Hand turning book pageNote: The important issue that inspired this a..." /> Hand turning book pageNote: The important issue that inspired this a..." />

The Power of Therapy Misused: How You Can Use Your Power to Help!

Hand turning book pageNote: The important issue that inspired this article was called to my attention several times . . . once by a trainee, then again by Noah Rubinstein during my web conference for GoodTherapy.org on the subject of transference, and again when, as a member of GoodTherapy.org I received their mailing about the petition I link to below. Many thanks to you, Noah, for your work helping to expose the dangers of the proposed DSM-5, and for offering me the opportunity to go even deeper into this issue.

Psychotherapy, when practiced as it’s meant to be—with deep integrity, full commitment, seasoned skill, heart and soul—can touch

a client and co-create healing and transformation
on every level of his or her being.**


Every form of power can be used well or misused.

The law has been used to manipulate as well as to serve justice. Parenthood has been used as a means of captivity, and it has been used to nourish a soul, helping it grow into fullness. Sexuality has been used as a weapon to rape and dominate, as a substitute for unmet childhood bonding and physical touch, and as an exquisite sacred expression of love and union.

Even God’s name has been used both to destroy and to heal. Christian Inquisitors burned midwives at the stake; zealots have committed acts of violence all over the world in the name of religion. In contrast, people of many religions pray for peace; practitioners all over the world speak different names for God as they lay hands on suffering bodies to touch hearts and souls and restore them to health.*

This is the beginning of the Prologue in my book, Power Abused, Power Healed. Since the book was published five years ago, unfortunately, I could add much more to that beginning . . . that list of how different forms of power can be used well or misused.
Some examples . . .

Political campaigns can be used to search for the candidates with the greatest integrity, self-responsibility, wisdom, experience, leadership skill, and heart. Or they can be used to buy power in government—without an ounce of concern for integrity, self-responsibility, wisdom, experience, leadership skill, or heart.

Government leadership can be used to follow through on a heartful commitment to pursue the best interests of the country and its citizens. Or it can be used to achieve the leader’s own agenda, including paying back personal and political obligations, amassing more power, and beginning to run for the next election, with no care at all for the good of the country and its citizens, although perhaps under a guise of care.

The practice of medicine can be used for the purpose it was originally intended—to heal and support healing, without doing harm. Or it can be used to make money, play God, drain people of their power, and wound people who are trying to heal.

Medicine can be used to help people heal. Or it can be used as a means to amass a lot of money and a lot of power, to seduce people who want to amass a lot of money and power, to seduce people into getting addicted, and once people are addicted, to turn them into automatons.

Insurance can be used to help people prepare for and protect themselves in difficult times. Or it can be used to suck the life out of people—out of their pocketbooks, out of their choices, out of their power, out of their health and well being . . . by making medical decisions for others, without any professional skill or knowledge, and with little driving those decisions other than money.

Psychotherapy can be used as it was originally intended . . . to heal the soul.** Or it can be used as a band-aid and quick fix just to get people functional enough to send them back out on the streets, only to be haunted by their unhealed wounds without having any idea what is occurring.

Today, there is a serious, even alarming, situation in process in the psychotherapy world—a situation that affects not just the psychotherapy world but the world as a whole.

The DSM—The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—has been used for years by many practitioners in the psychotherapy world to diagnose, treat, communicate with each other. Some practitioners use it to help them try to understand the people with whom they’re working. But increasingly over the years, it has been used to communicate with the insurance industry and as a basis for prescribing medication . . . and has helped the insurance and pharmaceutical industries amass power they should never have, and use power in ways they should never have the opportunity to use it.

This is, sadly, not a surprise, as the New York Times recently reported that “two-thirds of the manual’s advisory task force members reported ties to the pharmaceutical industry or other financial conflicts of interest” including the head of the “Addiction Working Group,” who proposes adding “cravings” to the list of addiction symptoms, while at the same time, being a consultant to several pharmaceutical companies that market “anti-craving” drugs. ***

Something terribly distorted and alarming is in the process of occurring in relation to the practice and art of psychotherapy. It’s alarming enough that the insurance, pharmaceutical, and other involved interests have been moving therapy from the deep, true, soul healing force it is and can be, to a band-aid, get-them-to-function-quickly mockery. But now the group that updates the DSM periodically and adds new categories and requirements for mental illness and what constitutes mental illness . . . now that group is in the process of approving horribly distorted changes into the upcoming version of the DSM, the DSM-5. (For more information, please see The Open Letter to the DSM Task Force: http://dsm5-reform.com/the-open-letter-to-dsm-5-task-force/ )

In summary, the changes they are getting ready to approve make not only already-vulnerable populations even more vulnerable, but make us all vulnerable! Among the numerous concerns about the proposed changes:

  • Inadequate representation and contribution from practicing psychologists
  • Ambiguous wording in relation to the proposed change to the definition of “mental disorder.”
  • Disorder categories and recommendations (particularly in relation to personality disorders) that are not supported by clinical research.
  • Lowering the threshold for diagnosing mood disorders, which could result in false-positive diagnoses and inappropriate or even dangerous medication usage for individuals who do not meet the current diagnostic standards.
  • The pathologizing of grief as a symptom of Major Depressive Disorder
  • The unproven proposal that all “mental disorders” are biological and/or neurological in nature.
  • A change that may result in those having social and political conflicts with society being labeled as having a “mental disorder.”

Fortunately, alarmed by the misuses of power and the dangerous consequences, there are those in the field who are opposing these changes. One of the most prominent of these is Duke University professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Dr. Allen J. Frances, who worked on previous versions of the DSM and oversaw the writing of DSM-4. Among his many concerns are that the upcoming version as currently proposed will create more “false epidemics” and the “medicalization of everyday behavior.” These are real concerns and real dangers, not only for individuals but for society as a whole. ***

I hope you’ll take a look at the open letter (http://dsm5-reform.com/the-open-letter-to-dsm-5-task-force/) and the petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/dsm5/#sign_petition) and sign it. Anyone can sign this petition . . .and the more the better. You don’t have to be a therapist. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor. You can be a client working with a psychotherapist or not. Anyone, both professionals and laypeople alike, can sign this petition . . . and the more the better. And the sooner the better.

It is one way you can help expose and prevent the misuse and abuse of power. It is one way you can use your power in the service of the highest good.

* Judith Barr, Power Abused, Power Healed, Prologue, p iii.
** For more, please read “The Soul of Psychotherapy”: http://judithbarr.com/psychotherapy.html

*** http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/12/us/dsm-revisions-may-sharply-increase-addiction-diagnoses.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

Related articles:
Binge Eating Disorder and Health at Every Size
Earl Scruggs, “Talk of the Nation,” and Grief

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Judith Barr, MS, LPC, Power: Healing to the Root Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kellen

    May 22nd, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Thank you so much for pointing out how things that were created to be good can also be turned around when they get into the wrong hands and manipulated into something that is bad and unhealthy for society as a whole. Although I have a hard time imagining anyone in a therapists chair who does not have the best interests of their patients at heart, I guess just like anything else power can go to their heads too and this can become harmful to their practice. I always think about how much control we give to those in these positions of power and how much of an influence they can have over our lives. You have to find someone whom you can trust and just go with your gut feeling, and in the end trust that this person does indeed have your total health in mind when they are offering you guidance and treatment.

  • Olivis

    May 22nd, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    If I thought that I was working with a therapist who was simply looking for a band aid sort of fix, then I would go running out of that office as quickly as I could.

  • Aly

    May 23rd, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    Its sad how everything we do, consume, see, hear and feel is influenced by external things.And not just external things but agencies whose only concern is dominance(market and minds) and money.

    Sometimes I just feel we should go back to the old ways-using everything natural and when you didn’t have a hundred hardly know ingredients in your snack (burgers, I read somewhere) and where your food was grown naturally without the use of chemicals and the genes engineered.

    Things simpler are things better but in the pursuit of convenience we seem to have handed over the control over all things to a group of agencies that can only think about green bills.

  • Sayeed

    May 23rd, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    I sure do wish that everyone had access to read this!

  • Judith Barr

    May 23rd, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    Dear Kellen . . .

    You are so welcome. And thank you for getting the point. I have known too many therapists who misused or abused their power. It is very sad.
    And in my experience, it has consistently been the result of those therapists not doing their own healing work with their own therapists. In the end, when therapists — and others, as well — don’t do their own healing . . . they wound others with and from their own unhealed wounds.

    Hope this helps, Kellen . . .

  • sally

    May 23rd, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    judith, I think that you hit the nail on the head when you talk about people not doing their own healing first. If they allow their own issues to begin to cloud their own judgment, then that is the time that any good therapist should take a step back and realize that they have some work of their own to do before they can profess that they can help someone else. And I know that often those things sneak up on you, and issues that you tthought you had resoved long ago come sneaking up on you again. But when or if that happens, be an adult and get out before you end up hurting someone else too.

  • admin

    May 23rd, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    and thank you Judith for taking the time to write this article and for all your efforts addressing the abuse of power in our world!
    Noah :)

  • Judith Barr

    May 24th, 2012 at 4:38 AM

    Dear Olivis . . .

    Good for you! I wish everyone would do that if they thought their therapist was just looking for a bandaid or quick fix. I’m glad, though, that you would know to leave.

    My best to you,

  • Judith Barr

    May 24th, 2012 at 4:39 AM

    Dear Aly,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I think it’s not just that simpler is better. I think it is about our handing over our power to others. And at the root, about the relationship each of us has developed with power . . . from our very earliest times alive. The relationship we’ve developed with power without even being aware of it. That’s true for each of us who have handed over our power and for those who have taken power and misused and abused it, whether for money, for power itself, or to defend against their own early experiences with power — without even realizing it.

    The antidote to this particular issue with the DSM-5 is for every one of us to use our power well in a whole hearted effort to stop the changes. The antidote and long lasting underlying solution is for each of us to do our own inner healing work with our relationship with power.

    Thank you again, Aly.

    My best to you,

  • Judith Barr

    May 24th, 2012 at 4:40 AM

    Thank you, Sayeed. I wish everyone had access to read this.

    You can pass the link along to all your friends, colleagues, family. Everyone can sign the petition — both professionals and lay people.

    I hope everyone will pass this on.

    My best to you,

  • Judith Barr

    May 24th, 2012 at 4:42 AM

    Dear Sally . . .

    Thank you for your response! Those of us know this to be true need to speak out more about this!

    I’m so glad you did here, and I invite you to speak out elsewhere, too. If we, who know this from personal experience – either for ourselves or from witnessing our colleagues – both speak out and also hold colleagues accountable, we will help make psychotherapy a safer place for people to be truly vulnerable and heal to the root.

    Thanks again, Sally.

    My best to you,

  • Judith Barr

    May 24th, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Dear Noah . . .

    You are so welcome.

    My best to you

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