Psychology in Action

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Instructor's Resource Guide                               Chapter 15                                         Page  209
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  L ecture E xtenders 1. - Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists E. Fuller Torrey and Thomas Szasz are probably the two most prolific psychiatrists writing for the general public today. Szasz tends to speak out against psychiatry while Torrey is more supportive of the "establishment." Although Torrey is not interested in flaming a revolution, he has keen insights into the practice of psychotherapy and is able to dissemble its elements so that the myths are stripped away. The material below is based upon his book, Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists: The Common Roots of Psychotherapy and its Future (1986). Torrey refers to psychotherapy as the second oldest profession in the world. Psychotherapy is a large enterprise in the U.S., employing over 150,000 psychotherapists who dispense 250 different brands of psychotherapy. The cost in 1980 was 1.7 billion per year, much of which is paid by medical insurance. Why do people go in for psychotherapy? The problems cited by psychiatrists most often are marital and family problems, job-related problems, and physical complaints related to stress and anxiety. These problems are often referred to as intrapersonal and interpersonal problems in living. One of the recent changes in patient populations has been that people are increasingly coming in for "life enhancement" rather than problems; the complaint is that life has no meaning and is boring. Psychotherapy is not just an American phenomenon--it exists worldwide. We like to think our psychotherapy is superior to that in less-developed countries but, according to Torrey, psychotherapists in all countries utilize the same principles, the only exception being the prescription of medication. If all psychotherapy that was not based on scientific principles were eliminated, there would be virtually nothing left. There is no evidence that patients who see a witchdoctor in a grass hut are any less satisfied than those who see a psychotherapist in a high-rise in New York City. There are four principles that are basic to psychotherapy in every part of the world. One is the principle of "Rumplestiltskin." This refers to the ability to name a problem. When we see a physician for a physical pain, we are relieved when he or she has a name for the disorder. This implies to us that the doctor understands what caused the problem and knows what to do about it. The same is true when there is a psychological pain. The psychotherapist's ability to name the cause relieves part of the anxiety. However, with psychological pain the cause is more subjective. In psychotherapy, the explanations have to agree with the cultural norms for "why." For example, to tell an American with psychological pain that a hex caused the anxiety will probably lead to the patient seeking out another psychotherapist. If one were to tell an African that the cause of his or her problem was a repressed love for the mother would probably lead to the same result. All cultures give three explanations for why
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