The Satanic Temple's Grey Faction, works hard to de-monetise, de-platform, and denounce the unchecked industry of Conspiracy Therapists plaguing American psychotherapy.
It's a less re-tweeted, but much more deserving example of a cancel culture campaign. There's a perfect storm of satanic panic, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and the commodification of mental illness that the McMartin Preschool fallout never truly quashed.
Psychological therapy has always been a hot mess. Its founding father, Sigmund Freud grew a cult as popular with the Victorians as their love of nipple-rings (Like most of the bold claims I make here, you'll enjoy Googling that shit).
Freud's shrewd and prolific campaign of spam letters, influencer date rape, and outrageous PR took the world by storm, all the more impressively because he simultaneously told everyone they wanted to fuck their own mothers. An ever expanding religious-business franchise, Freudian psychodynamics tapped into the zeitgeist of a people thrust into the misery of newly acquired wealth, gaining independence from one religious dogma, byt desperately searching for another.
Freud sought out scientific proof for his theories, and appointed the up-and-coming Swiss researcher Carl Jung as his golden boy.
The love affair was short-lived. Freud loved Jung's science, so long as it supported his theories. When Jung could no longer bend the stats to prove the lies, they had an acrimonious break-up. Unsurprisingly, Freud accused Jung of wanting to sleep with him, blaming his Daddy issues. However, Freud remained unable to provide any evidence to prove his hypothesis to the satisfaction of anyone other than his devout believers.
Despite the very shaky (incest, cocaine, and rape based) theoretical foundation of Freudian psycho-analysis, in 2020, thousands of divergent schools of post-Freudian theories still dominate the training of many of today's practicing therapists.
Even more worrying, is the research which indicates psychodynamic therapy isn't the least effective of the treatment options available for suicidal patients.
The above graph isn't without its flaws and controversy (namely that its based on studies which use short term approximations of treatments, delivered by unqualified impersonators).
Nonetheless, the privatisation of a pay to heal mental healthcare system has created absurd motivations.
The APA is inundated with requests for the inclusion of new diagnoses, lest insurance companies wriggle out of paying for another necessary treatment. (Would your insurer cover you if both your parents died in a car crash, unless you were diagnosed with a condition with a latin sounding name in the DSM-IV?) Terrifyingly, the Rosenhan Experiments (1973) highlighted how willingly psychiatric institutions would commit (section) anyone that came within their clutches. Eight healthy Experimenters reported normal symptoms (e.g. headaches) peppered with the bare minimum inclusion of "I sometimes hear voices". This was more than enough for everyone to be committed to the long term care of psychiatric institutions with a diagnoses of Schizophrenia being the most popular.
Amusingly enough, the patients were better able to spot the impostors than the staff were.
Studying patient outcomes in a lab is ethically fraught. How long should an ethics board allow you to put a suicidal patient on a placebo sugar pill without treatment? Did you know that a similar psychological experimentation on a Harvard undergrad contributed to turning the Unabomber against the world?
Reconsidering the graph above, when we study patient outcomes over longer periods, therapy proves itself much more effective.
The trouble is, given enough time, all therapies prove themselves equally beneficial (or at least fail to prove themselves significantly statistically different from the alternatives).
This is referred to as the Dodo Bird effect (named after Alice in Wonderland) where everyone was forced to run in a tight circle, and everyone won a prize, because no one was sure who'd come first.
The replication crisis highlighted how we were all running a merry circle, with much of the foundations of psychological theories built on empirical evidence of lies, damn lies, and statistics.
Even the empirical studies disproving Freud's theories are based on faulty maths, a file drawer effect, weak methodologies, experimenter biases, and bad research practices.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (like Behaviourism before it) was well-positioned to counter the cult of Freud.
As the Century of the Self moved onto the next fad, we stood on another giant's face in our attempts to see further. CBT promised much quicker results, and had the stats to prove it, and was thus eagerly adopted by overwrought European healthcare systems facing rising mental health cases.
Given the spurious research, and tribalistic spats, no one is sure who won the war, and it's not fair to compare older middle class and longer-term private therapies with shorter attempts to mass produce healthcare at scale to the working classes.
Thankfully, there is evidence that given enough time, the majority of dedicated therapists with dedicated patients show significant progress.
That's why the work of Grey Faction is so important. We will only recover from the crisis of faith in Psychology if we're able to call out and remove the most egregious examples of cargo cult therapy, and pseudoscientific nonsense. As is often the case with The Satanic Temple's team, they're applying pressure to the sharpest wedge of the thorniest issues. Taking on a conference for rape survivors that's been infiltrated by charlatans, is not a crusade for the faint of heart.
Many believe that the satanic panic was a quaint and risible footnote in history. The Grey Faction point out that none of the prosecutors, policemen, therapists, nor testifying expert witnesses behind the debacle of the McMartin Primary School case were prosecuted. In fact, too many of the culprits are doing book tours off the back of its notoriety today, with conferences cashing in on the controversy, and lending them and their theories legitimacy. They have resurged, buoyed up by militant Christians, online presence of conspiracy theorists such a QAnon, Alex Jones, and the social media algorithms spreading them. The effects of this madness, goes far beyond academic Psychology.
Republicans trying to defund Medicare, simultaneously won't vote for a bill trying to defund tax payer dollars going towards Gay Conversion therapies.
All while the criminal justice systems of the world continue to jump on bad science at every conceivable opportunity. Law enforcement agencies have barely acknowledged (let alone rectified) the decades of damage caused by embarrassments such as their use of wholly unproven "lie detector machines".
Likewise, the police's repeatedly disproven belief that they can sense guilty or lying defendants, as well as their biased feeding of answers to witnesses has led to countless unacknowledged miscarriages of justice.
The industry of paid "psychological experts" testifying that witness memories are reliable, or SWAT teams need to storm hostage negotiations ASAP, before the unproven myth of "Stockholm Syndrome" brainwashes the hostages, shows how willingly the police will throw money at anyone able to confirm their biases.
There is blood on the hands of a well funded cottage industry of Lobbyists, and Expert Witness Psychologists that testify that police have no time to do anything but shoot first and ask questions later.
It's too late in the essay to mention the shocking disparity between men and women's mental health treatment (here's a lazy shorthand: if you're a white, middle class woman, you'll get therapy for assaulting someone, if you're a black working class male? You'll get murdered, or arrested).
I'm just glad Grey Faction highlights some of the more outlandish edge cases on the fringe of all this insanity. I wish they had the resources to fight them all.
As Evan said so presciently on our podcast:
"Sometimes The Satanic Temple has to acknowledge when their presence hinders more than it helps."
If only the lobbyists of the Conservative Church were half as self-aware. Please check out The Grey Faction Forum and all the important work they do to inform and improve the field of Psychology, while purging it of Conspiracy Therapists.