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An Insider's Perspective
A School Psychologist Speaks Out.

Copyright © 2009, Paul LutusMessage Page

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  Thanks for the site! Great commentary on psychology! Thank you! I have two comments which are only marginally related.

My understanding from your writing is that psychology will likely never be a science,
No, I have never taken the position that psychology will never be a science. That would be a foolhardy position to take. The future rarely coöperates with our expectations, and science is a robust institution, possibly robust enough to bring psychology under control. but you agree with [APA President] Dr. Levant's position that psychology needs to be evidence based. Based on the publication dates of our respective articles, the possibility exists that it is Dr. Levant who is agreeing with me. It's also true that he is in a much better position to influence events than I am. Do you believe that psychology can never be a true science, but can move closer much like medicine has? I think eventually psychology will be modeled after medicine — treatments will not be permitted unless and until their value has been demonstrated in meaningful scientific research. This is not remotely true now.

Modern medicine is largely evidence-based, in spite of powerful interests that would like to force particular outcomes (the drug industry in particular). Some of the same interests are present in psychology, in advance of any serious effort to impose scientific standards.
In your opinion, can the field be beneficial? Whoa, hold on — that's a separate topic. Is an astrologer beneficial, to someone, for some reason? How about a fortuneteller? How about the many doctors who, according to recent press accounts, knowingly prescribe placebos for their patients? It is clients who define "beneficial," primarily on subjective standards. And I have no doubt that many psychologists are objectively beneficial to their clients, but based on their personal skills and values rather than their training. Also, are you familiar with the role schools play in assigning psycho-diagnostic categories to children? Yes, I am very familiar with this practice and I have written extensively about it. I'm a school psychologist which means that I am regularly tasked with evaluating students for the presence of disabling conditions such as learning disabilities, Autism, and ADHD among others. As you know such conditions are poorly defined and, naturally, inconstantly interpreted which leads to lots of debate (sounds like religion). That's a phrase I've used as well. Even more interesting is the purpose for such categorization: special education eligibility. Special education's record of providing measurable benefit to students is dismal. Therefore, we confer disability status based upon poorly defined criteria so that students can receive weak treatments. I couldn't have said it better myself. The push for such evaluations by school personnel is incredible. Many school psychologists have approximately 50 referrals for such evaluations each year in a single school. In an attempt to assess the situation, I once sat in on grade level meeting and asked which students the teachers felt had some unidentified disability that was preventing adequate learning. I had a list of 60 student names at the end of the day, representing 10% of the school. I personally would have liked to see an evaluation of the teachers by the students. I know this isn't how the system works, but it might be an intriguing experiment.

In high school, I had a conversation with a teacher after class in which I informally expressed a suicidal sentiment. She promptly responded, "Let's make a suicide pact!" In retrospect I realize I wasn't serious, but she was.
It would be interesting to see data on the percentage of children receiving psychological/psychiatric treatment which initiated from a school recommendation to a parent. And the reverse. The school wants the diagnosis for the same reason the parent does — an easy categorization that stigmatizes the student rather than the parent or the teacher. It's a way to label something that may not justify any label, in a situation where a label may do more harm than good.

In the largest sense, all these activities are designed to push individual behaviors toward a bland norm, the anonymous center of the Gaussian curve, a territory easily managed by established institutions.

It's essential to point out that Nobel prizewinning scientists, artists, authors, people who leave the world a better place than they find it, virtually all rebelled against the stultifying experience of formal education. Einstein was universally regarded as a terrible student, lazy, unmotivated, and his teachers hated him. This is the rule, not the exception — a list of top achievers is, to a first approximation, a list of dropouts and misfits. In modern times, these people are likely to receive, not a scholarship, but a stigmatizing psychological diagnosis.
Just thought you might be interested in another dimension of the psychology discussion. I appreciate your contribution to this debate. 

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