Hans Eysenck was one of the most famous but also most controversial psychologists. In a paper from 1952, Eysenck reported that two-thirds of therapy patients improved significantly or recovered within two years, regardless if whether they actually received psychotherapy.
I found an article on the Internet called Critique of Humanistic Psychology by Daniel J. Castellano, at www.arcaneknowledge.org/science/psychotherapy.htm.
I do not agree with everything that the author says, and I think he is incorrect in implying that there is no clearcut or even scientific basis for mental health diagnosis and, to some extent, treatment. There are newer methods of studying the brain that are within the realm of science. He makes a distinction, however, between neurological versus psychological approaches, which echos the so-called mind/brain distinction. And at one point, he does sort of reverse himself and admit that there are some researchers in psychology and psychiatry who do base their work on scientific research. He says that people often seek psychotherapy not because they have serious problems in functioning with severe symptoms, but because they have a vague sense of being unhappy or lack a purpose or goal in life.
But some of his points on both psychotherapy and humanistic psychology I find relevant. He writes, "In the abscence of a strong theoretical foundation, most psychotherapists have de-intellectualized their practice to various extents. They eschew the technical analytic jargon that the Freudians so enjoyed, and instead employ a more conservational, patient-oriented therapy. This soft science tactic is good for business, as the therapist is more approachable and more customer-driven than the old school psychoanalyst. . . . It is little surprise, then, that the periphery of the counseling profession overlaps with the domain of self-help gurus and other charlatans promising pseudoscientific solutions to life's problems."
He summarizes what he considers to be the four main tenants of humanistic psychology, that humans are rational, socialized, and forward moving, have the potential to attain self-actualization, are constructive and trustworthy when free of defensiveness, and that humanistic counseling ". . . creates an environment in which congruence and the potential for self-actualization can be realized."
He makes the point that there are a certain number of disabled people who have cognitive limitations which make it extremely difficult for them to proceed with free will. But humanistic therapists claim that improving self-actualization or self-improvement is not just for the relatively few who have substantial mental impairments and cannot carry out their lives with autonomy, but is also for normal people who could use such improvement.
During the heyday of humanistic psychology in the 1970s, getting in touch with your feelings was emphasized. Castellano writes that there is a difference between understanding versus accepting reality. Mental health, he says, should not be defined simply in terms of "fitting in" to one's social environment. A metnally sound person might find dhis society to be fundamentaly flawed in its values or structure so that someone might ". . . willingly suffer ostracism rather than assimilate its values. The humanistic model leaves little place for such melancholy or choleric souls, for it defines social disengagement as 'unhealthy,' while egomaniacs might be found healthy if they are sufficiently sociable." Castellano claims that there is a bias aganist social confrontation in social discourse with an emphasis on "sensitivity and inoffensive language."
Politically, the above argument could work both ways. Liberals may feel as if they are being ignored in a conservative era. But conservatives, incluiding some conservative Christians, complain that no one respects their traditional values anymore. Conservatives fling wild accusations against Democratics, and some progressives use harsh and even somewhat offensive type of language to criticize anyone they disagree with. The observation has been made, not without merit, that there has been a breakdown in civility in our society. Yet, on college campuses and in many organizations, there is a strong norm in favor of inoffensive, so-called politically correct language. So the emphasis that Castellano finds in humanistic psychology on being sociable seems only true in certain places and circumstances.
Another criticism he makes is one that I have found certain other authors have also made about both our culture and psychotherapy. Castellano states that psychotherapy, rather than being based on science, is more a reflection of certain aspects of our culture, such as the emphasis on self-actualization through one's work and career. He says that this is more of a matter of the values of professional individuals such as therapists, who all have at least a master's degree and possibly a doctorate, than of what all people in society emphasize in their lives. He writes, "A strong belief in the power of the individual will help to rationalize the existing social and economic power structure. Since failure to achieve social or eocnomic success is only the result of defensiveness or fear toward realizing one's potential, ratehr than the product of an objectively unjust social order. Needless to say, thei 'can-do' philsophy is unrealistic, as it ignores the individual's total dependence upon the society in which he is enmeshed. . . ." He goes on to say that this individualism in humanistic psychology and psychotherapy also contradicts a religious world view, in which events may be somehow influenced by a supreme being. That argument I find specious. I think the problem is that not all therapists have much knowledge of trends in social inequality and upward mobility, which is more in the realm of sociologists and economists. If a person is low-income or poor, corporate power, a poor educational backgroud, and the high cost of higher education cannot be greatly impacted by talking to a counselor. In the mental health care, there are some mental health centers around the country which do provide housing to disabled clients, but they do not often follow the approach that was described in the book, The Soloist, by Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times. In that book, Mr. Ayres, the subject of the book, was offered housing by a mental health agency with no strings attached, as he was fearful of the possibility of being forced to be hospitalized as he had been previously. The agency understood the viewpoint of many people it might serve, and used the housing first approach. This same approach is being used to help the chronically homeless in Utah, where homelessness has been reduced by 91%.
As I said, I don't agree with everything Castellano says, and not all therapists are the same, as he acknowledges, but he raises some questions about the priorities, sincereity, and effectiveness of talk therapy. There is a lack of knowledge as to how the brain works and what goes wrong when someone cannot function due to a mental illness, but there is far too much evidence that treatment can help a subtantial number of people. In the case of others, social and political reforms rather than counseling would likely be a more fruitful solution. And some mentally ill people do not want treatment, but might need a place to live, and should not be denied having their need for shelter met by agencies who might be over-zealous.