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The Abuses of Organizational Psychology

Since my doctoral studies were in organizational psychology, I will outline some of my concerns with the field. Let me explain why I chose the field. Two reasons. First, in the early 1990s my management group was the focus of a performance audit. I was managing a property development reviewing group of some 160 people. I took a liking to the idea of reviewing and improving group performance and changed my doctorate field from environmental science to organizational psychology. I eventually quit my management job and went to work for the very firm that audited me. I went on to participate in audits in numerous city and state government agencies in California, Oregon, Utah and Washington states. My second reason is less serious. I had no interest in the field of counseling psychology for individuals. I didn’t want to listen to the endless complaints and neurosis of people who hated their parents, spouse, or boss. However, organizations consist of people whose very neurosis often infects the organization. So there is no escaping the fact that people are the basic building blocks of organizations and their culture.

            I consider my work in organizational psychology to be altruistic. I love working with organizational groups to improve performance efficiency and cost effectiveness. These two goals are the basic mission of my endeavors. However, I realized at some point that psychologists not only study the dark side of organizations, like organized crime, but have been both willing participant and even initiator of horrible crimes against humanity. You may think that an overstatement, but it’s not. Most of us have watched, with amusement, the movie Miracle on 34th Street where an incompetent corporate psychiatrist persecutes Santa Claus. Even in 1947, the field had its negative perceptions by the public. The perception of the "efficiency expert" has been the bane of corporate existence in the post-war world.

            However, I speak directly to the fields of psychology and psychiatry participation in the German murder of people deemed mental unfit to live in German society and people murdered under the faked diagnosis to cover up the fact their real offense was their religion, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Of course, the Germans fascists aren’t the only villains of this sort. The Russian and Chinese communists have also used the ruse of mental institution to cover up the imprisonment and murder of millions.

            This is the same association whose mission statement is “to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives” (APA, 2023). According to the Schizophrenia Bulletin “Regarding the total number of psychiatric patients killed, estimates have ranged from 200 000 to 275 000. This included the initial 70 273 killed by gas between January 1940 and August 1941, an estimated 100 000 ‘who starved to death in German mental hospitals after the end of the euthanasia program’” (NHI, 2009). This does not include the number of people murder because these professions wrote the rationale for all of the atrocities committed in the death camps or killing fields. It is estimated that 20,946,000 victims died in this widespread genocide in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 (Rummel, 1992).

            How could a profession that claims to exist for the betterment of society have gone to wrong? The so-called “Nazification of Psychology” is explored in Nicholas Vine’s essay “Psychology Under the Third Reich.” For example, the Goring Institute was established in 1936 by the Nazis to create a “new German psychotherapy.” The name comes from Dr. Matthias Göring, a cousin of Field Marshal Hermann Göring. Soon after Dr. Göring’s appointment, he announced that Hitler’s book Mein Kampf would be the textbook of psychoanalysts in the Third Reich. It should be noted that the change in the mission started by purging Jewish psychologists and psychiatrists from universities and clinics. It is tragically ironic that the latter were victims of their own profession. One of the founders of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, escaped the Nazi persecution. However, four of his five sisters were killed in the concentration camps. 

            Of course, any profession has its villains. However, they are usually the anomaly and not part of a systematic and systemwide program. You occasionally have bad individuals or groups in the field of policing, corporate business, and politics. But you don’t find state sponsored criminality sanctioned by a purported altruistic profession. The only group I could find even more detestable would be the participation of religious organizations.

            Needless to say that I take my work in organizational change management (OCM) seriously enough to try and comprehend to negative impacts it may have. The process of auditing and managing change needs to be cognizant of its very real impacts on people who make up the organization. Reorganizations, downsizing, and new methods can all have negative impacts that are unintended – be they incremental or wholesale.

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