What Psychologists Cannot Say

the professional license doesn’t outlaw the mountebank—rather, it gives him cover to flourish

the professional license doesn’t outlaw the mountebank—rather, it gives him cover to flourish

The reason why licenses ruin every profession.


It’s become accepted that the professional license keeps us safe—that it ever protects the population from quacks. Simply placing the word “unlicensed” in front of a prestigious profession renders it lower than custodial work.

Think of an “unlicensed” lawyer—it’s a guy who failed the bar four times, then gave up, changed his name to be more ethnic, and became mayor of Los Angeles. Doesn’t get more pathetic than that.

But to our founding fathers, and any other child of the Enlightenment, “license” was tantamount to “censorship.” In 1644, John Milton gave a speech about the dangers of licenses for printing presses.

“Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized and traded in by tickets, and statutes, and standards. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broad-cloth and our woolpacks.”

The argument goes: If the state could discriminate what is an appropriate press, then they could discriminate what is an appropriate print.

Though this sounds like paranoid rants of the proverbial drunk uncle, Milton ended up being correct. About 200 years later, Darwin needed to first print Origin of Species illegitimately. Today, the island that founded the Enlightenment has about as much free speech as Libya.

The more entrenched licenses became in the print industry, the more important it became for a press to have a license, and the more likely they would be to change what they say to keep the license. The standard of value moves from what’s correct to what the state wants. It’s a downward spiral of fear and external validation.

The same kind of downward spiral is happening now in the field of psychology. Licensed psychologists are afraid to speak openly on certain issues for fear of losing their licenses. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a psychologist has told me that he cannot express his opinion for fear of reprimand, which may lead to a loss of license—or it may not. The mark of tyranny is the punishments are doled out inconsistently, which, according to behaviorism, renders the subjects more neurotic.

Here are a few presumptions that psychologists told me need to at least be discussed, but they aren’t out of fear for survival.

  • Low-IQ patients are much less likely to manage their trauma in a healthy way. Also, IQ is a valid construct.

  • Cognitive-behavior therapy has more blind spots than a ‘68 Nova.

  • The psychological issues of especially female Muslims stem from their religion.

  • Coed group therapy is nowhere near as effective as its segregated counterpart.

  • Men and women are different and need to be treated separately as patients.

  • Multicultural therapy has zero scientific validity.

  • Sociology is more scientifically valid than phrenology, but not by enough for it to matter.

Are these beliefs wrong? I don’t know because I’m not allowed to talk about them. It’s not technically a violation of free speech, but effectively that’s what it is. A revolution may not be in order, but at least let’s have the mini-revolution that is awareness.

We can infer why licenses dumb-down industries. Remove the teeth from a profession and it becomes unable to chew on meatier topics. Plus, the bureaucrats who sanction the license tend to be less intelligent than the licensees. As such, one way to think about the license is it’s a way for dumb people to control smart people. This is organized religion, in a sense, but much more of a waste of time. To this point, behold the amount of paperwork a psychologist must fill out to demonstrate he is practicing the profession in the state-approved manner.

A bunch of other silly rules inhibit psychologists from doing the job well. The inability to conduct teletherapy across state lines, the rigidity and incoherence of the DSM, and worst of all, limited confidentiality.

According to the ethical code, psychologists must break confidentiality if a patient poses a threat to someone else. Patients know this, since it’s required that the therapist tell them this beforehand, so they never would reveal if they are a threat, which makes them much more of a threat. A good psychologist will still want to hear about the threat the patient may pose, so he’ll instruct him to talk about it in an indirect way:

Therapist: “That sounds like a difficult situation. I could see how that frustration would make a person in that situation more likely to hurt the people who he perceives are hurting him.”

Patient: “Yeah, a person in that situation could be thinking those kinds of thoughts, possibly.”

The entire session resembles a Monty Python routine.

The only downside to remaining unlicensed is it makes it more difficult to get clients. Instead of being part of an insurance company’s database, marketing and promotion are on your own.

But it would help the profession if it was more difficult to get clients. Without communication about why therapy matters, it’s easier to lose touch with why therapy matters. Ask any psychologist why people need therapy and they’ll hem and haw for at least a few minutes before prattling out something about getting emotions off your chest. Psychologists claim there’s a stigma about therapy but this is a delusion to justify why they’re bad at communicating the importance of therapy.

Will I ever get a license? I may. if for no other reason than to seek out controversy so it gets revoked. That’s great marketing. It would bring attention to the ludicrous nature of the license a la a piece of Ai Weiwei performance art.

Perhaps what the field of psychology, like any tyranny, needs more than anything—an artist instead of a psychologist, someone to hold up a mirror to reveal what it has become.

And if it doesn’t work out, I could always change my name and run for mayor.

PsychologyMark Derian