Friday, February 24, 2006

The APA's Social Vision

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian points to the American Psychological Association's apparent dismissal of a recent study indicating that abortion has adverse effects on women's mental health and asks, " the APA a civil rights organization? Should civil rights trump their advocacy for mental health? What's really going on here politically, anyway?" 

This isn't the first time the self-professed scientific and professional community has opted for activism over research. Nicholas Cummings, a former APA president and co-editor of the book Destructive Trends in Mental Health, claims that the Association only conducts research "when they know what the outcome is going to be...only research with predictably favorable outcomes is permissible." In this article about the APA's stance toward homosexuality, Cummings describes an exchange he had with another member at a meeting convened to discuss the future of the organization:
I was just about to agree with one of the participants, when she stopped me before I could speak: 'I don't know what you are going to say, but there is nothing you and I can agree on, because you are a straight white male and I am a lesbian.'
He continues:
Such blatant reverse discrimination was overlooked by everyone else in the room, but I was dumbfounded. This woman is prominent in APA affairs, is extensively published, and has received most of the APA's highest awards. The APA continues to laud her, even though recently she had her license suspended for an improper dual relationship with a female patient! What would be the response had it been a straight white male in an improper dual relationship with a female patient?
A message from current APA President Gerald P. Koocher states in part: "Healthy, well-adjusted people build better societies, and improving societal institutions builds better people. Psychology has much to contribute, and we must do a better job of making these potential contributions self-evident." 

This appears to be a commendable goal but there are important questions we need to ask in response to assertions like this. What criteria will we use to evaluate health and well-adjustedness? What ideals should guide our attempts to improve society? Which conception of the good life should we follow? More important, which is true?

Psychological research may prove quite helpful in giving us insight into how we think and behave but it cannot tell us how we should be thinking and behaving. Even our interpretations of what we observe are dependent upon some pre-scientific beliefs about what it means to be human, whether or not there is a teleology or purpose for our existence, and what is ultimately real. 

When we take the time to reflect on these issues, the well-worn plea for neutrality in the public square is more clearly seen for what it is - nonsense. Someone's philosophy of life will dictate public policy. This means that Christians need not be ashamed or embarrassed for thinking "Christianly" (to use a phrase coined by Harry Blamires) about psychology or any other facet of life. To conform to the myth of neutrality is, in fact, to betray the faith.

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