Back in September, I blogged about an article by Gary Greenberg published in the August issue of Harper‘s magazine that took aim at the “helping profession.” He cast a critical eye on the history of the field, it’s colorful characters, constantly shifting theoretical landscape, and claims and counterclaims regarding “best practice.” Several paragraphs were devoted to my own work; specifically, research documenting the relatively inconsequential role that particular treatment approaches play in successful treatment and the importance of using ongoing feedback to inform and improve mental health services.
Just this last week, while I was overseas teaching in Romania (more on that trip soon), I received an email from Dr. Dave of ShrinkRapRadio who felt the piece by Greenberg was unfair to the field in general and a mischaracterization of the work by many of the clinicians cited in the article, including me. “I’ve got a blog on the Psychology Today website and I’m planning to take him to task a bit,” he wrote.
If you have not had a chance to read the Greenberg article, you can find it on my original blogpost. It’s a must read, really. As I said then, whatever your opinion about the present state of practice, “Greenberg’s review of current and historical trends is sobering to say the least–challenging mental health professionals to look in the mirror and question what we really know for certain–and a must read for any practitioner hoping to survive and thrive in the current practice environment.” Then, take a moment and read Dr. Dave’s response. With his permission, I’ve posted it below!
Popping The Happiness Bubble: The Backlash Against Positive Psychology
Readers will recall that in Part 1, I suggested that a backlash against the ebullience of the positive psychology movement was probably inevitable. The most visible sign of that rebellion was last year’s best-selling book by Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. While I found myself in agreement with much of her appraisal of American culture and our historical fascination with “positive thinking,” I thought her critique of positive psychology fell short by equating positive psychology to “positive thinking.” It also seemed to me that she failed to recognize that a huge body of research conducted by an army of independent researchers is emerging on a very diverse range of topics, which have been subsumed under the general heading of positive psychology. And, finally, much of her argument was based on an ad hominem attack on Martin Seligman.
I found further evidence of this backlash in the lead article in the October 2010 issue of Harper’s by psychotherapist Gary Greenberg, “The War on Unhappiness: Goodbye Freud, Hello Positive Thinking.” Greenberg is the author of Manufacturing Depression, a book that came out earlier this year. In addition, he is a prolific writer who has published articles that bridge science, politics, and ethics in a number of leading magazines. So he’s got great credentials both as a psychologist and a writer. Yet, I found this particular article unsatisfying. At least, that was my reaction upon first reading. As I later read it a second time to write about it here, I got a clearer sense of what he was up to and found myself in substantial agreement with his overall thrust.