14 Feb 2012

Claire Byrne Interviews Tony Humphreys

On Saturday I listened to Claire Byrne interview Tony Humphreys on the Marian Finucane show. It was the first media appearance the disgraced psychologist has made since publishing his vile column in the Irish Examiner, apart from some quotes in that paper in which he reiterated his notions while claiming he never intended to hurt anyone.

(A transcript of the show has been made available on the Irish Autism Action Facebook page. I have used this but altered a few words to fit what I heard TH saying.)

He was introduced as "consultant clinical psychologist Dr Tony Humphreys" though I have yet to see evidence that this title accurately describes his experience and training. When asked what he though of the reaction to his piece he replied:

"I was absolutely overwhelmed, because my intention was to bring good news to people but that somehow what I said was very much misinterpreted as my blaming parents and if anybody knows my work over the last 20 years I have always said parents always do their best. Parents never deliberately neglect their children. But we all come into our roles whether as parents or teachers or childminders, other adults [unclear] with our own hurts and our own unresolved issues and these operate at an unconscious level and what's been hugely missing from the whole controversy is that we operate unconsciously we never consciously want to hurt anybody, right, or neglect our children and not love our children."
This cracks me up. Like a missionary, he sought to bring "good news" to the unenlightened. I can't wait to find out quite what this is. He then claims that all his many critics are at fault as we have "very much misinterpreted" his words. Nope, the problem isn't that we have poor reading comprehension, but that he wrote a terrible, parent-blaming, diagnoses-denying, inaccurate and illogical article. He says what is "hugely missing" is that we, the parents whom he reckons have the magical ability to train our children to be autistic, are doing this without being aware of our actions. Poor Tony, he seems to think we object to his twisted thesis because it hurts our feelings. Well it does, but that's not the point. We object because it is bollocks.

When asked if he thinks parents can cause autism by being heartless he said:

"No because I don't ... I mean, I've ... see I don't believe in autism and I concur with Dr Timimi that autism has not been established as a neurobiological fact, right. What I do believe, right, what, if anybody responds to you or me in a heartless way then we do react, right, and we find a way to protect ourselves and defend ourselves against that heartless reaction. But we do that unconsciously as well. It is not that we want to hurt the person that treats us unkindly, it is that we have a need within ourselves to be kindly met that now becomes unmet, so we retreat into a defence and what happens then is that defence meets defence and the whole thing escalates."
"I DON'T BELIEVE IN AUTISM"!!!!!! This is a position of faith, for this man evidence is irrelevant and facts don't count.

"I think one of the other things I want to say Claire, is that you know, eh, in my work over the last thirty years, ehm, my work has always been about compassion and understanding and empowerment of people and I was shocked, right, absolutely shocked at the level of hurt out there and, um, in my experience a huge sadness around that because I would never, never wanted to create that in any human being, right and so ... and also I have suffered my own hurt in, you know, in being seen as somebody who would want to cause hurt because actually it's light years away from what I would want to do."
Again with the self pity and the refusal to accept responsibility and the consequences for the harm and hurt he has caused. Instead he is sad at how he has been portrayed- such a consciously selfish and immature reaction. He continued to try to justify his self-serving behaviour as "opening a debate". No he isn't, he is disagreeing with well established explanations of autism, that are backed up with proper research and evidence.

The interviewer played a tape of Dr Timimi saying that he absolutely does not take the position Tony Humphreys does on autism. Humphreys was unrepentant, and when asked about how, unlike Timimi, he is "pointing the finger at parents" he said:

"Um no, well not only at the parents right, but it's not pointing the finger, in other words ... I've worked with many parents over the years, children ... parents with children. Labelling them with ASD, ADHD and the other labels that children get, right, and when parents come to me, I hold ... that I ... if they are in troubled places, my first response is to where they are at, right, and to look at what they are carrying and the hurts they're carrying and to resolve those hurts. As those hurts are resolved, they automatically change in their relationship with their children. Now it's not just parents who are in relationships with children. Every one of us is in a relationship with children and that old village, that old African saying, "it takes a village to raise a child" is so accurate because it takes a whole society to raise a child and child minders and teachers and peer groups all affect children's' concepts of themselves."
So he accepts that he blames parents and all adults involved in raising children but somehow thinks this is not pointing the finger because, presumably, all these errant adults are failing their children unconsciously. The thing that Tony doesn't seem to get, is that neglecting children will harm them, but it won't make them autistic! People who are autistic were not made that way by how their parents raised them. He reiterated his notion that we, the parents of autistic people, need to get over ourselves and sort our own issues:

"But we all carry baggage, we all have major defences and unless we get the holding in relationships, we don't examine our defences, and to examine our defences is very challenging in a judgemental culture."
After more waffle he passed judgement on how we fail to respond to our children's communication.

Understanding and enabling our children's ability to communicate more effectively is one of the most important thing parents and teachers of autistic children can do. But we learn how to do that by talking to people who understand autism- autistic people being the most important teachers of all. We can also learn from experienced speech and language therapists, teachers and other professionals.

Tony Humphreys pontificated at some length on his own quaint notions about autism and developmental disability. He shared an anecdote about a woman who "realised that she hadn't been making eye contact with her child." He claimed that babies "make the most amazing eye contact with us, right, because they need us first to see them and to respond to them."

My autistic son never made eye contact with me as a baby. His non-autistic siblings both did. All three were breast fed for over a year and I gazed adoringly at each one as I held them. Duncan was uninterested in looking back. It was innate in him even as an infant. Tony Humphreys denies that is possible.

Tony Humphreys named a few people whom he claims agree with him but ignores the proper peer-reviewed scientific research, then he said:

"there's a whole huge body of research out there. But I can understand, right, that people who have believed a certain thing for many years, it's very difficult now to have that suddenly challenged, right, and I have no trouble with sitting with these people and hearing where they are coming from once they also give me the freedom to also to say where I am coming from"
I doubt that Tony Humphreys would really want to sit with me and hear where I'm coming from. He pulls a freedom of speech defence too, asking us to allow him to say his piece. Sure, he can hold whatever bizarre notions he wants, he can think that autism is caused by extraterrestrials if he wants, he just shouldn't teach that at a reputable university, to influence people who may well work with these disabled children, or to be held up as an expert and given a column in a national newspaper. My dog knows more about autism than Tony Humphreys.

The best bit of the interview occurred when he had a quote from his article read back to him and he said it was "a total misinterpretation of what [he] said" and that he wasn't "playing word games with anybody!" Classic!

He ended with his line about opening debate and the interview ended so the good people of Ireland could worship some bells.

Today the Irish Minister for Health, James Reilly, who has an autistic son, publicly condemned Tony Humphreys (link opens video). So now the Health Minister, all the Irish autism charities, huge numbers of parents and autistic people, the Psychological Society of Ireland, a raft of experienced and respected autism professionals and researchers, the two men named in the original article- all stand united in their criticism of Tony Humphreys.

Hilariously, in the video linked to above, we learn that Tony Humphreys encourages the Minister and all parents of autistic children to read the up-to-date literature on autism. The bare-faced cheek of the scoundrel! He doesn't regret speaking out on what he BELIEVES is the truth. Again with the faith Tony!

I'd ask Tony Humphreys to do the same. I'm much better informed than he is and very much wish he would heed his own words. Then he needs to apologise and retire from making public pronouncements on autism and all medical conditions.


Dr Hyde said...

Brilliant article, thank you, and thank you for the printed text which really brings out what he said.

I would like to focus on some action. I have no hope for Dr Tony Humphreys acting. I would like the following:

1) The HSE, PSI, Department of Health - State whether Humphreys is entitled to use the terms "consultant clinical psychologist" or "clinical psychologist" or even plain "psychologist" to describe himself. He is not a registered psychologist and probably has not met the training requirements for clinical practice. Does his use of the titles comply with the Health & Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2005/en/act/pub/0027/print.html)
and the Psychological Society of Ireland (www.psihq.ie) accreditation of Clinical Psychologist guidelines? (http://www.psihq.ie/ACCRED%20-New%20PSI%20Clinical%20Acc%20Guidelines%20-%20Jan%20%2709.pdf)

2) The Irish Examiner - Retract the article. The Examiner has removed the article without comment or explanation (and despite a defence of freedom of speech). Dr Andrew Wakefield's retracted paper on autism remains on the Lancet website with the word "RETRACTED" in large red type (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2897%2911096-0/abstract) and accompanied by an editorial explaining precisely why it has been retracted (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960175-4/fulltext).

3) The Irish Examiner (and all news outlets) - Do not permit "experts" to style themselves with unverified titles and expertise.

4) University College Cork - Restrict Dr Humphreys titles to those appropriate to an university psychologist, prevent his use of the university for advertising his private enterprises and ensure that he does not teach material in direct conflict with the Psychological Society of Ireland guidelines on diagnosis and treatment of autistic spectrum disorder (unless he wishes to formally state that has exited the psychological profession).

Anonymous said...

MICK HEANEY (Irish Times):

For all that he protested his noble intentions and clinical track record, Humphreys’s defensive air gave the impression that he saw himself as the wounded party. In the end, even Byrne lost her cool, impatiently inquiring whether her guest understood how his language had upset people. No, he said, tetchily accusing his host of misinterpreting him. There are two sides to every story, but on this showing, Humphreys has only himself to blame for his predicament.


Anonymous said...

Tony Humphreys is possibly going to appear on Ireland AM on Friday (24th) at 8:15am.