The happiest man in the world. . .

August 23, 2023 • 12:30 pm

. . . according to the New York Times, is a 77-year-old monk named Matthieu Ricard, who happens to be the Dalai Lama’s French interpreter. The NYT article (click below) also says his books have been bestsellers, that he got the French National Order of Merit, and that he has a Ph.D in “cellular genetics.”

Of course the title of “world’s happiest man” is a bit dubious, as it’s based on brain activity, but the interview with him by David Marchese, which is well worth reading, is very good. It emphasizes that happiness comes from compassion (a Buddhist tenet that I happen to agree with), and that one can never be happy all the time, for suffering is part of life. But you can be unhappy without being angry or despairing. Above all, Ricard preaches empathy for others.

Here’s how he got his monicker:

In the early 2000s, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that Ricard’s brain produced gamma waves — which have been linked to learning, attention and memory — at such pronounced levels that the media named him “the world’s happiest man.”

And here he is with his Boss (photo from the NYT):

Click the screenshot below to read the interview:

First, how he reacts to his title (interviewer’s questions are in bold, Ricard’s answers in plain text):

For a while now, people have been calling you the world’s happiest man. Do you feel that happy?

It’s a big joke. We cannot know the level of happiness through neuroscience. It’s a good title for journalists to use, but I cannot get rid of it. Maybe on my tomb, it will say, “Here lies the happiest person in the world.” Anyway, I enjoy every moment of life, but of course there are moments of extreme sadness — especially when you see so much suffering. But this should kindle your compassion, and if it kindles your compassion, you go to a stronger, healthier, more meaningful way of being. That’s what I call happiness. It’s not as if all the time you jump for joy. Happiness is more like your baseline. It’s where you come to after the ups and downs, the joy and sorrows. We perceive even more intensely — bad taste, seeing someone suffer — but we keep this sense of the depth. That’s what meditation brings.

And his three “rules for life”:

You know, once I was on the India Today Conclave [an annual TED-like event held in India that gathers leading thinkers from a variety of fields].  They said, “Can you give us the three secrets of happiness?” I said: “First, there’s no secret. Second, there’s not just three points. Third, it takes a whole life, but it is the most worthy thing you can do.” I’m happy to feel I am on the right track. I cannot imagine feeling hate or wanting someone to suffer.

And when I read the last point, I immediately though of my blog nemesis, P. Z. Myers, who is always going off on me.  I rarely respond, and am not really going to diss him, but I think he needs to listen to Ricard’s last sentence, as Myers is always wishing that people (especially Republicans and rich people) would suffer or die, an emotion I’m training myself to curb. Here’s the latest example from Myers, one of many, and the subject is Elon Musk, whom Myers hates:

. . . Ronan Farrow reviews Elon Musk’s life. Imagine an angel of utmost probity assessing his soul at the doorway to heaven, nodding kindly as he summarizes each decade, and then, sadly, pulling the lever that drops him into a blood-drenched flaming tunnel to Hell. It’s so satisfying.

Sadly, many of the followers who bark at Myers’s heels share this same wish for people to suffer.

But I must move on. More on compassion in the interview:

It’s not the best thing to say, but I can easily imagine wanting certain people to suffer. How are we supposed to deal gracefully with our polar opposites in a world that feels increasingly about polarities? I mean, the Dalai Lama could talk to Vladimir Putin all he wants, but Putin’s not going to say, “Your compassion has changed me.” 

Once, a long time ago, someone said to me, who is the person you would like to spend 24 hours alone with? I said Saddam Hussein. I said, “Maybe, maybe, some small change in him might be possible.” When we speak of compassion, you want everybody to find happiness. No exception. You cannot just do that for those who are good to you or close to you. It has to be universal. You may say that Putin and Bashar al-Assad are the scum of humanity, and rightly so. But compassion is about remedying the suffering and its cause. How would that look? You can wish that the system that allowed someone like that to emerge is changed. I sometimes visualize Donald Trump going to hospitals, taking care of people, taking migrants to his home. You can wish that the cruelty, the indifference, the greed may disappear from these people’s minds. That’s compassion; that’s being impartial.

I no longer wish anyone to suffer or die, and my philosophy of determinism helps me with that. If you think that bad people are like broken cars—the results of the laws of physics, including their genes and environments—then you don’t wish them to suffer—any more than you wish a broken car to suffer. What you want is for the car to fe fixed, and that’s what Richard wants. Fixing “bad people” is what should be the sole goal of judicial punishment (as well as keeping them from doing more harm).

You should read the whole interview, as I think it’s helpful. Ricard adds that sadness (which “goes with determination to remedy the cause”) is okay, but that there’s no point to despair. For those of you, like me, who say that “I can’t help it: I do feel despair,” Ricard notes that emotions can be changed (well, not by some numinous “will”, but by training). It’s similar to cognitive behavioral therapy.

Finally, Ricard recounts the last time someone “got on his nerves”, a very rare event:

Who gets on your nerves at the monastery? My nerves? Once in New York, when I was promoting one of my books, a very nice journalist lady said, “What really upsets your nerves when you arrive in New York?” I said, “Why do you presuppose anything is upsetting me?” It’s not about something being on your nerves. It’s about trying to see the best way to proceed. Paul Ekman [an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California San Francisco, known for his work on facial expressions and emotions. He is also the co-author, with the Dalai Lama, of the book “Emotional Awareness”] once asked me to remember when I got really angry. I had to go back 20 years: I had a brand-new laptop, my first one, in Bhutan, and the monk who didn’t know what it was, he was passing by with a bowl filled with roasted barley flour and spilled some on it. So I got mad, and then he looked at me, and he said, “Ha-ha, you’re getting angry!” That was about it. I get indignation all the time about things that should be remedied. Indignation is related to compassion. Anger can be out of malevolence.

There’s a lot more, so read the interview. I have to add that as I get older, I do seem to have acquired a bit of useful wisdom, which is a shame because you should be born wise, for when you’re really wise from experience and age, you either die or get dementia! One thing I’ve learned (though I still let it control my emotions sometimes) is that anger is a toxic and generally useless emotion, which can stand in the way of fixing either personal or societal problems. Another is that if you want to cooperate with others, and have them do what you think is best, treat them with respect and never, ever call them names.  Also, never accuse someone directly of bad behavior: simply tell them how their behavior makes you feel.

I know I’m sounding sappy. So it goes. Now if only I could curb my biggest problem: anxiety. I tried meditation, but I’m generally too keyed up to meditate!

An international group of gender-change specialists urges caution for American doctors and therapists

July 16, 2023 • 10:00 am

A bunch (21) of doctors and Ph.D.s from nine countries (Finland, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, France, Switzerland, South Africa, and the U.S.) published the following op-ed in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. It might be paywalled, so I reproduced the entire short letter below.

First, be aware that this, as noted below, was in response to a letter from the President of the Endocrine Society published recently, a letter that staunchly defends the efficacy of “gender-affirming care.” That care involves a combination of therapy and, nearly always, medical intervention through hormones. That letter, from Dr. Stephen Hammes, said this:

Roy Eappen and Ian Kingsbury’s op-ed “The Endocrine Society’s Dangerous Transgender Politicization” (June 29) ignores scientific evidence and the conclusions reached by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other reputable medical organizations. More than 2,000 studies published since 1975 form a clear picture: Gender-affirming care improves the well-being of transgender and gender-diverse people and reduces the risk of suicide.

If you already know the evidence, you’ll know that this claim is wrong: there is not enough evidence to form a “clear picture” of either well-being or suicide. In response, the signers of the letter below (not shown) took issue with Hammes’s claims.

Click the headline to read, but here’s the whold thing.  And I’ve put the important parts in bold:

As experienced professionals involved in direct care for the rapidly growing numbers of gender-diverse youth, the evaluation of medical evidence or both, we were surprised by the Endocrine Society’s claims about the state of evidence for gender-affirming care for youth (Letters, July 5). Stephen Hammes, president of the Endocrine Society, writes, “More than 2,000 studies published since 1975 form a clear picture: Gender-affirming care improves the well-being of transgender and gender-diverse people and reduces the risk of suicide.” This claim is not supported by the best available evidence.

Every systematic review of evidence to date, including one published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, has found the evidence for mental-health benefits of hormonal interventions for minors to be of low or very low certainty. By contrast, the risks are significant and include sterility, lifelong dependence on medication and the anguish of regret. For this reason, more and more European countries and international professional organizations now recommend psychotherapy rather than hormones and surgeries as the first line of treatment for gender-dysphoric youth.

Dr. Hammes’s claim that gender transition reduces suicides is contradicted by every systematic review, including the review published by the Endocrine Society, which states, “We could not draw any conclusions about death by suicide.” There is no reliable evidence to suggest that hormonal transition is an effective suicide-prevention measure.

The politicization of transgender healthcare in the U.S. is unfortunate. The way to combat it is for medical societies to align their recommendations with the best available evidence—rather than exaggerating the benefits and minimizing the risks.

This letter is signed by 21 clinicians and researchers from nine countries.

There’s also a coda to this letter, which appears to be a kind of addendum (like a Supreme Court Justice’s partial dissent) coming from someone who may have been asked to sign the op-ed:

Transgenderism has been highly politicized—on both sides. There are those who will justify any hormonal-replacement intervention for any young person who may have been identified as possibly having gender dysphoria. This is dangerous, as probably only a minority of those so identified truly qualify for this diagnosis. On the other hand, there are those who wouldn’t accept any hormonal intervention, regardless of the specifics of the individual patients.

Endocrinologists aren’t psychiatrists. We aren’t the ones who can identify gender-dysphoric individuals. The point isn’t to open the floodgates and offer an often-irreversible treatment to all people who may have issues with their sexuality, but to determine who would truly benefit from it.

Jesus L. Penabad, M.D.

Tarpon Springs, Fla.

I agree with that letter, too. I would never ban transsexual medical treatment for those people old enough to make an informed decision (I’m thinking about 18 years old), but young people need objective therapy, not “rah rah—>hormones” therapy.  If a therapist prescribes puberty blockers for a young person on the very first visit (or worse, sends them to doctors prescribing gender-change hormones), that is not a good therapist.

Of course the solution to this dilemma is research, which is why several European countries have put puberty blockers into the class of “clinical experiments” and are starting to practice less “rah-rah: transition” therapy in favor of actually listening to children without instantly affirming their desire to transition. That’s especially important because the large majority of young people experiencing gender dysphoria (about 80%, I think), eventually grow out of it, often by simply becoming gay.  And being gay doesn’t run the risks of medical complications, sterility, and the inability to have orgasms: some of the side effects of hormone treatment.

And it would help if extreme gender activists would stop politicizing this issue. In all my years of writing on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten such nasty and ignorant pushback as I have from gender activists who accuse me of transphobia simply because I think we need more research before we start injecting hormones into children and adolescents, lopping off bits of their bodies, and giving them objective rather than “affirmative” therapy. That view is not “fear of trans people”, for crying out loud. But the activists, who have ideology but not evidence on their side, resort to name-calling to intimidate their opponents. And it often works.

The pile-on also comes if one suggests, as did Abigail Shrier, that there can be social pressure that influences people to change their gender, a claim that by now I think is undeniable. (Adults, of course, are free to make their own decisions, but again, these should be informed decisions, and the long term effects, both medical and psychological, of transitioning are not often discussed. One reason is that gender activists rain down hatred on anyone who brings up these issues.)

In Friday’s Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan picked up on this letter and wrote about it, giving some statistics in response to the oft-heard claim made by some doctors and therapists advising parents of gender-dysphoric children, “Do you want a live boy or a dead girl?” That, of course, implies a very high risk of suicide by girls who aren’t allowed to transition to the male gender. Sullivan:

To give a sense of the bullshit, here’s Stephen Hammes, president of the Endocrine Society:

More than 2,000 studies published since 1975 form a clear picture: Gender-affirming care improves the well-being of transgender and gender-diverse people and reduces the risk of suicide.

Note the vagueness, and the absence of any mention of children — the only population we need to be concerned about. And here is the Endocrine Society’s own study on sex reassignments for kids:

We could not draw any conclusions about death by suicide.

Today, in the Wall Street Journal, 21 pediatric clinicians from nine countries call Hammes out. In those countries that have conducted systematic evidence-based reviews of all the studies involving children, all of them have concluded that “the evidence for mental-health benefits of hormonal interventions for minors [is] of low or very low certainty.” The risks — permanent sterility, inability to experience orgasm ever, irreversible changes to the body, voice and face — are very real. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics refuses to conduct a similar systematic review, five years after its last guidance.

A survey of a decade of child transitions in the UK, from 2010 to 2020, found that the data “shed no light” on whether reassignment affects the suicide rate. But here’s the stunner: of the more than 15,000 children treated for gender dysphoria, the number of suicides was four. It is insane to believe that every child with dysphoria will kill themselves if not subjected to a sex change. If a doctor tells you this, find another doctor.

Why would they lie like this? I honestly don’t know. Here are some possibilities: misguided compassion for children in distress; believing you are part of a cultural revolution that starts with children; banking on the vast revenues of having patients for a lifetime of treatment; or just following ideological fiats, intimidated by woke peers, and fearing liability for past missteps.

I think that pretty much covers all the possibilities. I’m not sure why the U.S., compared to other countries, is particularly resistant to discussion of medical and psychological issues like this, especially given that this isn’t just an ideological discussion, but a discussion with medical consequences.  As far as I can see, we should be doing what the Europeans are increasingly doing about this issue: collecting more data.

Trigger warnings are useless and counterproductive

February 19, 2023 • 11:30 am

We should have all learned by now that psychological research shows that trigger warnings do not do what they were intended to do:—protect the mental health of people with PTSD. In fact, as the article in Persuasion below reiterates, they simply keep people traumatized. Or they could even increase trauma.

To the contrary, psychologists and therapists recommend that controlled exposure to a traumatic subject is the way to help cure people of extreme PTSD.

Amna Khalid, who wrote the article at hand, is an Associate Professor of history at Carleton College and has a Substack site, Banished.  Her piece below includes links to the data about the ineffectiveness of trigger warnings, so remember to cite these data when people are arguing for trigger warnings.

(You may remember that Khalid, a Muslim, wrote a strong piece in the Chronicles of Higher Education criticizing the dismissal of an instructor at Hamline University for showing an ancient painting of Muhammad that depicted his face. And that instructor even issued several trigger warnings.)

Click below to read Khalid’s piece; its thesis is summarized in the title:

Let me say that, presumably like Khalid, I’m not opposed to every single “content warning”, as they’re now called. If I’m going to post a video that has gruesome stuff in it that might revolt a lot of people, like beheadings, dead bodies, and the like, I will warn people, for a lot of people prefer to avoid such images. They don’t have PTSD or phobias, but find some stuff pretty revolting. The kind of trigger warning that both Khalid and I oppose are those that single out stuff that most people wouldn’t find offensive at all, or that might turn them away from something they need to see or hear, especially in art or literature. One example is putting trigger warnings on books because they contain the n-word, or have violence in them, or depict any aspect of life that at least one reader would find offensive.

I’ve divided her piece into three parts (this is my own take, and I’ve put headings in bold. For each I’ll give an indented quote from her article.

a.) The inanity of many trigger warnings. 

Just days into the new year, Scottish papers reported that the University of Aberdeen had slapped a trigger warning on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, a classic children’s novel about a place where nobody ever grows up. The reason: the book’s “odd perspectives on gender” may prove “emotionally challenging” to some adult undergraduates, even though it contains “no objectionable material.”

Yes, you read that right—a children’s book now comes with a trigger warning for adults. What’s more, Peter Pan is not the only children’s book to come with an advisory at Aberdeen. Among others are Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Last year the university put a trigger warning on Beowulf, the epic poem considered one of the most significant works in the English literary canon, for its depictions of “animal cruelty” and “ableism.” The year before that, the university pushed lecturers to issue content warnings for a long list of topics including abortion, miscarriage, childbirth, depictions of poverty, classism, blasphemy, adultery, blood, alcohol and drug abuse.

Aberdeen is not the only British university following in the steps of American counterparts. The University of Derby issued trigger warnings for Greek tragedies. The University of Warwick put a content advisory on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd for “rather upsetting scenes concerning the cruelty of nature and the rural life.” At the University of Greenwich, the death of an albatross in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th century poem, was deemed “potentially upsetting” and stuck with a content notice.

You can see that a trigger warning for the albatross in Coleridge’s poetry is simply too extreme, treating students as if the description of a dead bird would shatter their world.

b.) The futility of trigger warnings. I once met a guy who was a specialist in therapy for people with phobias or extreme anxieties. As I have a couple of friends who are really afraid of flying (something I don’t understand, as it’s safer than driving)—one of whom was my late Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin—I asked the therapist how he helped people overcome this. He said “We go as a group on a couple of flights to Milwaukee, turn around, and immediately fly back again.” He said it was okay to admit your fears to yourself, but you have to act against them. Same for those afraid of elevators. Controlled exposure to these things was the key to getting over them. But I digress; here’s Khalid’s summary of the data:

This trend is alarming for several reasons. First, it runs counter to research on the effects of such advisories. As early as 2020 the consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, was that trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress, and they do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts. Notably, these advisories, which were at least initially introduced out of consideration for people suffering from PTSD, “were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.”

On the contrary, researchers found that trigger warnings actually increased the anxiety of individuals with the most severe PTSD, prompting them to “view trauma as more central to their life narrative.” A recent meta-analysis of such warnings found the same thing: the only reliable effect was that people felt more anxious after receiving the warning. The researchers concluded that these warnings “are fruitless,” and “trigger warnings should not be used as a mental health tool.”

c.) The counterproductive nature of trigger warnings. Khalid’s view, with which I agree, is that “there is something particularly perverse about appending [trigger warnings] to works of literature and art.” It treats the students like fragile infants, and in fact could make them more traumatized (or fragile) by somehow validating their emotional responses. I would give a content warning to students were I to show a movie of lions taking down a zebra, but would not if I were teaching The Great Gatsby (“trigger warning: death, spousal abuse, adultery, religious stereotypes”).


In other words, literature is transformative precisely because it has the ability to shock and surprise. It can jolt us out of complacency, force us to contend with the uncertain, the strange and even the ugly. For Franz Kafka, the only books worth reading are the ones that “wound or stab us.” He observed:

If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?… we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like suicide. A book must be an ax for the frozen sea inside us…

Contending with “the frozen sea” opens the door for the kind of contemplation that is necessary for growth. When a classic such as Beowulf comes with “animal cruelty” and “ableism” on the cover, a piece of literature that offers us a unique window into the traditions and values of medieval Anglo-Saxons is devalued, and simply becomes a text riddled with “problematic” themes.

I read Beowulf in the original (I took a year of Old English in college), and I don’t remember “animal cruelty” beyond the death of Grendel, a fictitious monster, nor any “ableism” at all. But back to Khalid:

I can’t help but think that something is broken when universities, the very institutions entrusted with helping young minds mature, infantilize students by treating them as fragile creatures. What accounts for this shift?

Students across Britain seem to be in favor of trigger warnings. According to a survey published by the Higher Education Policy Institute last year, 86% of students support trigger warnings (up from 68% in 2016). More than a third think instructors should be fired if they “teach material that heavily offends some students” (up from just 15% in 2016).

Sadly, it appears that universities in Britain have fallen prey to the kind of corporate logic that is already firmly entrenched in the United States. This growing managerial approach with its customer-is-always-right imperative is increasingly evident in university policies.

. . .But university is not a television or radio show. Far from it. It’s a place where students come for an education. A model where faculty and administrators pander to student sensitivities—to the extent that it starts undermining the mission of the university—would be comical were it not so serious. If we fail to equip our students with the skills and sensibilities necessary to cope with life, we are doing them a great disservice.

When adult university students ask for trigger warnings for children’s literature, we as a society should realize that somewhere along the line, we lost the plot. Instead of coddling our students we should be asking why they feel so emotionally brittle. Might it be that their fragility is the result of limited exposure to what constitutes the human condition and the range of human experience? Is shielding them and managing their experience of art and literature not just exacerbating their sense of vulnerability?

Perhaps, in the end, what they need is unmediated, warning-free immersion in more literature, not less.

I know that some schools actually require trigger warnings on syllabi. Mine doesn’t, thank Ceiling Cat, so you’ll never get into trouble here if a student runs crying to the administration that you didn’t warn him about the albatross.

More debunked or questioned psychological studies

December 31, 2022 • 9:45 am

From the site armin gravitas, characterized as “a simulacrum standing in for Gavin Leech“, a consultant, we have a three-year old piece that gives many examples of once widely-accepted psychological claims that didn’t stand up to (or were severely weakened by) attempts at replication. There are many more than the few I give below, but I’ve chosen a couple that I’ve written about or that readers may be familiar with.  On the webpage below (click to access), each weakened or refuted claim comes with a link to the original paper or book making the claim, and then a list of the studies that failed to replicate it.

I would avoid citing any of the research listed below, including the Dunning-Kruger effect: a staple of internet discourse characterized on Wikipedia as

. . . a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills.


The fields and claims:


No good evidence for many forms of priming, automatic behaviour change from ‘related’ (often only metaphorically related) stimuli.

  • No good evidence of anything from the Stanford prison ‘experiment’. It was not an experiment; ‘demand characteristics’ and scripting of the abuse; constant experimenter intervention; faked reactions from participants; as Zimbardo concedes, they began with a complete “absence of specific hypotheses”.


  • No good evidence from the famous Milgram experiments that 65% of people will inflict pain if ordered to. Experiment was riddled with researcher degrees of freedom, going off-script, implausible agreement between very different treatments, and “only half of the people who undertook the experiment fully believed it was real and of those, 66% disobeyed the experimenter.


  • At most weak use in implicit bias testing for racism. Implicit bias scores poorly predict actual bias, r = 0.15. The operationalisations used to measure that predictive power are often unrelated to actual discrimination (e.g. ambiguous brain activations). Test-retest reliability of 0.44 for race, which is usually classed as “unacceptable”. This isn’t news; the original study also found very low test-criterion correlations.


  • No good evidence that taking a “power pose” lowers cortisol, raises testosterone, risk tolerance.

    That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.

After the initial backlash, it focussed on subjective effect, a claim about “increased feelings of power”. Even then: weak evidence for decreased “feelings of power” from contractive posture only. My reanalysis is here.


  • Mixed evidence for the Dunning-Kruger effect. No evidence for the “Mount Stupid” misinterpretation.


  • In general, be highly suspicious of anything that claims a positive permanent effect on adult IQ. Even in children the absolute maximum is 415 points for a powerful single intervention (iodine supplementation during pregnancy in deficient populations).


  • No good evidence that tailoring teaching to students’ preferred learning styles has any effect on objective measures of attainment. There are dozens of these inventories, and really you’d have to look at each. (I won’t.)


  • The effect of “nudges” (clever design of defaults) may be exaggerated in general. One big review found average effects were six times smaller than billed. (Not saying there are no big effects.)


  • No good evidence that brains contain one mind per hemisphere. The corpus callosotomy studies which purported to show “two consciousnesses” inhabiting the same brain were badly overinterpreted.


  • At most extremely weak evidence that psychiatric hospitals (of the 1970s) could not detect sane patients in the absence of deception.


  • No good evidence for precognition, undergraduates improving memory test performance by studying after the test. This one is fun because Bem’s statistical methods were “impeccable” in the sense that they were what everyone else was using. He is Patient Zero in the replication crisis, and has done us all a great service. (Heavily reliant on a flat / frequentist prior; evidence of optional stopping; forking paths analysis.)

h/t: Luana

A brave woman stands up against the infiltration of “progressive” ideology into psychotherapy

November 22, 2022 • 9:15 am

Meet Leslie Elliott, who’s studying to get a degree in mental health counseling at Antioch University in Seattle, part of the Antioch University system that includes the famous Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, famous for its radicalism. Apparently the Seattle school is also pretty woke, as you can judge from Elliott’s eight-minute video below, where she describes the horrific ideological “training” that passes for training in mental health therapy at Antioch.  Elliott’s still a student, and near graduation, but according to the video and an article at (excerpted below), she might not finish because she won’t sign an ideological pledge about social justice.  Elliott also works at a counseling service as a Holistic Wellness Coach and Consultant. She adds that she’s a “political liberal,” and I don’t doubt it. Someone who wants to go into non-M.D. psychotherapy is someone who wants to help people, not make money.

An excerpt from

Leslie Elliott only has a few more courses to take in the graduate clinical mental health counseling program at Antioch University in Seattle before she can become a licensed clinical counselor. Yet she does not see how she can continue in the program because it is requiring her to endorse a “civility pledge” which violates her conscience. She is on a leave of absence to explore her administrative and legal options.

The pledge, which Elliott says is now included in most syllabuses, reflects the social justice mission of Antioch. It states: “I acknowledge that racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, ageism, nativism, and other forms of interpersonal and institutionalized forms of oppression exist. I will do my best to better understand my own privileged and marginalized identities and the power that these afford me.” Antioch added the statement starting in 2020 after the death of George Floyd.

For Elliott, the offense came when the first assignment in one of her required courses was to affirm the pledge by rewriting it in her own words and stating her agreement. “That really felt like a purity test to me,” she said. “I felt compelled to confess to this worldview that sees myself as an intersectional group of identities that have privilege and marginalization attached to them, and I don’t agree with this framework. It feels like a theology, and it’s not my theology.”

A political liberal, Elliott knew social justice was a core tenet driving the ethical standards of the program when she entered it. But she soon learned that her idea of social justice was very different from that of her professors and administrators. To Elliott, social justice meant striving to provide access and opportunity and eliminating exploitation and unfairness when possible. “It seemed like a beautiful ideal you would find in most world religions and most positive philosophies,” she said.

But she found the teachings at Antioch opposed her beautiful ideal. Her professors and administrators viewed social justice as a critical lens through which Western society must be viewed to deconstruct cultural norms and values rooted in white supremacy, racism, and oppression of marginalized people. She believes this conceptualization of social justice is socially destructive and an anti-resilience philosophy.

The video below recounts a training designed to turn all mental-health counselors into social-justice advocates who turn all interactions involving therapy into issues about race. Counselors are also trained to place also people with gender issues onto a transitioning track, i.e., they’re trained in “affirmative therapy.”

Granted, this is one person’s take, but you have to admit that she’s courageous in taking on not just her university, but the very program that’s purporting to train her but in reality is indoctrinating her.  Still, all this description can’t match what she actually describes below.

The site also shows a response from Antioch sent to all students in the college—save Elliott (what a rookie move!)—implicitly singling her out for promulgating “white supremacy” and “transphobia”. Here we have the college acting like an online social-justice mob. The author of the college’s email, and presumably at least part of the “Commitment to Social Justice” statement, is Shawn Fitzgerald, CEO of Antioch’s Seattle campus and Dean of the Graduate School of Counseling, Psychology, and Therapy.

Clearly the “one person who posted online” is Eliott, who stands accused of transphobia, white supremacy, and “harmful ideologies”, as well as “hate speech”. The statement was certainly inspired by Elliott’s making the video above.  Eliott has posted another video detailing what’s below and giving her response.

The video above was posted about a month ago, while the statement issued by the College seems to be dated October 27—notlong after Elliott put up the video.

Elliott also has a Substack called “The Radical Center“. On it she’s published her response to Antioch’s “Position Statement” and its invitation to continue her coursework. I’ve put that response below. Elliott’s letter to officials at Antioch asks that the school refrain from retaliating against her (what’s above is simple retaliation) and affirming that she will continue speaking out and exercising her freedom of speech.

Here’s an hourlong interview of Elliott by “Martin’s Daughter”. I found it only this morning, so I’ve watched only snippets.

h/t: Luana

Steve Pinker has a new YouTube channel.

July 23, 2022 • 11:15 am

Reader Paul informed me that Steve Pinker has a YouTube channel, and he does and it looks official—run by Qualia.

It’s called “The Life of the Mind“, and there will be an episode every Wednesday. The first one is up and is 18½ minutes long; it’s a short history of psychological experiments beginning with behaviorism. (There’s also a short 50-second intro video, but the longer video has the same information.)

Steve’s own career in psychology mirrors the history from Skinnerian behaviorism until today, when cognitive psychology is a big deal. Throughout the narrative he interweaves his own career, and he winds up connecting experiments with rats getting rewards at “random” intervals with the intervals during which humans engage in war. The point there is that a truly random process, like the one used to give pellets to rats, looks to the layperson like they are clustered.  Wars have seem clustered to many, but they aren’t.

This shows how Pinker’s involvement in classical psychology has fed into his more recent work on history and its trajectory.

I don’t know if Steve is being interviewed here (he seems to be looking at someone form time to time), but he’s extraordinarily eloquent (he never says “uh”), and I don’t think he’s reading from a script.

The guy is amazing, but, as he says, he’s hardly done anything that isn’t controversial. Because I happen to agree with most of what he’s written, and have spent time with him, learning that he’s a truly nice guy and not in the least arrogant, I find it hard to understand the animus against him.  Maybe it’s because he believes in genuine progress, which of course angers people for a number of reasons.

Anyway, check the link above each Wednesday, or perhaps you can subscribe. But do listen to the history below, which I found enlightening.

Does everyone have a channel or podcast now? I fear that websites like this are simply going out of style. So it goes.

Indigenous psychiatry: how valuable is it?

July 5, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’ve written a lot about how New Zealand is valorizing indigenous knowledge, and the educational system is on the path to teaching Mātauranga Māori (“MM”)—a mixture of myth, legend, practical knowledge acquired by trial and error, and spirituality—as “science”, coequal to science in science classes.  There is some science in MM, but as a whole it is certainly not the same thing as modern science, and many of its claims are either dubious or palpably false. To teach MM in science classes is to deprive the children of New Zealand of an understanding of science.

Many New Zealanders seems to regard everything about its indigenous people as not only valid, but admirable. A lot of it is, but many Kiwis are too cowed to stand up to some of the more  questionable claims of the Māori, including the claim that their Polynesian ancestors discovered Antarctica centuries ago. I know about this fear because Kiwis who do stand up against nonsense get persecuted, and I get emails from lots of them who agree with me but say that they dare not speak up because they’ll lose their jobs.

The latest effort to “indigenize” knowledge is the bestowing of a huge pot of money on Māori organizations to use “ancestral knowledge” to help cure mental health issues among the indigenous people. This is described in the Newshub article below, which you can click to read:

The article notes that “The new Māori Health Authority has a budget of half a billion dollars and CEO Riana Manuel has allocated $100 million of that to support centuries-old treatments.”

And there is a need for treatment, for the article also notes this:

Māori have the highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups in New Zealand. Mental distress among Māori is almost 50 percent higher than non-Māori and 30 percent are more likely to be left undiagnosed.

Now of course we can’t attribute this to problems that are unique to Māori, as I doubt there was a control for levels of income and other stressors that differ among ethnic groups. But there is a push to use Māori-centered therapy to cure mental illness in that ethnicgroup, and 100 million dollars for using “centuries-old treatments” is a lot of money.

What are these treatments? It’s not clear, but they’re based on lunar cycles and what can only be called psychoastrology. It’s confusing because the article is, as so often happens in Kiwi news, larded with Māori terms that even non-Māori can’t understand. See if you can suss it out:

Not so well known to non-Māori is their tradition of using the moon and stars to help treat mental health issues.

It’s called maramataka and will be incorporated into treatment by the new Māori Health Authority.

Rereata Makiha is on a mission to share ancestral knowledge with the next generation.

He’s an expert on maramataka Māori, or the Māori lunar calendar, and forecasting based on the moon cycles, star systems, tides, and the environment.

“The maramataka helps you, helps us to predict when things are going to happen, to tell us when the fish are going to run, when the eels are going to run – all those sorts of things,” he said.

“When you understand it a lot it’s a brilliant guide on when you should be doing certain things.”

Rikki Solomon teaches at-risk rangatahi and whānau how to use maramataka for improving mental health and knowing when to spend time doing certain activities in nature or around whanau.

“If we find that a whanau has had a low time or they may feel low, what we use is the maramataka to identify their cycles, their highs, and their lows,” Solomon said.

“What we observe in those low areas is what are some rituals at that time. And what I mean about rituals is what is the environment that they can connect to, because our environment is our biggest healer.”

That doesn’t really clear things up, but here’s more on the practice, with quotes from Riana Manuel, CEO of the Māori Health Authority:

“Connecting people back to those spaces and places that have been long forgotten is certainly something that will be investing in,” Manuel said.

Just like they do with Matariki, Māori use maramataka as a way of reading the cosmos to prepare for what’s coming.

“It’s a way of rebuilding the body, your wairua, and rebuilding your energy and getting prepared for the high energy days ahead,” Makiha said.

“So it goes in waves like that and if people understand it and go back to that rather than rush, rush, rush every day, I think that’s what drives a lot of the ill-health.”

If you can figure out what they’re doing from this, you’re a better person than I am.

Now there may indeed be a benefit to using Māori practitioners and ancient Māori practices to treat mental illness. After all, people often feel that therapists who have a background similar to their own are more desirable.  Women, for example, often feel that a woman therapist will treat their problems better, and the same goes for ethnic minorities.  So there may be something to shared experience and background that is therapeutic (there’s also, of course, a placebo effect).

My criticism here is simply that these practices are being adopted in the absence of clinical trials, and so there is only a “traditional” basis for the therapy. Might Māori be helped more with other practices, like cognitive behavioral therapy, practices that have been tested and shown to be efficacious? Or even medication, which has a significant effect on things like depression. (A combination of talk and drug therapy seems to be the most curative).

As a colleague wrote me, this absence of scientific testing of a method that will absorb $100 million is the same issue raised with MM: what is claimed (or assumed) to be “scientific” has not been vetted using the scientific method. To quote the colleague:

This is exactly the problem that led me to raise concerns about MM versus science in the first place. We now have two alternate sets of “facts.” One is based on scientific evidence, and the other may be supported by some evidence but has never been tested in a way that would be considered acceptable for medical science.

Mental health is a form of health, and this is like treating diseases using astrology and “traditional methods” that have never been subject to genuine scientific tests. Doesn’t it seem wise, before investing $100 million in mental-health treatment, that the government of New Zealand be sure that those treatments actually work? 

Sadly, that’s not the way the New Zealand government rolls.

What’s happening to psychology?

June 16, 2022 • 11:45 am

One would expect that psychology, like all other academic and health-related professions, would be going woke, though I haven’t heard much about this area beyond the “affirmative care” controversy with respect to transgender people.

But this article below, whose title implies that wokeness is invading psychology, also implies that the influence of “politics” on psychology is pervasive, and is having unhealthy results on patients.  It’s from the journal Psychreg, which describes itself this way:

Founded in 2014, Psychreg is a free, award-winning digital publication dedicated to keeping everyone informed about psychology, mental health, and wellness. The publication, as well as the open-access Psychreg Journal of Psycholgy, are published by Psychreg Ltd, a media company based in London, United Kingdom.

Click to read:

I’m going to summarize the thesis in one sentence: psychology has adopted a “politicially correct” narrative, which is that nearly all mental illness or mental disturbance, including schizophrenia, can be traced back to “trauma and attachment narratives”: i.e.,  the sufferer must have experienced trauma and a loss of attachment some time in their lives.

Now this seems overly simplistic for several reasons. For one thing, it implicitly blames parents or friends for someone’s mental illness, which is not only hurtful when incorrect but can derail therapy. And, as Marshall says “Clearly people can develop psychosis with no trauma or threat in their lives.” He points out that the heritability of schizophrenia is about 80%, which doesn’t rule out environmental causes as contributors to the condition, but also implies that their role is relatively minor.

What I wonder is if this “trauma and attachment” narrative is somehow conditioned by psychologists becoming woke. We all know how loosely the term “traumatized” is thrown about, even used to one’s reaction at hearing “hate speech”. It is one of the three dicta of Lukianoff and Haidt that are said to explain the fragility of today’s youth:

 1) The Untruth of Fragility: aka “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,”

2) The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: aka “always trust your feelings,” and

3) The Untruth of Us vs. Them: aka “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

If you are fragile, you can make sense of your illness as a result of trauma. And if you have a Manichean view of the world, as in #3, you can pin your problems on other people: a breaking of attachment.

Now I’m not trying to denigrate the mentally ill here, for Ceiling Cat only knows how many conditions can be unbearably painful. Rather, I’m trying to understand why the “attachment/trauma” explanation is, according to Marshall, taking over psychology. Just a few quotes:

As a clinical and forensic psychologist, I’ve always been interested in the causes – not correlates – of mental health, because associations, masquerading as causal mechanisms, bedevil psychology. Our profession is at a crossroads between science-based causal reasoning and knowledge versus politically biased narratives, where scientific evidence is irrelevant – and trauma is all that matters.

This part implies that it’s affecting diagnoses:

. . .Clinical culture is creaking under the weight of a blank slate trauma assumption. Even when it comes to the adversity to trauma pipeline, the position is unclear.  In outpatient psychiatric clinics in New York, a review of newly admitted patients found 82% with at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), 68% with two, and a staggering 42% with four or more ACEs; these are correlational studies, telling us nothing about what causes what.

And a bit more:

My experience, and that of others, particularly of child mental health service, is constant reference to trauma and attachment which in turn can leave the impression that this is all that matters.  Imagine any other field of study or science that paints a two-dimensional picture of causal mechanisms in human well-being, ignoring decades of science on other factors? Physics without gravity; biology without natural selection. The over-focus on adversity then attachment/trauma, while well-intended, can lead to two-dimensional contaminated mindware, over-applied to every person’s emotional struggles.

. . . . Critical psychiatry approaches can highlight the presumed damaging effects of diagnosis. The problem is that deprived people are desperately seeking diagnoses for themselves, their children, and relatives in their droves. When a person can label pain and distressing emotions, this can alter positively such experiences and is relieving. An excellent diagnostic process should be collaborative and include a causal formulation. A diagnostic process should describe and classify problems, not the person.  An ideal diagnostic assessment can view issues on a spectrum and blur the line between normative and pain. What’s the alternative? Well-being descriptions based on poverty, attachment and trauma for profoundly psychotic or seriously depressed people?  The risk is that clinicians who overapply trauma/attachment models could explain autism, fetal alcohol spectrum, ADHD, and a raft of neurodevelopmental disorders from this blank slate standpoint.

Now the article isn’t written very well, but I did want to call your attention to what may be a misguided form of ideology creeping into psychology and psychiatry. Do weigh in if you have any experiences about the stuff above. And note that “diagnoses” are often tentative, sketchy, or weird in psychology, as evidenced by the continual changes of the DSM “diagnoses” in successive editions.

h/t: Ginger K.

American Psychological Society apologizes for perpetuating systemic racism

November 4, 2021 • 11:00 am

Self-abasing and self-flagellating apologies are becoming so common that I don’t want to deal with them any more. They’re part of the attempts of professional associations to come to a “racial reckoning”, like the American Medical Association’s embarrassing attempt to reform language highlighted by Jessie Singal the other day.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has gotten into the game, too, but it’s done it a damn sight better than the AMA. They have not only issued an apology in five parts—one that goes too far, to be sure—for racist practices in the past, but have done a lot more. Usually these are not only pro forma apologies but performative apologies, unlikely to help minorities or other disadvantaged groups. They flaunt virtue, but that’s about all. And they usually neglect class.

But the APA, comprising psychologists, has not only apologized for racist practices (first screenshot below), but listed where psychology in general (not just the APA) fell short in the past (second and third screenshot), gives specific instances of such acts (third screenshot) and, importantly, outlines a specific program about how it will create “equity” in the APA (second, fourth, and fifth screenshots).

It’s one thing to talk the talk, but the specific program commits the APA to certain actions, some of which have time deadlines. I also appreciate their citing specific instances of psychologists’ act of racism, though, as I said, I don’t see a need to reiterate the racist history of the whole discipline when it is only the APA who is apologizing for its acts.  Because they put considerable thought into these five documents, which go on for pages, and commit themselves to a program, I can’t fault the organization for its efforts. True, they do go too far sometimes, but this is more than performative.  I’ll give only two quotes.

Here’s their news bulletin about their apology, which is short.

And then the apology in extenso (below), which is a resolution with three pages of “wheras”s before the resolution is given.  They also say this:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that APA acknowledges that an apology absent ameliorative action is without impact, and thus commits to the following immediate actions of remedy and repair, in addition to long-term actions specified above. These actions are anchored in creating immediate and real structural change for the organization.

  • APA will engage in a comprehensive audit of all its EDI [Equity, diversity, and inclusion] and other antiracism-related activities including ethnic representation of governance leaders and central office staff and policies, practices, and procedures currently underway and in use—to include how psychologists of color will have access to the results of the audit and its intended impact on society, to be concluded by the February 2022 meeting of the Council of Representatives.

Not later than August 2022, initial actions will be proposed for approval by Council, based on recommendations from members and ethnic groups, with respect to implementation of the following three priorities, though Council may offer different tactics than the examples noted below:  . . .

You can read the list of “tactics” yourself.

Below: the historical chronology of the APA’s (and psychology in general’s) racist acts or racism. This took a fair amount of work:

A list of transgressions followed by specific recommendations about how to fix them. Lots of “whereas”s here, too, with the areas of effort broken down into categories (“health care”, “science,” “education”, “early childhood development”, and so on):

Below: a shorter statement that is easier to read, about future efforts. Lots of “whereas”s in this one, too. I guess psychologists like this formal format.

As I said, this goes a lot farther than the usual performative apologies given by institutions and organizations without any program for repair. The prime example of such affirmations of virtue is the “land acknowledgment.”  More power to the APA if their program can really help the oppressed.

I have a single beef (you didn’t think my praise would be unstinting, did you?). The APA apparently wants to indict everybody engaged in “structural racism in the U.S.,” so they went over the top with this statement from the second document:

WHEREAS racist behaviors and ideologies are evidenced in the health inequities of pandemics and disease on Indigenous people (including over 570 Tribal Nations), Black/African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander American, Latina/o and Latinx, and AMENA peoples and communities; psychologists also provided ideological support for, and failed to speak out against, the colonial framework of the government-sponsored industrial (boarding) and day school systems for Indigenous youth (Cummings Center, 2021); the tragic hate crimes and killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement; the surge in hate crimes against and ongoing harms perpetuated by “model minority” stereotyping of Asian Americans Americans (Yip, Cheah, Kiang & Hall, 2021); the inhumane treatment and systemic targeting and historical exclusion of immigrants of color from the civil rights granted by U.S. citizenship, through immigration policy and its aggressive enforcement and the mistreatment and criminalization of undocumented immigrants who lack access to a pathway to U.S. citizenship; the continuing hate crimes and speech perpetrated against AMENA people; and the overall climate of xenophobia in the U.S. These examples of racism are widespread and impact either directly or indirectly all individuals who belong to marginalized racial groups, including multiracial persons (APA, 2019, 2020a, 2020b, 2021a, 2021b).

Well, they got carried away. But unlike the many organizations that keep telling us they are racist without giving examples (e.g, The Evergreen State College, Williams College, Princeton, and so on, which in fact are not structurally racist), the APA has documented its unsavory history. How refreshing to see a self-indictment that is actually true!


The woke termites burrow their way into therapists’ offices

August 14, 2021 • 10:30 am

You’d think that the last places one would start treating individuals as embodying characteristics of their “tribe” are the offices of therapists.  After all, both psychologists and psychiatrists are expected to deal with their patientS as people with unique problems, and not impute to the patient “group” characteristics based on stereotypes or political ideology. Nor should they impose their own political views on their patients, which is a real no-no for therapists. (They do, of course have ideas on how to treat patients, and make suggestions, but not of the genre, “hey, maybe you’d feel better if you wore a MAGA hat.”)

Well, the idea that therapy is ideology-free is, of course, dead wrong, especially now when there is no tent in the Universe where the Woke Camel won’t stick its nose. And so the nose goes onto the couch, as recounted in this Persuasion article by Sally Satel. Click on the screenshot to read:

Now activist therapists aren’t new; for years we’ve had specimens who impose their own views on patients rather than sussing out a patient’s problems from their own words. These activists include “recovered memory therapists”, who, it seems, already know what memories are supposed to be recovered, and try to convince the patient about the truth of things that might never have happened.

You’ve heard of the McMartin preschool case, in which recovered memory therapists dug up instances of sexual and even Satanic abuse of children that never happened. The accused people spent several years in jail, but were eventually acquitted. Right now Jerry Sandusky is sitting in prison for sexual abuse of young boys, with a lot of the testimony that put him there “recovered” by therapists digging around in the minds of young people. (Some said they weren’t abused but, after some bouts with the therapists, suddenly remembered that Sandusky committed sexual acts on them).

These therapists are clearly activists, and one would, based on their activities and the political leanings of therapists, expect them to often be on the Left.

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist who wrote this piece, is against activism, though she is affiliated with the Right-Wing American Enterprise Institute. Wikipedia says she’s a “political conservative” and has also written several books about the incursion of Left-wing doctrine into medicine, like this one (click to go to Amazon site):

Satel’s also identified as working at a methadone clinic in Washington D.C. and as a visiting professor at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. If you’re one of those, you can ignore her views simply because she’s a conservative, but you might be missing some truths. And her claimed truth in this piece, which can be at least partly checked by following the links she gives, is that therapy is increasingly turning into the instillation of woke attitudes into patients as the world because woker. I doubt that, in these times, you’ll find that thesis inherently unlikely! But here’s what she says:

Until roughly five years ago, people seeking mental health care could expect their therapists to keep politics out of the office. But as counselor education programs and professional organizations across the country embrace a radical social justice agenda, that bedrock principle of neutrality is crumbling. Mental health professionals—mainly counselors and therapists—are increasingly replacing evidence-driven therapeutics with ideologically motivated practice and activism.

The Graduate Counseling Program at the University of Vermont, for example, intends to “structurally align” itself with the Black Lives Matter movement and begin “the work of undoing systemic white supremacy.” After George Floyd’s death, the Johns Hopkins University Counseling Center advised would-be students to “consider us one of many resources in the difficult but necessary work of engaging with internalized bias, recognizing privilege, and aligning values of anti-racism and allyship with embodied and sustained practice.”

Such sentiments are not limited to mission statements—they are playing out in the real world of clinical training. Some counseling programs encourage students to engage in social justice activism. Most troubling of all, trainees are being taught to see patients not as individuals with unique needs, but as avatars of their gender, race, and ethnic groups. Accordingly, more and more counselors encourage their patients to understand their problems as a consequence of an oppressive society. White patients, for instance, are told that their distress stems from their subjugation of others, while black and minority patients are told that their problems stem from being oppressed.

The stakes for patients are high. When therapists use patients as receptacles for their worldview, patients are not led to introspection, nor are they emboldened to experiment with new attitudes, perspectives, and actions. Patients labeled by their therapists as oppressors can feel alienated and confused; those branded as oppressed learn to see themselves as feeble victims. It is difficult to imagine how a healthy therapeutic alliance between counselor and patient—a core bond nurtured through a clinician’s posture of caring neutrality and compassionate detachment—could thrive under these conditions.

Is it hard to imagine that therapists might engage in this form of indoctrination when secondary-school and college teacher do it all the time? Satel goes on:

The American Counseling Association, “the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors,” has a Code of Ethics that explicitly cautions against such boundary violations: “Counselors are [to be] aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.” Yet the association has said nothing about the overt ideological stance of some programs, or blatant instances of imposition.

It’s hard to argue with that paragraph’s advice. Nor is it hard to believe that any form of propagandizing patients will be aimed at moving them toward the left because, at least according to Five Thirty Eight, social and personality psychologists are about as liberal as college professors:

When New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt asked about a thousand attendees at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 to identify their political views with a show of hands, only three hands went up for “conservative or on the right.” Separately, a survey of more than 500 social and personality psychologists published in 2012 found that only 6 percent identified as conservative overall, though there was more diversity on economic and foreign policy issues.1 The survey also found that 37.5 percent of respondents expressed a willingness to discriminate against conservative colleagues when making hiring decisions. Psychologists, it appears, tend to fall on the liberal end of the political spectrum.

I expect therapists will line up pretty much the same way.

Now it’s okay if a patient’s problems involve politics. Perhaps he was driven to fury by Trump, and it’s upsetting his life. Or he can’t live in a world in which race seems to be the main driver of everything. Then the therapist can draw out the patients and suggest ways to improve their lives. But I don’t think it’s ever valid to impose your own politics on a patient, nor to treat them as a member of a political or ethnic group rather than an individual, like trying to urge them to be “more black or Hispanic” or “less white”.  Satel has a couple of anecdotes about this, but remember, they are anecdotes.

Central to the ideology that’s creeping into the field of mental health care is a growing aversion to recognizing personal responsibility and agency. One colleague of mine who works in a prominent psychiatry department told me that during a group discussion of the growing problem of stress and suicide in black youth, her colleagues were unwilling to discuss explanations that pointed to factors coming from within beleaguered communities. Thus, participants who pointed to fear of police aggression and societal discrimination were greeted with nods, but when she suggested they also consider bullying by classmates, chaos in the home, or neighborhood violence, she was ignored.

I have had my own encounter with this growing illiberal strain. Following a lecture I gave earlier this year to a group of psychiatrists and trainees, I was castigated by several attendees for drawing attention to personal agency in overcoming drug addiction. My transgression, as they saw it, was to “blame the victim” and take focus away from factors such as racism, poor education, and poverty—which, as I had noted in my presentation, also predispose people to heavy drug use. But I was not “blaming the victim,” I explained in an icy Q-and-A; rather, I was drawing attention to the patients’ capacities to improve their lives and, therefore, to hope.

As a palliative, she touts an organization, The International Association of Psychology and Counseling, dedicated to promoting “critical thinking over indoctrination” and to an organization called FAIR in Medicine, a group designed to combat the incursion of ideology into medicine as a whole.  As Satel says at the end (her emphasis):

Though I am worried for my profession, for colleagues who feel pressure to conform, and for the patients who depend on them, I take heart from these flares of resistance. I am confident that there is a silenced majority of clinicians who see the need to resist the ideological encroachment into the field of mental health care and the health sector more broadly. These new organizations are in their early stages but have the potential to attract the critical mass needed to rebuff politicized narratives and re-assert the primacy of individual patients in all their complexity.

Dr. Sally Satel