Dear Dr. Hurd: In your experience, are most psychologists and psychiatrists liberal Democrats? If so, why do you think this is? Is it because they are enamored with the idea that the government can forcibly commit people to psychiatric institutions? Also, does the study of mental health attract lunatics or produce them?
Dr. Hurd: In my experience, most psychologists and psychiatrists are overwhelmingly Democrats. In fact, I’d have to say 100 percent, from my experience. Not all are as liberal as others. The basic reason for being Democrats is “one should be compassionate.” They associate the Democratic Party with the party of government compassion, and therefore they side with the party for that reason. They also associate the Democratic Party as the party against racism and/or homophobia, and this is also important to most mental health professionals. They tend to accept the premise that Democrats and Republicans really stand for something different, and while they agree Obama is not a very good or effective President, they find the alternative of the Republicans to be almost unthinkable.
I have found no evidence that psychiatrists and psychologists are enamored with the idea of forcibly hospitalizing people, not in the twenty-plus years I have been in the field. Most laypersons are not aware of how difficult it actually is to forcibly hospitalize someone for mental reasons. They have to clearly be an imminent physical threat to themselves and/or others. At such a point, the police and the legal system may be involved anyway. Hospitals, mostly funded by third party payers (increasingly government), have too little money to hold a person indefinitely, even if he or she wanted to be there. If forcing people to act against their will is your thing, you’re much better off with a career in law enforcement, law or politics than you are in psychiatry or psychology.
Does the study of mental health attract lunatics? In some cases, absolutely. However, most “lunatics” don’t have the capacity for completing the 3-5 years of post graduate study required, to say nothing of accumulating the clinical hours needed to become an independent therapist. Lunatic therapists are few and far between. What’s much more common are therapists whose lives — although perhaps dysfunctional — are fairly uneventful for the most part, while their ideas are often wacky. It can be fairly easy for a therapist to sit on his or her chair and espouse all sorts of ideas, whether they’re connected to reality or not. A therapist also does not have to take responsibility for most of his or her ideas, because people tend not to question them. In a society where religion and religious authorities have waned, psychologists and psychiatrists have filled the void. Most mental health professionals right now are pushing medication, which makes sense from a superficial medical perspective, but doesn’t actually address the real problems in thinking, attitude and philosophy that afflict most people. A few therapists sense the opening left by the overemphasis on medication and the gradual collapse of religion, and fill that gap with their own philosophical ideas. Those ideas are most often pretty nutty, as I wrote about in my recent book.
It’s considered a truism that most therapists choose their profession in order to “work out their own problems.” This prejudice is held up by circular logic. “The person is a therapist, so by definition he or she has problems. He’s practicing therapy and psychology in order to work out those problems.” There’s no proof that the therapist has problems, nor is any proof considered necessary by those who participate in this prejudice. In reality, I encounter fewer therapists with deep personal problems than therapists who hold nutty ideas — ideas that they don’t necessarily apply to their own lives, but that they are prepared to impose on others through the power of their influence. There are bossy, advice-giving therapists who like telling others what to do, but who don’t necessarily apply this advice to their own lives. There are therapists who turn their clients into helpless victims but who tend to be quite assertive, confident and sometimes resilient in their own lives. There are therapists who subscribe to New Age supernaturalism, for their clients, while exercising a surprising amount of common sense and reason in their own lives. There are therapists who condemn clients (or their clients’ spouses/family members) for being “selfish,” while practicing a lot of rational self-interest in their own lives.
You see, most therapists are a lot like most liberals. They publicly advocate living one way but they espouse something completely different for themselves. They think they’re being compassionate by advancing nutty ideologies, but only a minority of them actually practice these ideologies with any consistency; those are the lunatics. It’s no accident that liberalism and therapists go so well together. Many therapists, like liberals, subscribe to theories which they’re not prepared to practice in daily life. They seem unaware of the contradiction, but these are for the most part intelligent people, meaning that they’re most likely evading or denying the truth. Therapists — like the population at large — have projected onto their profession the role once reserved for priests, ministers and the like. People in these ministerial roles as traditionally understood were selfless humanitarians who lived solely for the community.
Therapists are kind of expected, and kind of expect themselves (in most cases), to live this way. The reality is quite different. Most therapists make pretty good money, live upwardly mobile lives, and could be counted among the comfortable middle or upper middle “class” of society. They’re not exactly candidates for Occupy Wall Street based on how they live, or on many of their personal attitudes, but their ideological beliefs as applied to both psychology and politics definitely rest on the viewpoint that what they call compassion and selflessness come first. By any indication, the typical psychotherapist should be at least a moderate, Mitt Romney Republican. But they cannot stand to think of themselves this way, and they fear disapproval from their peers, which is why they are so heavily liberal and Democratic.