The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice

Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work


Recent Papers of Interest

Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 1–44.

The authors comprehensively review the literature bearing on the relation between self-esteem and psychological adjustment. They argue that despite thousands of published studies on self-esteem, there is relatively little evidence that self-esteem is causally related to better school or occupational performance, violence, cigarette smoking, or alcohol or drug use. Nevertheless, self-esteem appears to be at least moderately correlated with enhanced happiness and higher levels of initiative, although it is unclear whether it exerts a direct causal effect on these variables. Baumeister and colleagues unearth little evidence that boosting self-esteem (a popular intervention in many schools) produces psychological benefits. Moreover, they conclude that a subset of individuals with high self-esteem—namely, those who are narcissistic—are actually at heightened risk for aggression following ego threats.

Boisvert, C. M., & Faust, D. (2002). Iatrogenic symptoms in psychotherapy: A theoretical exploration of the potential impact of labels, language, and belief systems. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 56, 244–259.

Boisvert and Faust note that psychotherapy can sometimes produce negative consequences (“deterioration effects”) and discuss the psychological processes that can lead to such effects. They maintain that iatrogenic symptoms can result from the tendency of certain therapists to interpret or label clients’ psychological distress as inherently pathological. They also argue that secondary gains (e.g., escape from difficult life circumstances) may contribute to iatrogenic symptoms.

Esterson, A. (2001). The mythologizing of psychoanalytic theory: Deception and self-deception in Freud’s accounts of the seduction theory episode. History of Psychiatry, 12, 329–352.

Esterson examines the marked inconsistencies between Freud’s early and late descriptions of childhood “seduction” episodes, which led him to posit that childhood sexual trauma formed the foundation for subsequent adult neurosis. Esterson concludes that Freud consistently and conveniently distorted the details of these early reports in accord with his seduction theory. According to Esterson, “Freud’s accounts of how his discovery of unconscious incestuous phantasies emerged from the seduction theory episode do not accurately portray the events they purport to describe” (p. 345).

Garb, H. N., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Wood, J. M. (2004). Projective techniques and behavioral assessment. In S. N. Haynes & E. M. Heiby (Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of psychological assessment (pp. 453–469). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Garb and colleagues review the research literature on widely used projective methods, with particular emphasis on the Rorschach inkblot test, Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and human figure drawings. They contend that a mere handful of scores from these techniques have been scientifically supported in independent investigations. In this respect, Garb and colleagues part ways with the Personality Assessment Work Group sponsored by the American Psychological Association, which reached highly positive conclusions regarding the validity of projective techniques (including the capacity of projective techniques to detect physical and sexual abuse in children and even to predict the occurrence of cancer). Garb and his coauthors argue that in contrast to behavioral assessment methods, most projective techniques focus on highly inferential constructs that are often ambiguously defined. Moreover, they note, proponents of the Rorschach inkblot test frequently attempt to draw broad dispositional generalizations from small bits of verbal behavior.

Gold, P. E., Cahill, L., & Wenk, G. (2002). Ginkgo biloba: A cognitive enhancer? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 3, 2–11.

The authors review the controlled research evidence regarding the efficacy of Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo) for enhancing cognitive functioning in normal and cognitive impaired (e.g., patients with Alzheimer’s disease) individuals. They conclude that “[a]t best, the effects [of Ginkgo] seem quite modest” (p. 2). For example, the current literature does not convincingly demonstrate that ingesting Ginkgo enhances cognitive function more than does drinking a glass of lemonade. Nevertheless, Gold and his colleagues contend that it would be premature to exclude positive effects of Ginkgo and that at least some promising evidence supports Ginkgo’s role in decreasing the rate of decline in Alzheimer’s disease. They conclude that “[t]here are enough positive findings, perhaps just enough, to sustain our interest in finding out whether ginkgo does improve cognition” (p. 9).

Hviid, A., Stellfeld, M., Wohlfahrt, J., & Melbye, M. (2003). Association between thimerosal-containing vaccine and autism. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290, 1763–1766.

The authors conduct a population-based study of Danish children born between 1991 and 1996 to examine widespread claims that thimerosal, which is a preservative used in many vaccines, contributes to infantile autism. They found no significant differences in the rates of autism or autism-spectrum disorders (e.g., Asperger’s syndrome) between children who received vaccinations with versus without thimerosal. As they note, their findings call into question the increasingly popular assertion that thimerosal-bearing vaccines play a causal role in autism.

Lally, S. J. (2003). What tests are acceptable for use in forensic evaluations? A survey of experts. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34, 491–498.

Lally reports the results of a survey of 64 diplomates in forensic psychology concerning the acceptability of various measures for evaluative purposes, such as assessment of mental state, evaluation of violence risk, ascertainment of competency to stand trial, and determination of malingering. Several measures, including the MMPI–2, WAIS–III, and Personality Assessment Inventory, were rated highly for most forensic applications. In contrast, the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory–III and 16 Personality Factor test were rated less favorably in most domains. Projective techniques, especially human figure drawings, were rated poorly by most respondents. The Rorschach inkblot test received low ratings in 5 of 6 categories by the majority of respondents (the lone exception being the use of the Rorschach for the evaluation of mental state at the time of the offense, which was rated “equivocal-acceptable” by most respondents).

Littrell, J. H., & Girvin, H. (2002). Stages of change: A critique. Behavior Modification, 26, 223–273.

The authors critically evaluate the increasingly popular “stages of change” model of Prochaska and DiClemente, which has been advanced as a sequential description of therapeutic change for the treatment of smoking and a wide range of other psychological problems. After reviewing 87 studies of this model, they conclude that the 6 stages of this model (precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, termination) are not mutually exclusive as posited by the proponents of this model. Nor, they contend, is there compelling evidence that these stages are sequential as predicted by the model.

McDaniel, M. A., Maier, S. F., & Einstein, G. O. (2002). “Brain-specific” nutrients: A memory cure? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 3, 12–38.

McDaniel and his coauthors review double-blind placebo controlled studies of a number of popular drugs purported to be memory enhancers, treatments for memory loss, or both. Among the compounds they examine are phosphatidylserine (PS), citicoline, piracetam, and antioxidants, including vitamin E. They conclude that “the current data do not allow strong scientifically based recommendations for any of these memory nutrients” but that “the data also do not allow us to conclude that these nutrients are ineffective in boosting memory” (p. 35). They call for additional research on the effects of these nutrients in relatively intact older adults as well as for research on nutrient “cocktails.”

McNally, R. J., Bryant, R. A., & Ehlers, A. (2003). Does early psychological intervention promote recovery from posttraumatic stress? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 45–79.

McNally and his colleagues review controlled research on the efficacy of “psychological first aid” for survivors of trauma. They conclude that the widely used technique known as critical incident stress debriefing (crisis debriefing), which was administered to thousands of New Yorkers in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, appears ineffective and even potentially harmful. McNally and coauthors contend that crisis debriefing may impede natural recovery processes and is thus contraindicated for trauma victims. They also call into question popular assumptions that expressing painful emotion is always superior to inhibiting it. Nevertheless, McNally and coauthors conclude that cognitive-behavioral treatments administered weeks or months following trauma, which constitute psychotherapy rather than psychological first aid, are efficacious for many clients.

O’Donohue, W. T., & Buchanan, J. A. (2003). The mismeasure of psychologists: A review of the psychometrics of licensing requirements. In W. O’Donohue & K. Ferguson (Eds.), Handbook of professional ethics for psychologists (pp. 81–99). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

The authors argue that the research evidence for the reliability and validity of the widely used Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is weak. In particular, there is virtually no evidence supporting the EPPP’s predictive validity. Hence, they contend, the reliance on this test by all 50 U.S. states almost certainly violates the ethical principles of the American Psychological Association, including the requirement to use and interpret tests in light of the research evidence bearing on their validity.

Scogin, F. (2003). Introduction: The status of self-administered treatments. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59, 247–249.

Scogin introduces this special section of the Journal of Clinical Psychology devoted to the scientific status of self-help treatments for anxiety disorders, depression, alcohol problems, smoking, and related conditions. He notes that many of these treatments offer considerable promise and that some are scientifically supported. For example, for certain anxiety disorders “purely self-administered treatments may be beneficial whereas increasing levels of therapist contribution may be necessary for benefit” with other anxiety disorders (p. 247). For depression, in contrast, few commercially available self-administered programs have been subjected to controlled scientific tests. Scogin concludes that “it is easy to lose sight of the promise of well-crafted, self-administered programs amidst the onslaught of gimmicky, overhyped, and nonscientifically based materials” (p. 249).

Recent Books of Interest

Barondes, S. H. (2003). Better than Prozac: Creating the next generation of psychiatric drugs. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bartholomew, R. E., & Radford, B. (2003). Hoaxes, myths, and manias: Why we need critical thinking. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Elliott, C.. & Kramer, P. D. (2003). Better than well: American medicine meets the American dream. New York: W. W. Norton.

Hulbert, A. (2003). Raising America: Experts, parents, and a century of advice about American children. New York: Knopf.

Mart, E. (2002). Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy reconsidered. Manchester, NH: Bally Vaughan Publishing.

Myers, D. G. (2002). Intuition: Its powers and perils. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Radford, B. (2003). Media mythmakers: How journalists, activists, and advertisers mislead us. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

You can view this list in
The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, vol. 2, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2003).
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