Psychology and the media

It was difficult to ascertain from the May article "Psychology Xposed" and the comments by Dr. Farley and Dr. Kirschner what, if any, restraints might be imposed upon professional media commentary. In our jurisdiction we have attempted to impose some modesty upon what we have euphemistically called "shadow" diagnosis: running commentary on the psychological status of public figures run afoul.

In this regard, the standard has been to take great pains to assure media that any commentary speaks in the most general sense to a particular phenomenon, not specific to a given situation or individual. While I would agree that psychologists have a role in educating the public, a fair-game approach may fall short of ethical standards. Comments on motivation, state of mind, antecedents and context of behavior remind me of a slight variation on an old adage, "wasn't there, don't know them, never got consent, but can tell you everything you want to know."

Jon K. Amundson
Calgary, Alberta


Dr. Amundson raises important cautionary concerns where media psychology is concerned. He notes "the standard has been ... ." However, there is no one standard as he outlines. Yes, speaking "in the most general sense ... not specific to a given situation or individual" can be one very important standard, but also clearly stating that one is speaking about a given situation based upon solid psychological concepts and knowledge can also be reasonable (e.g., "it might be" or "one possible interpretation").

Not everything in the media is "fair game." Again, when we comment it needs to be based on our best psychology. If we don't let the hungry media engage us, they will get someone, anyone, to comment, and the public may be hurt and public knowledge degraded. We need more well-informed, scientifically trained public intellectuals in psychology. "Giving psychology away" remains a major mission. Perhaps we need university courses on "public psychology." We also need to address the scientific imbalance between internal and external validity. If we can locate more scientific psychology in the worlds beyond our monastery walls, we will be able to comment more about that world, with more certainty.

Frank Farley, PhD


Psychotherapy is not short or long

As a co-author, with Moshe Talmon and Michael Hoyt, of the research at Kaiser Permanente on single-session therapies, I appreciated seeing "Make the most of one session" (May Monitor). (Parenthetically, I would like to give credit to Dr. Talmon for being the initiator of this project and one of its principal proponents.)

I believe the article may have given a somewhat overly superficial account of single-session work by not taking account of recent international developments. For example, our colleagues Jeff Young, Pam Rycroft, Shane Weir and Colin Riess in Australia have done research on a three-year study of 110,000 clients. Not only did 45 percent of those seen choose to be seen only for a single visit even when offered the option of additional visits, but outcome research found no important differences between those seen for only one visit and those seen for more sessions.

A session at a recent conference of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India, organized by my colleague Kiran Rao also touched on the prevalence of single visits. In developing countries where the resources allocated to mental health services are severely restricted, the importance of making the most of each visit--whatever the eventual total number--can hardly be overemphasized. For this reason, Dr. Talmon and I have recently altered our focus somewhat.

Psychotherapy is not short or long; to view it this way sets up a false dichotomy. Psychotherapy depends instead on "good moments" where something profound shifts for a client. All the rest is preparation and consolidation. Because we feel psychotherapy needs to focus more on these critical incidents of change, we no longer talk of "single-session therapy" but prefer, instead, to examine "therapy moment by moment."

Robert Rosenbaum, PhD
Oakland, Calif

How can we keep rape victims alive?

No one will argue that child rape is not a hideous crime. It is difficult for all but those deeply opposed to the death penalty not to want violent child rapists to die. It is hard to argue for the life of someone capable of such depravity. But I'll try.

In the April "Judicial Notebook" column, Winter, et al., look at jury bias, questioning whether a jury can reach an impartial verdict given that they desperately want to punish someone for a child rape. Perhaps this bias leads to the conviction of those wrongly accused.

I would add to this argument a more pragmatic and simpler argument. If we assume (and many do) that the death penalty deters certain crimes, then we assume that the death penalty affects criminals' behavior. If child rape earns the death penalty, then the perpetrator gains nothing by letting the child live afterward and gains a great deal by killing the victim.

As the laws are now, rapists have the motivation not to kill the child. They face only long prison sentences, whereas if they become murderers, they face death in many jurisdictions.

The question posed by Winter is: "Is rape a crime worthy of the death penalty?"

I say the question should be: "How will making rape a capital crime affect the actions of rapists? How can we keep rape victims alive?" Give the criminal incentive to let his victim live.

Janine Peterson Wonnacott
Arlington, Va.

A photo in the June Monitor (page 16) misidentified Nora Volkow, MD. The photo was of Caryn Lerman, PhD.