"Everybody has a right to their opinion" is a statement we hear often and I usually agree with it. But I guess I'd like to qualify it - "everybody has a right to their informed opinion." There has been much discussion and writing about celebrities offering their opinions on...everything and the possible deleterious effects. What immediately comes to mind is Tom Cruise's Scientology-based tirade against psychiatry and psychotropic medications. I just read an angry letter to the editor in a fashion magazine in response to a profile of John Travolta in which he denounced psychotherapy.
Most intelligent people can take these celebrity pronouncements with a grain of salt and put them in the proper perspective - a non-expert who has the luxury of delivering his opinions to a huge, often-receptive audience. What concerns me more are how the articles in supposedly informed, respected publications like Newsweek are received by the reading public. An article by Sharon Begley (who writes about science and health) in a June issue of the magazine exemplifies my concern. In Get Shrunk at Your Own Risk, Begley cites several studies that report on the dangers of psychotherapy. I first became aware of this piece when a co-worker at my private practice clipped the article and posted it in our office early last summer. She was extremely upset by it, specifically by Begley's questioning of the efficacy of grief therapy. This woman had been helped through a terrible loss by a skilled grief therapist.
Just yesterday, I happened to pick up a (July 9, 2007) copy of Newsweek in a doctor's office waiting room. In it were letters to the editor in response to Begley's article. Three of the four letters rebutted the article. One writer, a licensed psychologist, stated an important point,
"Not all mental-health providers are equal - just as in every other professionWith almost twenty years in the field, I have seen plenty of evidence to support that statement - there are some incredibly bad practitioners out there. Some I've had to report to licensing boards for questionable conduct.
where there are good providers and questionable ones."
Begley's piece probably would have sparked less of a reaction from me had she cited all the specific studies to support her piece. She did quote two very credible sources, psychology professor Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University and psychologist John Norcross of Scranton University. (I mentioned Norcross's book Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in a recent post - Bibliotherapy: Can Reading Alleviate Your Depression?) But Begley's unsupported statement, "but the number of people undergoing potentially risky therapies numbers in the tens of thousands," in my opinion, is irresponsible.
Although there is validity to warning the public about the potential dangers of any treatment, my fear is that people who might be helped by qualified, trained, licensed psychotherapists will be frightened away from seeking help after reading an article like this one.