||House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on
||Robyn M. Dawes
||The Free Press © 1994
The Free Press
A Division of Macmillan, Inc.
866 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
In this 338-page book, psychologist and decision theorist Robyn Dawes
critically examines the assumptions, theories, and practices of the
profession of clinical psychology. In the preface, Dawes notes that
he was motivated to write the book out of both anger and a sense of
obligation. He believes that psychology has abandoned its commitment
to establish a mental health profession that is based on research findings
and that bases its practices on well-validated techniques and practices.
He maintains that, instead, professional practice in psychology has grown
and achieved status by using techniques known to be invalid. He is
particularly enraged by the mistaken and unsupported reliance on
experience and intuition by psychologists who are making decisions and
recommendations that affect peoples' lives.
Chapters in the book include a history of the growth of psychology as a
profession and the training and practices of psychologists, the myth of
expertise and experience in determining patient outcomes, research on the
efficacy of therapy, actuarial versus clinical prediction, licensing and
the myth of protecting the public, why the unsupported myths are believed,
the fraudulent claims of psychologists who testify as experts in trials,
New Age psychology and its heavy reliance on feelings and self-esteem, the
paternalistic assumptions of professional psychology, and the trend toward
assuming that people cannot cope with problems and crises without the help
of a professional psychologist. The book contains endnotes with
references for each chapter and there is a brief index.
This is an extremely important book that pulls no punches in its
criticisms of current psychological practices. It exposes the myths
that have allowed psychologists to develop status and authority in the
absence of empirical support for their claims. Dawes' criticisms and
assertions are amply supported by research, which he describes carefully
and which make his arguments understandable and persuasive. He is
meticulously accurate — for example, he correctly defines "negative
reinforcement," which many other psychologists frequently confuse with
The style is clear and readable and the basic issues and concepts can be
understood by lay people as well as professionals. Counterintuitive
concepts, such as the lack of a relationship between experience and
effectiveness, the poor predictive validity of clinical interviews, and the lack
of a causal relationship between low self-esteem and a multitude of dependent
variables, are discussed in detail.
The behavior of psychologists in terms of child sexual abuse, including the
recovered memory movement, comes in for some of Dawes' harshest comments.
He is also sharply critical of New Age psychology, and observes, "But while the
New Age psychology begins with the music of Aquarius, it ends with the puerile
harmony of pure selfishness" (p.233). He spends several pages on the
unsuccessful research efforts to find an association between self-esteem and a
number of behavioral consequences. His description of the research on the
Rorschach Ink Blot test should result in psychologists abandoning the use of
this test in forensic settings. He describes the research on anatomical
dolls and comments that the American Psychological Association's conclusion that
psychologists can use the dolls if they are competent is quite simply,
outrageous" (p. 162).
In fact, throughout, Dawes is critical of the American Psychological
Association and he includes an account of his experience on the ethics committee
when he resigned following a 6 to 1 vote (Dawes was the lone dissenter) that
once a person becomes a client, regardless of the termination of the
professional relationship, all subsequent sexual intimacies with that client are
unethical. A client was defined as anyone who had seen a psychologist in
any professional relationship for any reason, including as a student, trainee,
or business person seeking consultation. (This decision was later
overturned by the lawyers for the APA.)
Dawes, however, believes that psychotherapy can be helpful and effective for
people who are upset to the point of feeling unable to cope. He believes
that successful therapy will be based on systematic principles of behavior and
theory derived from careful research studies and that people should try to find
a therapist who is empathic and whose philosophy about life is compatible with
theirs. But the experience and credentials of the therapist, and the costs
of therapy, are not related to effectiveness.
This book should be read not only by psychologists, but by anyone who must
interact with psychologists or evaluate the treatment and therapy provided by
psychologists. Attorneys who must cope with psychological testimony will
find it particularly helpful.
Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield, Institute for Psychological
Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.