Torture ReportRead Now
I never intended to use this blog to air my political opinions, but I do think the recent Torture Report released by the US Senate raises an issue that is relevant to the concerns of psychotherapy. According to the report, the CIA hired two American psychologists , Bruce Jesson and James Mitchell, to design an interrogation programme that would induce a profound sense of " learned helplessness" in detainees who were suspected of being terrorists. The CIA thought so highly of the two contractors that they were paid a whopping $80 million to come up with such interrogation techniques as water-boarding, rectal feeding, anal rehydration and putting prisoners in "stress positions" by tying their elbows and ankles behind their backs and forcing them to lie face down for prolonged periods of time. Although the CIA was highly satisfied with the the consultations provided by Jesson and Mitchell, the Senate Report rejected CIA claims about the usefulness of these methods for gaining actionable intelligence. Since then, a number of debates--or rather, rancorous arguments--have erupted questioning both the morality and legality, as well as the effectiveness of using these illegal coercive techniques. My interest here, however, has less to do with these important questions than it does with the use of psychology for such abhorrent purposes. In fact, using psychology for torture violates the most fundamental moral principle of psychotherapy which is respect for the experience of every human being. So what happens when the putative insights of psychology are used for such an intrinsically immoral practice as torture? Can it even be called psychology, understood as the study of human mental and emotional processes? Or, by becoming a dedicated and systematic practice of cruelty, does it become an entirely different practice altogether?
12/19/2014 06:19:22 pm
This is indeed an important topic, I am reminded of a comment attributed to the renegade Person-Centred theorist John Schlein that 'you need a hell of a lot of empathy to be a good torturer'. Psychology provides tools which are incisive in investigating the human psyche and which can be seductive to its processes. These tools can be used for good or bad and, without compassion and human warmth, have the power for great destructiveness. This example of psychology being used for the bad is stark, but we can also see many less obvious, but still extremely damaging usage of the field in other areas of modern life. One example is psychology's support of consumerism through clever marketing, which has shaped our modern society on attitudes of greed, acquisitiveness and escapism. Thank you for flagging up this further example of how our profession can go astray.
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