I am writing in response to the interview with Darian Leader in last month’s issue (therapy today, March 2008)
I am writing in response to the interview with Darian Leader in last month’s issue (therapy today, March 2008). As a counsellor and clinical psychologist I have followed the debates around CBT with interest. I feel they have been fairly balanced, although I must admit that David Veale’s recent article (‘Psychotherapy in dissent’, February 2008) read more like something in a physics book than a counselling journal.
However, I was both disappointed and angered by the ill-informed comments made by Mr Leader regarding CBT. He states ‘the treatment was originally designed using animal experimentation to modify behaviour’. This is simply incorrect. CBT in its current form arose primarily from the work of Aaron Beck, (and to some extent Albert Ellis), both former analysts. Beck had noticed in his years of work with depressed people the prevalence and centrality (in his mind) of negative thinking, and this became his focus. This has nothing to do with the modification of animal behaviour. Perhaps Mr Leader is thinking of older behaviour therapy work on phobias, or behavioural modification programmes for challenging behaviour, which did draw on conditioning ideas from animal research. This is not CBT as applied to anxiety and depression, or for that matter psychosis and personality disorders.
He then goes on to say ‘it’s well known… that CBT was widely used in China in the Cultural Revolution’. Well-known by whom? Beck’s CBT emerged at the end of the 1970s, as this period of societal madness was drawing to an end in China. Whilst abusive practices were rampant in seeking to change people’s thinking in the Cultural Revolution, to call these CBT is both incorrect and inflammatory. I am also tempted to raise the issue of people in glasshouses – anyone who has read Mason’s Against Therapy, or knows of psychoanalysis’s former approach to what it called the ‘perversion’ of homosexuality, will be aware it has its own chequered past.
Yet to blame a set of ideas for the misuse society or individuals have made of them is hardly fair. I would have liked to see the interviewer challenge such misinformation. It really does not help a balanced debate on the pros and cons of different therapeutic approaches.
Dr Sam Stephens
© British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy 2011.