Archive for the ‘therapy dogs’ Category

(continued, from previous post | part 1 | part 2 | part 3 )


It depends upon who you ask. I’m using “angels” here as a surrogate for a wide range of concepts – the reality of which appears to be in substantial dispute. In addition to space aliens, angels, energy fields, psychic work, and past lives, we might well add God, Allah (etc., etc.), the devil (or devils in general), ghosts, Krishna (or Jesus, or whoever) as an avatar (personal form) of a supreme being, the idea of reincarnation, and so on. Most, if not all, of these are unfalsifiable, and thus not usable in psychotherapy models. Some of my peers seem not to have notice this, or worse yet, just don’t grasp the importance of the discrimination.

Call that dog to heel, not to heal. (But please see note, below.) As I said, people differ. In the course of life, many questions, and hopefully some answers, come to mind. Sometimes they shouldn’t – not unless well leashed, as it were. It’s all a matter of context.

Great Danes are wonderful dogs – but probably more wonderful outdoors than in the house. So it is with unfalsifiable concepts, when allowed to be a part of one’s psychotherapy model – they’re fun to play with, not so fun to live with. I’m afraid neither Krisna nor the ghost of your dear grandmother can do much to improve the accuracy of your diagnoses – at least not in any way that we can track or validate. I wish it were so, but I do not think any of us should pretend that it is when in fact it isn’t.


Pretending is for children. In their professional discussions some of my peers talk as if angels really exist, or as if people’s mothers really can speak to them from beyond the grave, etc. I think this is presumptive – in the sense that something appears to be presumed when in fact it should be examined, and carefully at that. (I have exactly the same reaction to some of the statements I have heard from a few of my relatives who are deeply involved in charismatic Christianity.) The problem is just this: belief is not knowledge. Belief is assumption, and nothing more. Confusing the two is not helpful. It is, in fact, a sin – the sin of reification, which is a very bad thing, but I’m getting ahead of myself (as well as being a bit playful with my language).

Please understand that I have no problem with angels, or mother-ghosts, or charismatic Christianity (I prefer it to the other kind, in fact), or any other concept or system of thought involving or dominated by unfalsifiable concepts – until such unfalsifiable concepts take up residence in one’s therapy model. At that point, a line is crossed, and I get concerned.

If some psychotherapists think and speak with a bit of confusion, or worse yet – inappropriate certainty, so what? Why do I care? Why should I care? Those last two questions are not the same, so I’ll take them up individually.


Psychotherapy is hard – we can’t be careless about how we do it. We are all children of our history. First, our parents give us genes, selected from genes they were themselves were given. As we are created at conception, these genes get mixed up a bit, and thus we are not exact copies of anyone at all, not even our parents. Then, our parents affect us by how they interact with us, and therein lies a very important tale…for another time. Then, the rest of the world gets a crack at us. If we’re lucky, at some point we get to reflect on all this, and ponder the possibility of making some changes. A new wardrobe? Not hard. A personality adjustment? Ummm…

But matters akin that last request are what we take up in psychotherapy. If such were easily achieved, you could get it done by the same person who checks your groceries. “Could I have some stamps, uh, and a better sense of humor, and a little less anger about pushy people, please?”

Art? Science? The choice is clear. In matters of real difficulty, knowledge is generally useful, if it may be had. Otherwise, roll the dice and it won’t matter what happens. But in psychotherapy we cannot do that. The plain fact is that psychotherapy, while to a significant degree an art, is at least as much a science. Art is craft, personal skill, and mystery, and engages processes of the brain outside the conscious and the verbal. Science is about what is obvious, to a careful observer, and it seeks to reduce or eliminate mystery. The two are complementary, and each benefits the other.

In psychotherapy, both art and science are needed and used, and I strongly suspect it will ever be so. Yet, sometimes we have a choice between the two – we can take the route either of art or of science, relative to a particular matter. At that point one might consider the notion that to do art when science is available is plain stupid. Choosing to do the former, in such a situation, suggests a fundamental failure to understand what is at stake. Such irrationality doesn’t occur when people accurately understand consequences.

An example…filling the pot. First, let’s set up a non-trivial situation, because psychotherapy is not a trivial undertaking. People’s lives do hang in the balance.

So…let’s imagine that we are far out in some wilderness and must hunt for our supper. We haven’t eaten for three days, and we’re rather interested in having something in the pot tonight beyond grass and rocks. This is a thought experiment, and that is the situation I give you.

I will also give you two options for bringing home supper.

  1. An exquisite English longbow – the kind that decimated armies in Europe when it was first taken across the English channel. It packs a punch. I will give also you a highly skilled bowman to go with it.
  2. A modern compound bow, with a sighting device and a string release trigger attached. Again, I give you also an experienced bowman to go with it.

Both are powerful, and can shoot accurately. The first is essentially wholly dependent upon the art of the bowman, while the second has some technical tricks which allow both more shots to be released before the bowman tires AND more accuracy with each shot. Less art, more science. Also, more productivity, if you’re a hunter.

So, which option do you prefer? How hungry you are will likely influence your decision. Remember that I have set this experiment up you really do want to eat tonight.

I will predict that most readers will take the second option. It is more likely to fill the pot. Less art, more science. Better results, we may reasonably predict. With an empty belly, I can easily make my case: “to do art when science is available is plain stupid.”

I do care because I want to hedge my bets. When doing psychotherapy I do want to fill the pot – to get results. Don’t you? Optimal results require our best tools, actual and conceptual. I want science in place of art, whenever I can get it. If I have to do something stupid, I want it to be involuntary rather than voluntary!

(continued, next post)


OK, I’m probably wrong about dogs! (But give me a break – it’s only a metaphor, folks!) While I know of no research to back up the notion, I have reliable report of dogs being used as psychotherapy adjuncts – “therapy dogs”. I’m so attracted to the notion, in fact, that I’ve consider acquiring one myself. The idea enchants. The proposition that dogs can facilitate healing is falsifiable, so it may be allowed into one’s model, and certainly is to be found off in a corner of mine. However, the status of the idea should be transparent: good research on this intervention has yet (to my knowledge) to be done. Woof!

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