Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Misremembering the past

Peter Bowditch writes:
The ABC’s Four Corners program recently featured a story about a therapist who specialised in implanting false memories of sexual abuse into the minds of his patients. This sort of thing has been going on for years, but what made this case different is that the mental manipulation took place in an environment that resembled that of a cult, complete with a guru and a closed community set apart from the rest of the world.

The story raised several points about how the general public perceive therapists, cults and their members, and the workings of memory itself. The first misconception is about the qualifications of therapists. Much like the practice of alternative medicine, all the qualification necessary to declare oneself a therapist or a counsellor is to call oneself a therapist or counsellor.

Some titles are legally protected, such as “psychiatrist”, but as long as these titles are avoided there are no rules. (A similar case is in giving advice about diet, where the title “dietitian” is protected but anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.) I happen to have spent a lot of time at university studying cognitive psychology but I am in no way qualified to offer advice to people with psychological problems.

There is however nothing stopping me from hanging up a shingle and advertising that I can assist people with emotional problems, and I could even claim added credibility because I have read a few books in a formal academic environment....