IPT Book Reviews

Title: Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice
Author: Margaret A. Hagen
Publisher: Regan Books/HarperCollins Publishers, 1997

HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022-5299
(212) 207-7520
$23.00 (c)

Margaret Hagen, a psychologist who teaches at Boston University, wrote this book after her brother spent $90,000 defending himself in a civil lawsuit. He was sued for $3.4 million for psychological injury resulting from alleged (and denied by the brother) actions 20 years before. The trial included a parade of psychological experts and, after her brother won the case, Hagen's outrage inspired her to write this book.

Hagen's thesis is that mental health "experts" have taken over the justice system. In a brief introduction, she states her goal: "While I and my academic research colleagues were sleeping, our entrepreneurial clinical colleagues had infiltrated the American justice system like kudzu taking over every inch of lawn and garden. This book is an attempt to weed them out, root and branch."

One can quickly get the flavor of the book by reading the chapter titles, which include, "Psychopathological Science," "Three Kinds of Liars," "Learning to Read Tea Leaves," "Four Hundred Ways to Avoid Responsibility," and "Music Therapy for Wife Killers." One of Hagen's main points is that judges and juries are willing to believe the testimony of mental health professionals even though their assumptions lack any scientific basis whatsoever. She describes horror stories of unjust convictions and names experts (such as Lenore Terr and Bessel Van der Kolk) who provide junk science testimony. She provides many pithy quotes, such as "There is no reliable, valid, mental or behavioral test for suspected child abuse worth a damn" (p. 214).

Although I agree with much of this book, I disagree with Hagen's conclusion that the solution is to keep all mental health experts out of the courtroom. Experts may well be necessary to explain how PTSD-type symptoms may not be caused by trauma, how coercive interrogations may affect a child's memory or result in a false confession, how symptoms may have causes other than sexual abuse, how police misconduct can affect a lineup identification, etc. I also believe that the word, "whores," in the book title is unnecessarily offensive. But, although the book is biting and aggressive, it is truthful, and lay people will benefit from learning the truth about much mental health expert testimony.

Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Emeritus Professor, West Virginia University.

Order this book: Hardcover

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