Science’s man does not exist: Psychoanalysis, scientism, and the structuralist project.

Here is my latest, from the journal Psychoanalysis Lacan, to be found here.

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On the Crisis of Reproducibility in Psychology

As we might expect, most results in psychology are not reproducible. As the authors who obtained these results say, ‘reproducibility is a defining feature of science’. From this, we could conclude, as have many in the field, that the answer is more experiments, tweaked statistics, metholodogical tinkering and the like. Or, we could make a point that is not so much epistemically radical as it is blatantly obvious, and that is that psychology is not a science at all. It does not resemble science except in the most superficial of respects. It isn’t just the failure of replication documented here, but the complete impossibility of findings in psychology ever being abstracted into formulae for precise prediction. Continue reading

Misconceptions about psychoanalysis. Part 1

It is time to clear up a few misconceptions about psychoanalysis. Culture, popular or otherwise, has changed. Once, in the film and literature of the mid-20th Century, psychotherapeutic treatment was depicted in largely psychoanalytic terms. A protagonist would speak of themselves in an intimate way, with a figure they trusted. The popular imagination has shifted since then, and consulting a psychologist is now marketed as a didactic experience, an implementation of technique, with little or no subjective element to the process. Continue reading

The Problem with Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs)

I have recently been debating the merits and problems of objective, quantitative research in mental health. (One of my interlocutors has posted a lengthy response here, arguing in favour of ‘objectivism’). RCTs are a methodological device introduced into mental health from general medicine. Whilst they are merely problematic in the latter, they are outright misleading in the former. Continue reading

Biomarkers and Dualism (after Nietzsche)

To criticise the dominant, bioreductionist paradigms in psychiatry and psychology risks is to invite to supposedly scandalous epithets –  ‘anti-psychiatrist’ and ‘Cartesian dualist’.

Yet to distinguish between disciplines – on the one hand, those with historical, discursively-constructed objects (such as linguistics, or history) as against the ‘hard’ sciences (such as mathematics, or physics) – implies nothing in the order of mind/body dualism. Notwithstanding any biological correlates, psychiatric phenomena fall clearly within the first category of disciplines.

The irony is that those who trumpet their materialism and monism with an emphasis on biological correlates – or, better yet, the search for elusive ‘biomarkers’ (neural or genetic) – are in fact far more dualistic than their allegedly anti-psychiatric opponents. What is the search for biomarkers other than an attempt to look beyond the materiality of discourse to invent a kind of ding an sich, that would serve as the truth of a subjective complaint?

Supposing this quest for a psychiatrist’s El Dorado came to fruition, and biomarkers were found by our closet dualists. The clinician could conceivably ignore a subject’s speech and history, and come straight to a diagnosis by way of a biological test. In this way, the biological test would serve as the subject’s supra-sensible ‘reality’, beyond any subjectivity.

Yet what could such a biomarker (eg. for depression, or anxiety) possibly mean in the absence of a corresponding complaint? To borrow from Nietzsche: such knowledge would be as inconsequential as a chemical analysis of water must be to a boatman facing a storm.

Lost in Cognition

There is a tradition among certain psychoanalytic writers and schools, to decline any engagement with the world outside of analysis. In this tradition, psychoanalytic literature becomes a continual exegesis of the master(s), devoid of reference points to the world beyond. Thankfully, Eric Laurent and his colleagues are most definitely not of this tradition, as Laurent’s new book, Lost in Cognition, demonstrates amply. Continue reading

Psychology, Epistemology, Theory and CBT: A Critique of CBT as Ideology (part 3)

Having explored the dubious history and origins of CBT, it is time to turn our attention to its theory, epistemology and methodology. Despite shrill appeals to science and reason, there has been much critique of CBT from an a priori perspective, three fine examples of which can be found here, here, and here. I will not repeat their points. Much of what I say here of CBT is applicable elsewhere in mainstream, Anglophone psychology. The failings of CBT in particular, and of psychology generally – and they are many and serious – are, in my view, both avoidable and instructive. I discuss them here in order to learn from them, with a view to constructing a better psychology (by which I do not mean merely a more refined CBT, or an empirical psychology with better-researched norms). Continue reading