Therapists, Hubris, and Native Intelligence

How the TV show Northern Exposure can teach us why some therapists aren’t good sources of spiritual wisdom.

This is a follow-up to “The ACLU and Religious Freedom Part 2,” where I began discussing the problems which ensue when spiritual seekers are exposed to bad therapy. Such problems include Guru Alienation Syndrome — a condition similar to Parental Alienation Syndrome, but often caused by a therapist or ex-cult support group.

I grew up watching movies like Ordinary People, and thinking of therapists as being like the Judd Hirsch character: sympathetic, caring, always reaching out a helping hand to people in crisis, and never doing any harm. I still want to believe that’s true of many or even most therapists. It came as a shock to me to learn that some therapists are motivated by politics, ideology, and an inflated sense of their own infallibility. They claim to be experts in things they’ve never actually studied, and practice fringe therapies which may actually harm their clients. What I’m saying might be described as a “contrarian narrative;” but to recognize some truth in it is to gain insight into many phenomena which undergird our modern world and modern conflicts.

Tana Dineen is a psychologist herself, but one who is critical of what she calls the “Psychology Industry.” Her presentation “Are We Manufacturing Victims?” is helpful in understanding psychology from a contrarian point of view. Taking in her broad analysis, it becomes easier to process the information I’ve shared concerning anti-cult therapists who condition their clients to view themselves as “cult victims.” Dineen writes:

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? [or interpret spiritual experiences?]

Dineen includes this snappy quote from Noam Chomsky: “One waits in vain for psychologists to state the limits of their knowledge.” When psychologists overstep their bounds and begin dictating what spiritual seekers are allowed to believe and practice, they’re usurping the role of spiritual teachers and replacing spiritual beliefs with secular rationalist ones. This raises problems of set theory and argumentum ad verecundiam.

Psychologists are not typically experts in religion, nor does the set of things known by psychologists encompass the set of things known by priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis, imams, yogis, lamas, mystics, gurus, or shamans, whose training is quite different. It would seem to be an example of extreme hubris (or perhaps charlatanism is a better word) when psychologists claim to be able to tell spiritual seekers what groups they should or should not join. Such advice is usually conformist in nature, and tends to steer the would-be seeker toward making fairly mainstream secular choices (or “spirituality lite”). Yet, psychologists do not have a lock on human wisdom, and people who are suffering have a right to decide what modalities they find helpful in dealing with accumulated pain.

On the one hand, many psychologists are compassionate healers; on the other hand, their training inclines them to be secular rationalists. This sets up a potential dissonance between the needs of a client who by nature is religious or spiritual, and a therapist who by training is not. The spiritual seeker may adopt a humble stance of “not-knowing,” while the therapist may evince a certitude in Dawkinslike assumptions about the “God delusion.” What could possibly go wrong?

Since therapy includes a large component of mentoring, the danger for the spiritual seeker who becomes involved in therapy — especially anti-cult therapy — is that the influence of the therapist-as-mentor will be to quash any nascent feelings of spirituality in the client, and substitute a secular rationalist model of the universe based on critical thinking and (paradoxically) conformism.

In short, the client may walk in a spiritual seeker, and walk out a “cult victim” owing to techniques and methods I’ve described elsewhere. This also applies to ex-cult support groups themed on abuse, and based on the same underlying premise that the former spiritual seeker is really a “cult victim.”

How do psychologists manage to so massively influence the way that people come to interpret (or reinterpret) past experiences? According to Tana Dineen, “The illusion of power is maintained through the mystique of science and the symbols of professionalism.” In a significant (if turgid) passage, Ole Jacob Madsen (also a psychologist) writes:

Unfortunately, the ability to set boundaries is wanting [in psychologists] and the result becomes instead a boundless expansion of a therapeutic logic because the professional ethos entails a lack of understanding for other values, systems of meaning and principles besides the purely therapeutic, attributable to the belief that one serves only the cause of the good, in that everything is actually psychology.

— Ole Jacob Madsen, The Therapeutic Turn: How Psychology Altered Western Culture

What’s striking here is that Madsen says psychologists (who often complain that certain spiritual beliefs and practices are “totalistic”) actually pursue psychology in a totalistic manner. They’re seemingly incapable of recognizing that spiritual beliefs and principles might be a different system of meaning which lies outside their purview (unless they themselves choose to undergo spiritual training). It’s that same problem of hubris and set theory again: We’re psychologists, therefore we know everything because we analyze it using psychology. No! You only know psychology; you don’t know the set of things which are not knowable through psychology. Why do you pretend otherwise?

The difficulty which scientific rationalists have in perceiving (and making sense of) spiritual phenomena is dramatized in an episode of the 90s TV series Northern Exposure (Season 2, Episode 2). Joel Fleischman is a doctor from New York who, in order to pay off the loans for his medical education, has to serve as town physician in the mythical locale of Cicely, Alaska. Ed Chigliak is a half-Native Alaskan who was abandoned at birth, and as a young man is preoccupied with finding his parents. One night, Ed is visited by a spirit called “One-Who-Waits” who offers to help Ed in his search:

The reaction of Dr. Fleischman to being unable to see a spirit guide which Native people (including his own secretary, Marilyn Whirlwind) can see is to express concern about Ed’s mental health, mixed with a social control message: “I’m worried about you Ed, I really am. You’re not acting in a psychologically healthy way. … People who see things that don’t exist usually end up in Bellevue — it’s a special hospital for people with severe mental illness.” This is the familiar mixed message which many spiritual adherents report receiving when they’re targeted for some form of Strategic Intervention Therapy (or SIT) by exit counselors. Such adherents sometimes reply that they have their own therapy, which is Stay Home In Temple. (You can work out the acronym for yourself.) 😉

Therapists often lack “native intelligence,” are jealous of spiritual teachers (whom they view as competitors), and are dismissive of spiritual experiences, which they redefine negatively as “dissociative states” or similar jargon. I’ve seen many examples of spiritual seekers who were turned into third-rate conformists by bad therapy, and were consciously turned against their former spiritual teacher by a therapist who resented the teacher’s influence. As I discuss in “The ACLU and Religious Freedom Part 2”:

When someone studies with a spiritual teacher, the teacher becomes an important part of her life. Even if she ends her studies, her former teacher will usually be someone with whom she needs to live on comfortable terms. A healthy narrative truth emerging in therapy is one which doesn’t attempt to demonize the former teacher or alienate the former student. When therapists violate these principles, this may be seen as abusive, just as inducing Parental Alienation Syndrome is considered a form of parental abuse.

One of the universally recognized symptoms of PAS is lack of ambivalence. Quite simply, the parent from whom the child has been alienated is seen as completely bad and evil. Lack of ambivalence is unnatural behaviour in human beings. Rarely can someone of basic intelligence, maturity and emotional stability support the notion that one person is completely bad.

Yet, when people receive anti-cult counseling or participate in ex-cult support groups, they tend to undergo a pathological inversion of views. They are systematically alienated from their former spiritual teacher, to the point where they depict him/her as thoroughly bad and inhumanly evil. This may be described as Guru Alienation Syndrome, or GAS.

The reason such systematic alienation should be considered a form of abuse is that it effectively robs the former student of all the benefits of having a spiritual teacher, including the ability to interact positively with that teacher, and to enjoy loving memories of that teacher. Unambivalent hatred of the spiritual teacher doesn’t just harm the hated teacher, but also the former student.

Some psychologists can’t tell the difference between a voluntary spiritual community such as an ashram or sangha where people go to pray, meditate, read, and reflect, and a POW camp where people are held prisoner and subjected to physical brutality. These particular psychologists aren’t just hostile to spirituality in a general way, but indulge in specific pseudoscientific theories which foolishly treat spiritual seekers as if they were prisoners of war. This major category error then leads to civil rights abuses.

If you’ve had spiritual experiences, believe in them. Don’t let psychologists explain them away with jargonistic mumbo-jumbo. If you have faith in a spiritual teacher, treat that relationship with the sacredness it deserves. Don’t let anyone alienate you as part of some fad to embrace a new identity.

In Part 2, I discussed how the idea of conducting public online therapy for purported “cult victims” can easily be subverted by anti-cult operatives, and turned into a degradation ceremony attacking spiritual teachers and groups. An excerpt from Frank Furedi’s book Therapy Culture appearing in The Guardian helps explain how this is possible: Such operatives take advantage of the current social mania for publicly confessing that one is a “survivor.” This becomes a new social identity with its own accoutrements — namely, stories of abuse. However, these stories don’t need to be true any more than long eyelashes need to be real. As Furedi remarks, “Illness as a fashion statement is emblematic of this new cultural outlook that attaches so much significance to emotional survival.” Here’s a longer passage:

The erosion of the boundary that separates the public from the private is one of the chief accomplishments of therapy culture. We are all used to seeing TV celebrities telling the world about their illnesses, addictions, sex lives and personal hurts. A key theme promoted through confessional television is that in order to heal, emotionally injured individuals need to let go of “private wounds by sharing them with others.” The act of “sharing” — turning private troubles into public stories — is now deeply embedded in popular culture.

The rise of self-disclosure television — Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo, Ricki Lake — exemplifies the mass transmission of streams of emotion. Yet, trash TV, along with its more elevated literary cousin, the new genre of self-revelatory biography, mirrors new cultural norms about notions of intimacy and private space. It seems that everybody wants to talk or write about themselves. In the 1990s, confessional auto-biographies and semi-fictional accounts expanded beyond the usual “I was an addict” stories and adopted themes that were far more private than before. What the American critic Laura Miller has characterised as the “illness memoir” became one of the most distinct literary genres of the late 1990s.

In a larger context, disclosure represents … an act of virtue in therapeutic culture. Help-seeking also constitutes the precondition for the management of people’s emotions. That is why there are such strong cultural pressures on the individual to “acknowledge pain” and “share.” Confession, preferably through therapy, relieves the burden of responsibility and offers a route to public acceptance — even acclaim.

When footballer Paul Gascoigne was exposed in a newspaper as a binge drinker and smoker, he faced the full wrath of the media. He was treated as a public outcast until he acknowledged he had a “problem” and checked into a clinic. By acknowledging his problem, Gascoigne performed a mandatory ritual which was necessary for his re-entry into the moral community.

And this culture is a self-reinforcing circuit: by upholding the act of seeking help, society continually demands the exposure of pain and public contrition. By treating emotions and feelings as the defining feature of individual identity, the private sphere has become a legitimate area for public scrutiny. So any claim for privacy represents a refusal to accept the new etiquette of emotional correctness.

A powerful parallel development to this is the acceptance of an ever-widening definition of what constitutes psychological distress.

— Frank Furedi, Therapy Culture

Furedi is really describing a brave new world in which confession, contrition and therapy become mandatory rituals for individuals accused of departing from majoritarian values. People are pressured to share their feelings so that those feelings can be altered to conform to social norms — what the lowest common denominator of humanity is supposed to think and feel. An unstated premise is that psychological wellness means being one of the herd. This is far from the idea of wellness conceptualized by trailblazers in psychology like Carl Jung.

The present day “moral community” is one which collectively subscribes to the doctrine of secular materialism, and often treats people who explore spiritual alternatives as social outcasts. So, the former spiritual seeker may experience pressure to confess to being a “cult victim,” to show public contrition, and to tout the value of therapy as a means of becoming a rehabilitated “cult survivor.” But how much of this has anything to do with reality? How much is junk science, self ego stroking, and media exploitation? I’m reminded of a former spiritual seeker who, post-therapy, delivered a talk entitled “How to Successfully Write the Story of Your Hidden, Former Life as a Member of a Cult into a Published Book” (while playing the piano and losing pounds and inches from your hips).

In light of these social trends, it becomes increasingly necessary to distinguish between people who have some fact-based complaint, and people who are just lining up to “hog the mic” and make a public confession intended to enhance their reputation with a new secular peer group, often for self-interested (or even crass commercial) reasons.

In “Lying Isn’t So Bad If It Makes You Feel Good,” John Leo addresses “the postmodern notion that there is no literal truth, only voices and narratives. If so, who can object if you make up a narrative that expresses the truth you feel?” But see also: “Tawana Brawley Rape Hoax Leads To Defamation Damage Payout 26 Years Later.” One consequence of false confessions of victimhood is that they may do collateral damage to third parties. Contrary to the social trend, some people do value their privacy and resent being used as mere objects in someone else’s spurious public confession.

In “My Lie: Why I falsely accused my father,” Meredith Maran talks about how a “perfect storm” of influences including recovered memory therapy, feminist political theory, and social pressure caused her to claim that her father molested her. Years later, she realized it wasn’t true, and was surprised at how strong a role external factors like therapy, politics, and social pressure played in making her commit to a story which she knew in retrospect was a lie. Her father suffered greatly because of that lie, whose genesis was bad therapy and social/political faddism. Yet, she herself was not an automaton or passive agent. Looking back, she knew she had done wrong.

Anti-cult operatives take advantage of the current fad by persuading gullible individuals that the need for public-confession-as-therapy and the need to embrace a new identity as a “cult survivor” outweigh any loyalties, privacy concerns, or traditional ethical and legal constraints against libel. So, drunk with the heady draft of fellow “support group” members egging them on, these people proceed to tell the most extravagant lies about their former spiritual teacher or group. The best “whoppers” are then leaked to the press by anti-cult operatives, or posted on a remote website, devoid of any clue about the support group pressures which led to their creation. (See elsewhere my criticism of attorney Joseph C. Kracht for orchestrating or participating in such fraudulent activities, thus giving them his legal seal of approval.)

As I discussed in Part 2, a typical problem with ex-cult support groups is that members otherize spiritual groups whose beliefs and practices they formerly espoused. They experience a pathological loss of empathy for former friends, colleagues and mentors, and a pathological escalation of hostility. They no longer honour the social contract and no longer treat others with basic human decency. This leads them to commit unethical or even illegal acts against their former colleagues.

What we’re really talking about is a socially constructed view of the religious other as archetypal bogeyman. This view inherently implies that the other has no rights, so who could possibly object to false accounts on the grounds of libel, harassment, or false light invasion of privacy? Therapy culture plus Internet culture equals an unlimited opportunity to publicly shame people with whom one has some disagreement. This is the new “emotional etiquette” championed by some ethically rudderless psychologists and attorneys engaged in anti-cult advocacy.

Contrary to claims that support group members would have “no reason to lie” when portraying themselves as heroic survivors of an abusive cult, they’re actually telling the kind of lies which will buy back their reputations in the secular world. They’re pandering to a popular culture obsessed with confession, contrition, and therapy — a culture which harbors negative stereotypes about spiritual groups.

Anti-cult material corresponding to the captivity narrative  — such as a “testimonial” that the writer was once enslaved by an abusive cult, but was subsequently rescued and is now in recovery — partakes of an additional subtext beyond the details of the narrative itself: Such material is (at least indirectly) a type of advertising bumf for the mental health and legal professions, which constantly try to expand their field of influence until every human problem becomes a psychological or legal problem. (Again, see Tana Dineen.)

Of course, some problems are the natural province of psychologists and lawyers, but things have gotten out of hand. Spiritual problems need to be solved by spiritual means. Anti-cult groups like the American Family Foundation (a.k.a. International Cultic Studies Association) — which consists primarily of psychologists and lawyers — are engaged in a power grab to psychologize everything, commodify everything, redefine everything in secular terms, and subject spiritual adherents to secular restrictions, judging them according to a secular yardstick. This fails to respect the essential differences between the secular and the spiritual, and constitutes a kind of poaching by secular people into the religious sphere (e.g., by claiming that there is no such thing as selfless work, and all labor must be commodified).

Anti-cult “testimonials” are not neutral in tone, purpose, or effect. They’re highly politicized documents used for public diplomacy, as part of the larger culture war. Such documents paint the religious other as the enemy, not like us, having values and lifestyle incompatible with the secular majority — thus invalidating the notion that pluralism and religious tolerance are workable solutions to disagreements over religion, and encouraging a vigilante or interventionist mindset.

In mid-nineteenth century America, the culture war was primarily between established Protestant denominations and newly arrived Roman Catholics. Today, the culture war is between a majority which embraces secular materialism and spiritual minorities who maintain their own distinctive beliefs and practices.

Captivity narratives (and questions about their accuracy) are often at the heart of contested views about peoples and cultures. They arise from border skirmishes, and may take on an air of triumphalism, e.g.: “Having escaped from the enemy, I’m here to tell you in this time of trouble that we are right and they are wrong!” They can serve a social control function, by appearing to justify aggressive actions taken against a targeted group, with the rationale that such actions are meant to “liberate” them.

Indeed, this remains the stated rationale for subjecting minority adherents to deprogramming, exit counseling, or cult intervention. The targets are supposedly “trapped” in a religious or spiritual world view which the scientifically and culturally superior exit counselor just “knows” is wrong (he has a theory!), and this error must be corrected through intervention. Toleration is simply not an option.

Given our broader Native American theme, it’s appropriate to examine the case of People v. Woody. There, the State of California sought to uphold the conviction of members of the Native American Church for sacramental use of peyote. However, in overturning that conviction, the California Supreme Court wrote:

The Attorney General … argues that since “peyote could be regarded as a symbol, one that obstructs enlightenment and shackles the Indian to primitive conditions” the responsibility rests with the state to eliminate its use. We know of no doctrine that the state, in its asserted omniscience, should undertake to deny to defendants the observance of their religion in order to free them from the suppositious “shackles” of their “unenlightened” and “primitive condition.”

People v. Woody, 61 Cal.2d 716, 394 P.2d 813, 40 Cal.Rptr. 69.

The principle vindicated here is that social control measures should not be used to indulge in cultural imperialism, nor to deny people the right to exercise their spiritual beliefs and customs. Yet, where opponents fail to thwart minority religions through legal measures, they may nonetheless achieve similar effects by circulating hate propaganda. It’s not necessary to legally outlaw a spiritual group if you can demolish their reputation through information terrorism. (See Part 3.)

It’s little wonder that many people choose to retire to spiritual communities where they can live life more simply and naturally according to spiritual ideals which they find sustaining and nourishing, away from the pervasive influence of psychologists and lawyers, who increasingly set the parameters of what is permitted in mainstream society, and dictate the tenor and quality of secular life. If they were making people happy I would not object, but this excessively psychological and legalistic approach seems to be making people miserable, perhaps because it lacks vision, and (contrary to what is claimed about empowerment) seems to turn everyone into a victim in need of both therapy and legal redress.

The broader problem is one of secular materialism, which leads toward totalitarianism and away from art and imagination. (See “Putting The Wind Up Richard Dawkins” for discussion of how secular materialism is anti-art.)

My criticisms are not meant to be universal. Some psychologists are genuinely interested in the spiritual, are researching ways that spiritual philosophy and practice can be integrated into therapy, and as a matter of personal ethics would never consider engaging in deprogramming or exit counseling. They are the descendants of Jung, rejecting the doctrine of materialism, recognizing the existence of the soul, and believing that for many people psychological health is found in uniting with cosmic consciousness, not conforming to society’s shallow notions of how the average worker-drone should think and act.

Likewise, as I discuss in my series on “The ACLU and Religious Freedom,” there are attorneys who defend (rather than harass) minority adherents, have taken strong positions against deprogramming, and generally disfavor laws which would weaken the rights of religious minorities to live their lives in accordance with their faith. The religious freedom argument, when posed in legal terms, is exemplified by this passage from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, concerning the right of Hare Krishnas to engage in the practice of sankirtan (roving chanting and solicitation):

Tolerance of the unorthodox and unpopular is the bellwether of a society’s spiritual strength. A community sufficiently confident of its moral and political underpinnings trusts its members to employ reasoned and considered judgment in evaluating novel theories that seek to explain the meaning and purpose of life. The coercive mechanisms of restraint, violence, and suppression are not required to confront strange ideologies and unfamiliar rituals, however obnoxious they may be. This freedom to explore diverse political and religious doctrines, derived from the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment, permits our citizens to follow the dictates of conscience. By fostering this voluntarism, our nation is strengthened, for the people respect a government that treats its charges as free-willed, discerning moral beings. Our republic prides itself on the enormous diversity of religious and political beliefs which have been able to find acceptance and toleration on our shores.

— Judge Irving R. Kaufman, ISKCON v. Barber, 650 F.2d 430

Acceptance and toleration means not stigmatizing minority adherents by falsely claiming that they are mentally ill (as is typically done in exit counseling), nor claiming that they are “cult victims” in need of “rescue,” nor targeting them with propaganda which misrepresents their beliefs, practices, and lifestyle, or demonizes them as the religious other.

When therapists or exit counselors engage in such behavior, this cannot honestly be described as “respectful dialogue” or as a process of “cult education.” Rather, the latter terms are euphemisms for activities which reflect ignorance, intolerance, and the unwarranted intervention in other people’s religious choice.

Attempting to justify such unwarranted intervention by citing fringe psychological theories is a self-serving maneuver. It’s typically undertaken by people who make a portion of their income by using fear of the religious other to market psychological or legal services. (See fear marketing.) Sales materials which portray the person who chooses a minority faith as a “victim” of “cult mind control” who is in danger of being “lost to the cult forever” appeal to families who disagree with a loved one’s religious choice. Exit counselors use alarmist rhetoric to heighten fears to the point where the family is ready to shell out thousands of dollars for a “cult intervention.” Deprogrammer turned exit counselor Steven Hassan, who performs such interventions, charges a base rate of $2,500 per day plus additional expenses.

To better understand the economic factors which connect anti-cult narratives to advertising, it may help to focus on the Jenny Jones Show, a 90s daytime TV talk show, and close cousin of the Ricki Lake Show mentioned by Frank Furedi. A frequent theme on Jenny Jones was women who got breast enlargement operations; and while this vital contemporary issue was (in theory) explored from both a positive and negative perspective — with the scantily clad and artificially endowed women having to face a murder board of “haters” — the overall narrative was that these previously unloved women now had boyfriends who were giving them cars, cash, and all-expense-paid vacations as a result of their new surgical endowment. Not surprisingly, commercial breaks often featured advertisements from plastic surgeons who performed breast augmentation operations.

What can this tell us about the anti-cult movement? Well, on anti-cult message boards, “testimonials” of “cult abuse” frequently alternate with contact info for psychologists selling exit counseling services, and for “cult-buster” attorneys who claim to have gotten huge settlements for people who sued their former “cult.” Once we see how the unlikely narratives tie in with the commercial advertisements, and how they’re all part of some larger enterprise, the puzzle pieces fall into place. It all begins to make sense.

A careful investigation of deprogramming, exit counseling, and cult interventions reveals that apostates are often hired as part of the “team” whose job it is to pressure the minority adherent to recant. Their assigned role is to speak passionately against the sect or group in question. In this context, anti-cult message boards are like auditions or tryouts where apostates can spit venom about their former group and possibly line up a paying gig. As on shows like Jenny Jones, participants are not selected based on the accuracy of their claims or their dispassionate analysis, but on how well they strut their stuff, how emotionally persuasive they can be (even if their narratives are fictional). As I noted in Part 1 (sidebar):

Those members of anti-cult groups willing to tell over-the-top atrocity stories may receive status elevation within the group (similar to having medals pinned on them). If they can supply bodice-ripping drug store fare, then that has the potential to be used in anti-cult publicity campaigns, and may even find its way into a courtroom. The writers know this, and so tend to compete in a “race to the bottom.”

In some cases, anti-cult message boards or blogs are hosted by psychologists, attorneys, cult intervention specialists, or activists who don’t just have an ideological interest — but also an economic interest — in portraying spiritual groups negatively. That’s why “cult survivor” tales whose original provenance is social networking sites have low credibility among knowledgeable people — even when repackaged to try and give them higher credibility.

The postmodern period is one where individual certainty as to the meaning of life is lacking, clear solutions to society’s problems seem impossible to agree upon, and alienation and anomie reign supreme. Into this vacuum, psychologists and lawyers may sometimes be accused of injecting sham certainty — psychologists by claiming to know what is “normal” and “healthy,” and lawyers by claiming to know “what the law says” on particular issues. This gives both professions an inordinate amount of power to define permissible behavior. The truth is, neither profession has all the answers; they have (at best) limited solutions to a finite number of problems. In some cases (mob lawyers, certain military psychologists), they may even use their training in the service of social deviance activities (gangland slayings, torture of prisoners).

Psychology is a soft science; law is not a science at all. Both fields are highly interpretive, and both professions (as popularly practiced) tend to be concerned with normative values, which over time are as changeable as the weather. Moreover, to the extent that America is vast and consists of a number of different communities, the normative values of one may be oppressive when imposed on another. That is the underlying sense of the Northern Exposure clip, as well as the decisions in People v. Woody and ISKCON v. Barber. (See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, a U.S. Supreme Court case affirming the rights of the Old Order Amish.)

Neither psychology nor law “say” one particular thing on complex human issues. Rather, individual psychologists and lawyers decide how to interpret the huge amount of available data, which in itself is often contradictory. As Tana Dineen points out, studies are sometimes rigged to support the desired outcome, which may be based on politics, ideology, or self-interest (e.g. studies “proving” that nine out of ten people suffer from such-and-such a problem, which will require them to undergo years of expensive therapy).

Both the psychological and legal professions can lay claim to noble ideals, but both are also subject to corruption through the desire for money, power, and influence. In a populist society, the easiest way to court money, power, and influence is to take positions which bolster popular prejudices. The history of the anti-cult movement shows that both psychologists and lawyers have been guilty of circulating hate propaganda, advocating vigilantism, and seeking to advance the presumed interests of the majority by trampling on the (equally valid) rights of minority spiritual groups.

In determining what is spiritually right for us (not some “average” sample in a study), we should recognize that therapists and lawyers often give advice, make rules, devise checklists, or hand down edicts which are rooted in populism and secular materialism. If it turns out that the truth of life is something rare and precious which partakes of a spiritual dimension, then advice, rules, checklists and edicts based on populism and secular materialism may be of no value to us whatsoever. These things may interest people whose grasp of reality rises to the level of daytime TV, but may be a hindrance to the spiritual seeker who cries out for some deeper truth.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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5 comments on “Therapists, Hubris, and Native Intelligence

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