111019Tavris2May 16, 2012

“The researcher-therapist gap came to public attention because of three psychological epidemics, which spread like wildfire during the 1980s and ’90s: recovered memory, multiple-personality disorder and sex-abuse allegations at day-care centers. Each phenomenon was supported by clinical opinion; each has been discredited by empirical research.

“Of course, research never provides ‘the’ answer in a case; and, of course, clinical opinion is sometimes correct. But research does provide ways of correcting biases and testing assumptions. For example, the day-care scandals, from the McMartin case in California to Margaret Kelly Michaels in New Jersey to the Amiraults in Massachusetts, were perpetuated by therapists who testified that children never lie about sexual abuse and aren’t curious about sex unless they have been molested, that masturbation is a sign of sexual abuse and that abuse can be diagnosed by observing how children play with anatomically correct dolls. But each claim has been disproved by research on the cognitive abilities of children, on factors that increase suggestibility, on the normalcy of masturbation and sex play among children and on the way nonabused children play with the dolls….

“The researcher-therapist gap has been institutionalized by the rapid rise of free-standing schools of therapy not connected to university psychology departments. Graduates of these schools typically learn only to do therapy and seldom learn about other areas of psychology relevant to their work – like the limitations of hypnosis, the fallibility of memory or the normal process of suggestion in therapy.”

– From “A Widening Gulf Splits Lab and Couch” by Carol Tavris
in the New York Times (June 21, 1998)