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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The American Psychological Association vs Psychology

The APA's guidelines on masculinity mark a downturn in the quality of science in psychology

I f science is prohibited from making normative judgements, as it must be to retain its credibility as a source of knowledge, then the latest statements from the American Psychological Association show that psychology is in danger of losing its status as a reputable branch of science.

In junior high school I learned how dangerous psychologists can be. We had one as our guidance counselor. Her goal was to “weed out” those males who she thought were bad apples. If you said the wrong thing, your punishment might be to be taken out of college prep and reassigned to the lowest remedial track, called special ed, with the developmentally impaired students (they use abbreviations for it now: MR and LD). After a couple of intelligent but rowdy students mysteriously disappeared from class, the word spread: do not ever say anything to her. It reinforced my opinion of psychology as the world's most insidiously dangerous profession, and, fairly or not, of women as the most dangerous psychologists.

Sigmund Freud
You see der naked lady in the smoke, ja? Zen you are a sexist!

Over the years, psychology split into two fields: the science branch, which endeavored to imitate neuroscience, and the therapeutic branch, which retained its normative, proscriptive, and punitive aspects.

Cut off from the hard sciences, the therapeutic branch drifted closer to sociology. With the release of the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men last August, it is also drifting closer to so-called third-wave feminism, which has a strong androphobic component. Even rt.com, the Russian Kremlin-oriented website, has taken notice, and many conservatives are enraged. RT and many US commentators criticize the APA's guidelines for saying that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and “causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.”

These statements don't actually come from the guidelines, but from the CE Corner, a document on APA's website written by someone named Stephanie Pappas. The CE Corner bills itself as continuing education; you're supposed to read the article, then take a quiz. If you get over 75% you get a gold star on your forehead certificate you can print out.

Psychologists call this reinforcement. Let's see if it works: if you read to the end of this article, I will give you a gold star, and you can put it wherever you see fit.

Pappas starts out by saying that psychology has an “androcentric past”: “Most major studies were done only on white men and boys,” she writes, leaving out “women and people of color.” You can see where this is going. It is identity politics. There's no science here, no attempt to gain knowledge or understanding. This attitude does more to drive psychology back to the status of a pseudo­science than Freud, Jung, and Madame Blavatsky put together could have done (and boy, what a ménage à trois that would have been—oh dear, there's my toxic masculinity again). She quotes Ryon McDermott, who helped draft the guidelines, as saying “If we can change men, we can change the world.” To those who don't share the APA's benevolent vision of itself, that sounds very much like a threat.

The term “toxic masculinity” does not appear in the Guidelines document or in Pappas's blurb. It appears that many commentators who've criticized it haven't actually read it. But there is a lot of weird stuff in there.

What do the Guidelines actually say?

Previous guidelines talked about how to handle gay/lesbian/bisexual clients, ethnic minorities, old people, transsexuals, and girls/women. None of these, to my knowledge, has produced as much outrage as the latest one. The reason seems to be that, stripped of its jargon about diversity, privilege, and gender, the men/boys guidelines inch the APA closer to the academic obsession with overturning our cultural norms. It also suggests that androphobia is beginning to catch on at the APA. Here are some examples:

Cisgender is used to refer to people whose sex assigned at birth is aligned with their gender identity. [p.2]

[S]ocialization for conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health. [p.3, APA-style refs removed].

Gender is a non-binary construct that is distinct from, although interrelated to, sexual orientation (APA, 2015a). [p.6].

[T]he relationship between racial discrimination and depressive symptoms was found to be best explained by White, Eurocentric masculine ideals of restrictive emotionality (Hammond, 2012) and self-reliance (Matthews et al., 2013). [p.7]

Sexism exists as a byproduct, reinforcer, and justification of male privilege. . . . Growing up in a patriarchal society may also contribute to important public health concerns such as gender-based violence.

Indeed, awareness of privilege and the harmful impacts of beliefs and behaviors that maintain patriarchal power have been shown to reduce sexist attitudes in men (Becker & Swim, 2012) and have been linked to participation in social justice activities (e.g., White, 2006). [p.10]

[I]t is well documented that boys of color are disproportionately punished more severely for similar behavioral issues compared to their White peers, and such practices are linked to more serious legal problems later in life for men of color. [refs removed]

These quotes show that the APA is drifting toward an ideological social outlook that is unaware of its own assumptions and biases and therefore plunges unwittingly into prescriptive and proscriptive social politics. Males, they say, experience “normative male alexithymia,” which is a fancy term for their supposed inability to understand and experience emotions. The authors falsely assert that higher rates of heart disease, prostate cancer, and stroke among black males result from racism and inequality. They never question the existence and power of “micro­aggres­sions,” which are actions that cannot be detected, only construed.

According to the APA, male risk-taking behavior also includes eating fats and red meat but not enough fruits and vegetables. And, perhaps most importantly, males are much less likely than females to visit a psychologist.

In other words, if you eat beef, chop down trees, and adopt stoic mannerisms, you are exhibiting “masculinity ideology,” which the report claims is harmful.

There are a few stray embers of insight that we could blow on to help encourage psychology to get back to its scientific roots, particularly in its strong emphasis on the benefits of fatherhood for both the father and the son:

For school-aged children (approximately 4–12), father involvement has been associated with increased levels of academic achievement, more positive school attitudes, literacy development, academic competence, nonverbal cognitive functioning, fewer internalizing behavior problems, higher levels of emotion regulation and math and reading skills, and social adjustment. [p.12]

They say that psychologists should strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships, and that medication is overused in boys for ADHD. They deserve praise for this, but much of the remainder is permeated with feminist and racialist ideology.

As the controversy over their document shows, using falsehoods and political language that is designed to insult your clients, like “patriarchy” and “privilege,” and accusing them of racial discrimination and alexithymia, doesn't help them; it merely drives them away by convincing them that your goal is not to heal, but to effect radical social change. Those are different and arguably incompatible goals.

It's not too late for psychology—a little therapy could help it overcome its problems with sex. But ja, mein goodness gracious, would my bill be expensive.

Effects of the Guidelines

These guidelines will reinforce the popular idea that psychology is a pseudoscience or, at best, a branch of sociology. They will contribute to the reluctance of men and boys, already concerned about androphobia among psychologists, to seek mental health treatment. And they will make “toxic masculinity” a label of pride for men who recognize that, without their traditional virtues, many of the rest of us would not be alive, few of us would be free, and none of us would have indoor plumbing. And for those few remaining Freudians out there, no, that last one is not a sexual innuendo.

Here is your gold star.

jan 22 2019, 11:40 am. edited jan 23 2019 5:21 am

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