that psychiatrists tend to do undergrad work in psychology, but I could be wrong. I’m sure some med students decide later on to specialize in psychiatry, which I think is pretty ridiculous for very many reasons, most of which because I think psychiatrists should have a very good understanding of therapy before learning the “magic” of psychopharmacology.
The article also mentions: let’s not forget, these are mentally ill patients.
How insulting and misguided! There isn’t a line that divides crazy from not crazy, but there are many markers by which we can determine the level of a person’s functionality, and plenty of highly functional people could still benefit from therapy, including psychopharmacological therapy, and the days when general practitioners play psychiatrist and hand out psych meds just to ease the patient’s fear of being crazy SHOULD be far behind us. But comments such as “these are mentally ill patients” as if that just explains everything about them in a seriously negative fashion are exactly why people are still so concerned about seeing the proper specialist to treat their symptoms.

The author concludes by saying that if we play into a person’s delusion we’re doing them a disservice by reinforcing the delusion. Wrong!
Trust is extremely important in the client/therapist relationship, and a person who believes that they’re being watched by the gov’t, spied on by neighbors, abducted by aliens, possessed etc, are SO used to being placated and condescended to, but ultimately disbelieved. They do not trust mental health practitioners because they’re tired of being treated like a “crazy” person and to them their experiences are (most often) absolutely real. They desperately need someone to believe them. Additionally, I’m a huge proponent of the “whatever works” brand of therapy. If not, what’s to stop me from telling highly religious clients that prayer doesn’t work, and that going to church is just making things worse? I don’t believe in their god, so maybe I think these things are counterproductive, but I have to work within the framework that I’m given. What about 12 step? We know that shit does not statistically work. We have a huge body of studies to draw from, but unfortunately the medical and psych communities in many places still haven’t caught up and believe that some guy and his friend in the early 20th century were qualified to write a manual to treat addiction. Additionally, we all have had clients and people we know who did exceptionally well with 12 step, so it perpetuates the myth that it’s effective as treatment despite evidence to the contrary. So if my client has tried and failed at 12 step for years, but they love it and sometimes it works for a while, do I print out dozens of research studies to try to convince them that the shit isn’t helping and likely making them worse? Absolutely not! This falls under the Ways to Quickly Alienate Your Client and Forever Destroy Client/Therapist Relationships heading. It’s not a good idea to tell people that the things they believe to be true are not true, and that the things they hold dear are dreadfully unhealthy. There is an extremely apt, oft used but grammatically jarring phrase: Meet the client where they’re at. You start by building trust, then work within the framework presented and see where it can be taken. If a person believes that they’re possessed and that they need to have an exorcism, I’m certainly not going to refer them out to some nutjob religious fanatic, but I’ll help them to be sure that the method they choose is safe, and if they get their exorcism and it works, great! But more than likely it won’t work, or if it does it likely won’t last, and I can be there to help them through that, and to help them seek out other options to wellness. In addition, therapy is really all about helping a person to come to conclusions on their own. We’re there to guide them, to ask questions that help them to think critically about their situation and to examine their choices and beliefs in a healthy manner. If I could just tell people, Drugs aren’t healthy, or Your relationship is likely to literally kill you, or You’re just delusional those things aren’t real, and suddenly everything changes for them, well then I’d be out of a job (er, I already am, but not for this reason, heh) and there’d be little need for psychiatrists either. Most importantly with this issue, actual delusions are most likely biological, and irrational thinking, for lack of better or more succinct phrasing, is habit. If the meds work, delusion gone, but the irrational thinking is still there and even if the person doesn’t feel possessed anymore they may still believe that they were or are but that for whatever reason the demon is not active or biding its time or whatever, and they’ll still need assistance to deal with this. Plus, if a person believes they’re possessed they may refuse meds because they’ll say they aren’t crazy they’re friggin possessed, so how do we get them to give meds a try? Hint: Telling them that they aren’t actually possessed but just crazy doesn’t work.

No, I don’t believe everything a person tells me, but I’m not just humoring them either. I understand that what they’re experiencing is frightening and debilitating, and it’s all too real to them. Our perceptions are just as flawed as our memories. A person who is colorblind will see grey where I see pink. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t seeing grey. We perceive things in vastly different ways, sometimes in a very literal sense because of physiology, other times because our experiences, societal norms, family values and upbringing, have colored our perceptions. I can’t impose my values on someone no matter how much I may believe that theirs are wrong or unhealthy. But I can hope that trust, proper counseling, and application of effective therapies (which definitely does include pharmacological therapies) may help that person to recognize which values and beliefs are healthy, which are benign, and which are decidedly unhealthy.

All that said, I’m definitely never going to write a paper explaining that my clients are definitely being haunted and possessed. That’s taking therapeutic credulity a bit too far. :p