I’m going to try writing posts while I’m thinking about them, rather than doling them out in regular intervals or choreographing a particular sequence of posts. When I save up ideas for later I either forget about them or lose interest myself.
So, the thought on my walk this morning was that academic psycyhology, ironically enough, is non-humanistic. A human participant in a research project is called a “subject,” but the real subjects of psychological research are the variables and forces that converge on and animate humans. Researchers are interested in aggregate statistics: means, standard deviations, correlation coefficients, structural modeling equations, and so on. Individual difference is of little interest, being dismissed as noise or random variation in the aggregate models.
While I was working on my doctorate in psychology I split my time between research and practice. My sense was that, in the person-to-person encounter of psychotherapy, research was pretty much irrelevant. I practiced a distinctly humanistic version of therapy, emphasizing personal connection as a means of strengthening the client’s self-efficacy. At the same time, clinical research was increasingly focusing on identifying “evidence-based” interventions: treatment strategies and tactics that, on average, generated significant positive outcomes. The problem in practice is that, even for statistically significant findings, the noise was always much stronger than the signal. In other words, individual variation far outweighed the strength of the averages. Building a humanistic praxis on the basis of weak non-humanistic research findings just didn’t seem very useful to me.