June 2007 LSAT, III, #13

LSAT arguments frequently don't make sense, but sometimes they can be made to make a bit more sense by rearranging them slightly. Section 3, Question 13 of the June 2007 LSAT is a good example. Here's the argument as it was presented on the test: Therapist: Cognitive psychotherapy focuses on changing a patient's conscious beliefs. Thus, cognitive psychotherapy is likely to be more effective at helping patients overcome psychological problems than are forms of psychotherapy that focus on changing unconscious beliefs and desires, since only conscious beliefs are under the patient's direct conscious control. 

That's probably not how I would have structured my argument. Would you? I doubt it. With the exact same facts, and exact same conclusion, the argument is a lot easier to follow if it's rearranged like this:

Therapist: Only conscious beliefs are under the patient's direct conscious control. Cognitive psychotherapy focuses on changing a patient's conscious beliefs. Thus, cognitive psychotherapy is likely to be more effective at helping patients overcome psychological problems than are forms of psychotherapy that focus on changing unconscious beliefs and desires.

To me, that makes a lot more sense... it's easier to follow an argument when it starts with the evidence, and finishes with the conclusion. The conclusion of this argument is "cognitive psychotherapy is likely to be more effective at helping patients overcome psychological problems than are forms of psychotherapy that focus on changing unconscious beliefs and desires." Why does the therapist believe this? Well, "only conscious beliefs are under a patient's direct conscious control, and cognitive psychotherapy focuses on changing a patient's conscious beliefs."

The argument, rearranged, is now easier to follow. But that doesn't mean it's a good argument. There's a hole here, isn't there? I think so... I think this argument is bullshit, actually, because it assumes that "conscious control" is required, or at least helpful, for patients to overcome psychological problems. Imagine if I were arguing with the therapist, and I said something like this:

Bullshit! Many psychological problems have nothing to do with conscious beliefs, or things that are under the patient's direct conscious control. Therefore hypnotism, and other forms of psychotherapy that focus on the unconscious, are every bit as effective as cognitive psychotherapy, and in many cases even more effective than cognitive psychotherapy.

I think that's a pretty strong attack. Having said that, I now feel equipped to see what the question is asking:

Which one of the following, if true, would most strengthen the therapist's argument? 

OK, no problem. Since we've already come up with a strong attack against the argument--we know why the argument is bullshit--we can strengthen the argument by defending it against that attack. Our attack basically boils down to "conscious beliefs and conscious control are unimportant when it comes to overcoming psychological problems." So a great defense against that attack would be "conscious beliefs and conscious control are necessary in order for a patient to overcome psychological problems.  (Stated in a somewhat different way, "conscious beliefs and control are the only way for a patient to overcome psychological problems."

Let's see if we can find something like that in the answer choices:

(A) Psychological problems are frequently caused by unconscious beliefs that could be changed with the aid of psychotherapy.

This would weaken the argument, and we were asked to strengthen it. So this is out.

(B) It is difficult for any form of psychotherapy to be effective without focusing on mental states that are under the patient's direct conscious control.

I love this answer. It is very similar to "conscious control is necessary"... it's a great fit with our prediction.

(C) Cognitive psychotherapy is the only form of psychotherapy that focuses primarily on changing the patient's conscious beliefs.

Nope... not as good as (B). This answer, if true, does nothing to show that conscious beliefs are important when trying to fix psychological problems. So this answer doesn't protect the argument's major weakness.

(D) No form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing the patient's unconscious beliefs and desires can be effective unless it also helps change beliefs that are under the patient's direct conscious control.

This is a bizarre answer, because it mixes the two different types of psychotherapy (conscious and unconscious) that were being compared in the argument. This is just a mess... what do hybrid forms of therapy have to do with the therapist's argument?

(E) All of a patient's conscious beliefs are under the patient's conscious control, but other psychological states cannot be controlled effectively without the aid of psychotherapy. 

This answer is another mess... it takes lots of concepts from the therapist's argument, puts them in a blender, and pours out a bucket of mystery slop. I don't see how this statement, if true, would eliminate unconscious forms of psychotherapy.

Our answer is B. The best way to get past D and E on this question is to positively identify B as something that would strengthen the argument by defending it. I've said it a million times... you must predict the answers in advance. If you find yourself spending a lot of time in the answer choices, comparing one against the other, you are doing it wrong. You must engage with the arguments deeply enough to be able to understand what's missing. If you can do that, then only one (or sometimes perhaps two) answers will look attractive at all... the others can be easily skipped. This is a much faster, and much more accurate, way to attack the LSAT.