“Crazy Therapies” Out There: Reasons Not to Trust Your Therapist

The mid-90’s book Crazy Therapies: What Are They? Do They Work? by Margaret Thaler Singer (now deceased) and Janja Lalich remains relevant today—fringe therapies and therapists do still exist.

First, more about Crazy Therapies. The publisher explains:

While it is true that millions of people are greatly helped by psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, group, and other types of legitimate therapies, each year thousands of vulnerable and unsuspecting individuals go to and trust practitioners who persuade clients to accept with various unfounded and fanciful methods. Generally these enthusiastic–and perhaps ill-trained–therapists are themselves convinced of the healing powers of an array of techniques, some dating back far into time, that range from hilarious to hazardous.

Some clients are helped–most likely as a result of a placebo effect; some lose precious time and money; and yet others are psychologically damaged by some rather offbeat and irrational procedures. Past-life therapy, alien-abduction therapy, rebirthing, and skull bone adjustments, to name a few, might be laughable if the results of some of these bizarre practices weren’t so potentially wasteful and at times harmful.

Not surprisingly, Bob Carroll, a well-known professional skeptic and the founder of Skepdic.com, was interested in Crazy Therapies when it was released. An excerpt from his review:

How is the average person supposed to know what is scientifically accepted therapeutic practice and what is pseudoscientific rubbish? The patient needs a guide through the wonderland of fantasies, myths and untested hypotheses flourishing in the helping professions. Singer and Lalich…guide the reader through the various types of helpersThe authors also guide the reader through a maze of therapies that left me wondering why we have jails if these ‘healers’ are not in them. Many of these therapies are not just useless; they are harmful. Reading this book may even encourage some people now considering a career in therapy to go into law instead. You may do more good that way–if you devote yourself to suing or prosecuting ‘crazy’ therapists.

Below is his reprint of the authors’ list of forewarnings to clients about various types of therapists. Except for number 7, which belongs to Singer and Lalich, the labels following each description are his.

Don’t trust your therapist if:

  1. He or she tries to have sex with you or claims that having sex with one’s therapist is ‘good therapy.’ Intimate sexual behavior, including erotic kissing, fondling or lovemaking, between therapist and patient is always inappropriate. (The Sexual Predator)
  2. He or she tries to have you move in and do chores, keep the books, work the farm, have sex, etc. (The Exploiter)
  3. He or she spends a lot of time during your sessions talking about his or her own personal problems, such as her husband’s illness, his wife’s frigidity, another patient’s hang-ups, his sexual needs. (The Neurotic)
  4. He or she requires as a condition for therapy that you cut off all relations with your spouse, children, parents and other loved ones. (The Cult Guru)
  5. He or she claims to know what your problem is and how to fix it, even though no thorough history of you has been taken. (The Savant Idiot)
  6. He or she claims that you must be hypnotized in order to discover either hidden memories or hiding entities which are causing your problems. (The Exorcist)
  7. He or she specializes not in treating people for specific problems such as depression or anxiety, but rather in treating people as if all problems have an identical cause. (The Johnny-One-Note)
  8. He or she claims to have a technique which works miracles or works like magic, curing those who had heretofore been considered hopeless. (The Miracle Worker)
  9. He or she has a checklist which is claimed to be an excellent way to find out if you suffer from whatever the therapist specializes in, and you have enough checks to qualify. (The Scientist)
  10. He or she requires as a condition for therapy that you accept certain religious, metaphysical or pseudoscientific notions. To have good therapy you should not be required to believe in God, reincarnation, alien abductions, possession by entities, inner children, Primal Pains, channeling, miracles, or any of the many pseudoscientific theories popular among therapists. (The New Age Pseudoscientist)

Philip G. Zimbardo, psychologist, reviewing Crazy Therapies: “The authors’ perceptive, critical analysis is must reading for all mental health professionals, for all current and potential clients of psychotherapy, and for all those interested in how reasoned traditional therapy lost its mind and in our time.”

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