A Disastrous if Fictional Image: Psychology in the 21st Century

February 27, 2008

SACRAMENTO, JUNE 15, 2015: While searching the abandoned headquarters of the California Psychological Association (CPA), noted UC Berkeley Sociologist W.R.D. Klein discovered documents indicating that a disinformation campaign by major insurance companies during the late 20th century led to the destruction of Psychology as an independent discipline. According to these documents, which were buried in a wall while the building was being remodeled during 1996, officials of Hatena and Get Life insurance companies either influenced CPA officials or, more dramatically, may have actually have placed “moles” within its leadership. The profession of Psychology, which had emerged as a distinct discipline during the 1940’s and flourished through the late 1980’s, was formally incorporated into the medical profession during 2005, thereby terminating its status as an independent field.

Dr. Klein, who specializes in the study of professions in American society, is publishing a book on the demise of Psychology. He believes that the disinformation campaign sought to undermine the integrity of psychologists in the eyes of the American public. Two major themes were stressed in the campaign, he said in an interview yesterday.

First, the CPA placed prescription privileges as its top priority for legislative action during the mid-1990’s. This move, which was crushingly defeated by the California State legislature during 1997, drained resources from the professional organization and was an embarrassing, pUblic humiliation for the profession. In seeking these privileges, Psychology placed itself squarely as an inferior child to Medicine. Klein predicted that, if prescription privileges had passed, it would have had such a divisive effect on the field, would have drained much-needed resources for training in the areas that Psychology already served, would have confused the public, and would have also cemented Psychology as a secondary, inferior specialty to Medicine. The profession would have been destroyed anyway, he believes. He said, “Medicine had relinquished psychotherapy beginning in the 1970′ s, and Psychology lost its golden opportunity to seize that opening to focus on providing those specialized services to the public. Psychologists were already respected for their research, assessment, and teaching services. These skills should have been developed further rather than diluted by merging with Medicine.”

Second, and related to the issue of prescription privileges, the CPA failed to aggressively rally its members around a concerted fight against managed mental health care. In Klein’s view, the problem with managed care was a simple one, namely that it destroyed the psychologist’s ability to provide mental health care services in a confidential and private fashion — an absolute requirement for provision of psychotherapy and psychological assessment. Psychologists were viewed as joining the forces that placed profit before human services, thereby compromising their credibility.

Klein’s book, which he hopes will assist in the re-emergence of Psychology as a profession, includes a section outlining the steps he believes could have saved the profession and, indeed, allowed it to flourish into the 21st Century.

First and foremost, Klein writes, the profession needed a strong call for unity, not instigation of a professional civil war through making prescription privileges a priority. While he tends to be rather gentle and calm in tone, Dr. Klein was forceful on this point. In the course of the interview, he stated, “What were they thinking? With attacks on the profession coming from insurance companies, the medical profession, and some patient groups, to make prescription privileges a priority, thereby squandering resources and causing disunity, is unbelievable.” He believes the profession would have been better served by joining with the other mental health professions, from social workers to marriage counselors to psychiatrists, to combat threats to performing competent psychotherapeutic work, mostly threats that came through managed care companies. other weaknesses he points to include the failure to coordinate, in conjunction with the American Psychological Association, uniform standards for training psychologists. The plethora of unaccredited institutions, as well as some institutions which irresponsibly flooded the state of California with psychologists during the late 20th century, also served to weaken the profession. He also emphasizes that educating the public about the value of psychological services would have been most helpful. Such an educational campaign began during 1996, but was “too little too late.”

The steps that Dr. Klein recommended were not adopted. As a result, CPA membership dwindled. The profession increasingly lost credibility. After the overwhelming defeat of the prescription privileges bill during 1997, the profession essentially collapsed and psychologists were relegated to a clearly subservient role to that of physicians. Dr. Klein added, “We can only hope that had members of the professional organization known of the disinformation campaign during the early 1990’s and taken the necessary steps to counteract it, the profession of Psychology could have survived. Consumers of mental health services in this country would have been much better off with their active participation in, if not dominance of, the mental health field but, alas, such was not the case.”

(Dr. Karbelnig, a past Member of the CPA Board of Directors and current Chair of the Ethics Committee of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association, practices psychoanalytic psychotherapy and forensic psychology in South Pasadena, California.)


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