Sunday, October 31, 2010

You're doing it wrong!

WND's writers have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. This isn't surprising, given that they have over 40 op-ed folks syndicated through their site. They are, in effect, a clearinghouse of crazy.

But I have to admit this one did make me sit up and scratch my head.

Linda Harvey is a lady on a mission. She's mad that the American Psychological Association published a paper about how to deal with demon possession. Apparently if the patient is Native American, the author recommends having a "spirit depossession" in which the spirit is coaxed out of the body, rather than aggressively confronted a-la the Exorcist.

Now, there are a lot of reasons I can think someone would be miffed by this. Most obviously, there's the fact that demon possession is silly and shouldn't be getting anybody's research dollars, or written up in the APA journal. You could also point out that New-Agey crap is stupid and sometimes incredibly patronizing towards indigenous people.

Harvey, on the other hand, is pissed because psychiatry seems to be putting some (limited) stock in "spiritual" neo-paganism while still ignoring Christianity. For instance, that possession thing:
This can be resolved, she explains, by engaging in "spirit depossession." But far from the "forceful banishment" of an exorcism, here the spirit is safely conducted back to its place of origin, which for most of them has been discovered to be Washington, D.C. ( Just kidding – she did not say that.)
Anyway, this gentle exit is accomplished with "skill and compassion" (presumably lacking in Christian exorcisms) and with minimal trauma. Jesus could have learned a lot from the APA! No need to send demons into herds of pigs, none of that teeth-gnashing stuff. All very civilized, indeed.
Lady, really, it's ok. You're arguing over the best way to cure imaginary demons. It's just bullshit. It doesn't matter if you use a spirit guide or the healing power of Jesus. Calm down.

Harvey's other big issue is that New Age is taking over American psychiatry as a whole:
Now, to understand where Suzan McVicker is coming from, one must go to the source of her belief system, and it's this: We all have a "within direction" where "ancient knowing" can produce healing of body, spirit, mind and energy. Sounds very much like there's a little god in there, putting us right back at the original Edenic conflict. But McVicker calls it "sacred space" where we can heal ourselves, a big relief for those of us dreading cutbacks under Obamacare.
How does this occur? Trance states, "mindfulness" meditation and accessing the unconscious as in Jungian psychology are key techniques. Ms. McVicker and the pseudo-Christian emergent-network advocates of "contemplative" prayer share a lot in common. Neither fear much in the spirit world and believe it can be accessed quite comfortably, thank you. It's all about us and our hearts and minds and intentions. And, of course, it's skillfully orchestrated by the APA-trained counselor, with no heads spinning or green stuff allowed to be puked up anywhere.
I talked about this paper with my friend Dr. Peter Jones, president of TruthXChange and an international scholar tracking trends in the global neopagan revival. Dr. Jones said, "Carl Jung would be deliriously happy to see this turn of events, he who had his own spirit guide, Philemon. In view of his influence in the psychological world, this move is inevitable."
And Yosef Karo thought he had nightly visits from the spirit of the Mishnah. Some otherwise brilliant guys happen to be a little crazy. It happens.
The recognition of God as the ultimate authoritative Spirit would throw a real monkey-wrench in this self-absorbed dabbling, so apparently a Christian model of the "unseen world" is off the table, yet tribal and folk perceptions are valid and honored. Welcome to the American left, rediscovering ancient paganism and calling it marvelous progress.
Now, we shouldn't be too hard on Ms. McVicker, because she is just riding the wave of a trend. A blossoming specialty called "indigenous mental health" takes seriously the notion that animals and even plants are the ancestors of certain people groups. Some Hawaiians, for instance, maintain that the taro plant is an ancestor, and this leads to the claim that separation from certain land areas can result in an "alienation and unmooring of the self." Far from naming such ideas bizarre and primitive (or conveniently covetous), the culturally sensitive counselor may place this ideology as the cornerstone of mental health treatment and leave antiquated "Eurocentric" notions in the dustbin.
Hang on, so you're annoyed that psychiatrists are entertaining bizarre or primitive ideas like being descended from taro plants, but advocate supporting the notion of an "unseen" demonic world and Christian exorcisms instead? Finicky, aren't we?
The APA also takes seriously the notion that homosexuality and gender confusion among tribal groups is what is termed a "two-spirit" phenomenon... "First peoples" may also suffer from distrust of government (a remnant of "colonization"); historical trauma from genocide and oppression; and may cling stubbornly to tribal notions of wellness..."Rituals," cleansings and the typical practices of folk shamanism, even voodoo, are to be given serious consideration – animal skins, rattles and all.
One can only hope that soon, the APA announces the discovery of fire.
Absent is any consideration of one sizable, worldwide cultural and religious group: biblical Christians. How many believers have sat on cushy couches and suggested to counselors the involvement and presence of "unwanted spirits" and been patronizingly dismissed as Neanderthals?
Here's the big problem with Harvey's argument: she claims to be fighting against a double-standard, and indeed, she's correct that encouraging spiritually-oriented therapy for patients of one religion but not for another seems inconsistent at least (though I would suggest this may have less to do with the APA being explicitly pro-paganism and anti-Christianity and more to do with the fact that "biblical Christians" may be more suspicious of psychiatry as a science/industry and consequently do not seek out therapy in a large group. Compare this with, say, Jews).

However, her snide words about the "primitive" traditions of non-Abrahamic religions suggest that she is not particularly interested in having doctors use those religions as an entry-point into mental health. Rather, she's just pissy because Christianity isn't being validated the way she thinks it should be. So she's using the pretense of even-handedness in pursuit of her bias in the opposite direction. Classy.

News flash, Linda. You can't make fun of Hawaiians for thinking they're the great-grandkids of taro root or ridicule animal skins and then pout because people think that Christian demon possession is BS. Yes, the APA should be consistent-- but while we're at it, so should you. Being open to faith is good, but let's try to keep all superstitions out of science, shall we?


Conservative apikoris said...

"News flash, Linda. You can't make fun of Hawaiians for thinking they're the great-grandkids of taro root or ridicule animal skins and then pout because ..."

because many of us make fun of Christians who believe that God would deliberately have His only son killed just so that our sins could be forgiven.

It's all nonsense if you take it literally, and if you don't, maybe it's not so much nonsense.

Conservative apikoris said...

Hey Friar Yid,

You should check out the APA publication,

It's a real doozy. The wingnut might be right, to some degree, if for the wrong reason.

Basically, the tone of the articles is really unprofessional, and and basically seems to be one bog whine about how the poor indigenous peoples have been cruelly dispossessed. That is probably true, but what does that have to do with psychology? The papers also suggest that perhaps indigenous patients might respond better to psychological approaches that reflect their cultural background. That's actually seems to be a valid concept, but the papers deal with it on such a superficial level that they're useless for getting any insight into the issues.

Anyway, I don't think the idea is a slam dunk. Most indigenous people have now become so thoroughly dispossessed, their cultures so shattered, that they are more or less assimilated into modern western culture. In the context of the article you cited, this means that arguing over a gentler kinder native exorcism as opposed to a nasty confrontational Catholic exorcism is pointless, as the vast majority of native people are pretty much like us and are skeptical of the literal reality of a "spirit world."

As Jews, we can sympathize. After all, our "indigenous culture" was totally eradicated by the deal destruction of the Temple and our subsequent exile. All of the forms of Judaism that have since been developed are merely ways to hold on to some of our heritage while assimilating into the larger society in which we live. Bibi Netanyahu has more in common with Barak Obama than he does with King David, even if he doesn't want to admit it.

In any event, this is one of the two times a day when the wingnut stopped clock is sort of telling the correct time.

conservative apikoris said...

"Most obviously, there's the fact that demon possession is silly and shouldn't be getting anybody's research dollars,"

Not so fast, the DSM-IV has a certified psychiatric diagnosis called "Dissociative trance disorder," treatment for which one can get reimbursed by your insurance company.

Friar Yid said...

Hi CA,

The wingnut might be right, to some degree, if for the wrong reason.

I figured as much. On the most basic level, yeah, it makes sense to structure therapy around people's deep-seated beliefs, spiritual, cultural, whatever (especially if they happen to be say, really superstitious). Unfortunately, there's definitely a tendency to take this too far and run with it off a cliff-- or, as you noted, do it really superficially to the point of patronizing indigenous people.

My issue isn't with calling out the APA for letting crap get into their journal; it's the author getting on her high horse about how outrageous it is that psychologists are putting any credence in "primitive" beliefs and then letting it slip that the real reason she's so mad is that they won't consider her silly BS valid as well. If she could keep her mouth shut about how stupid the Hawaiians or Haitians or Aborigines' beliefs are, then at least she could claim she just wants an equally superstitious playing field. Otherwise it comes off as a disingenuous dig at the psych industry.