The romance community has been insulted by yet another opinion piece written by a self-styled relationship “expert” about the dangers to women of reading books. In an attempt to counteract the surprising number of news outlets that have uncritically reported on Susan Quilliam’s puff piece, many bloggers have responded point by point to her claims.
I’d like to contribute to the goal of making any search results for Quilliam’s work show up alongside critical appraisals of it. But instead of focusing on the article, which others have done admirably (see NPR, and Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and Teach Me Tonight) I decided to check out what makes Quilliam an expert in psychology.
It took a while, but after I clicked several pages on her website, opened a PDF, and scrolled all the way down to the tiny print at the bottom, I discovered that Quilliam has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Liverpool. She has no advanced degree in any field.
She has a teaching certificate, and taught English for several years, after which she worked in the publishing industry (this career history is according to her Wikipedia entry. The teaching certificate is also listed on her website.).
Quilliam’s website and newspaper columns strongly suggest that she is a psychologist. According to the American Psychological Association, a psychologist has earned the terminal degree in the field, a PhD. A Master’s degree entitles someone to refer to herself as a counselor or therapist. British practice is similar. If Quilliam is a member of any professional organization relevant to psychology, such as the British Psychological Society or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she doesn’t list it.
Her website indicates that Quilliam is a member of the British Association of Sexual and Relationship Therapists. That organization has changed its name to the The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT). There are accredited member levels, but my guess is that she is at most a General Member, which is not accredited, and only requires that you have a job relevant in some way to the organization’s focus. Given that her name does not appear in the College’s list of General or Accredited members, however, and considering she lists no actual positions held in the mental health field on her bio, I think it is more likely that she is an Affiliate Member, which is basically a friend of the organization who subscribes to the journal.
But wait! She has other letters after her name. Perhaps these are important credentials, the kind of credentials we might hope for in our “relationship psychologists”. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
DipNLP. NLP stands for “neuro linguistic programming”, which has nothing to do with neuroscience, linguistics or computer science. Most descriptions of NLP sound like infomercials (it’s “the science of achievement”, “the study of success”, “an owner’s manual for your brain!”). There is no accrediting body or regulation for NLPs. It is taught by life coaches at seminars where firewalking is common. It has been discredited in the psychology and linguistics literature, perhaps because NLP practitioners do things like tell their clients with terminal cancer that they did not get well because they weren’t trying hard enough. Undeterred? Well, then, for about $500 and 4 days, you, too, can put DipNLP after your name! (the Wikipedia entry is actually pretty good, citing several of the scholarly articles on NLP so I don’t have to. I will say, though, the the best study was the one that showed that one hour of NLP was as helpful in reducing anxiety as one hour of sitting around doing nothing.)
MA NLP. Misleadingly, the “MA” looks like a Master’s Degree. Again, Quilliam holds no advanced degree. This is more NLP stuff.
Trainer in Co-counselling. “Co-counselling” is a lot like NLP: unaccredited, not empirically based, and indistinguishable from a Tony Robbins soundbite: “a peer network of people who support each other to get on with life in an emotionally healthy, rational and creative way.” Click here for a definition and principles of co-counselling, and do let me know if you find, because I failed to, either a definition or any principles.
But wait! Quilliam “co-founded the Brussels Co-counselling community!” Hm. How does one “found” a community? Nevermind. It’s Brussels! This sounds important. Except … Googling “Brussels co-counselling community” pulls exactly 4 results, all of which link to Quilliam’s bio:
Like NLP, co-counselling’s greatest rewards seem to go to the trainers and teachers who charge large sums of money for their seminars and workshops.
Quilliam seems to hold herself out as a practicing clinical psychologist. For example, she says, “A huge number of the issues that we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction”, but, if her own bio is any indication, Quilliam, who earned her undergraduate degree in 1971, has never actually practiced as a therapist of any kind. Note the wording under the (misleading) heading Psychologist: “I use my expertise to advise in the fields of relationships, sexuality, and medico-sexuality.” She “advises”, she “writes papers”, she “speaks”. Nowhere is there any indication that she has ever had a single client in a legitimate health care context.
Quilliam refers to “academic involvement”. Normally, this means affiliation with an accredited university and peer-reviewed publications in peer reviewed journals. Based on her own webpage, Quilliam seems to have neither.
The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care published Qulliam’s puff piece in a “consumer commentary” section, but should still worried enough about its own reputation that it does not support an author holding herself out as an expert when she apparently has little counseling experience, education, or credentials. Quilliam’s web page claims that she serves on the journal’s editorial committee, (although she lists it as the Journal of Family Planning, its old name) but a quick look at the list (PDF here) suggests she is not. In her commentary, Quilliam makes no reference to any actual persons — besides, funnily enough, her self — who have suffered from romance reading. She doesn’t just have bad data, or incomplete data, she has no data. She also has no method (other than, apparently, consulting her own memories and extrapolating from there to all women). And no argument.
Yes, Quilliam has published — mostly obscurely – a bunch of self-help books, on body language, what makes people tick, and, most intriguingly, Positive Smear. But you know who also published a book?