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Defining Psychology

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We are now in a position to address one of the key issues in this book and offer up a solution to the problem of psychology. Recall that my intellectual journey began with a realization that the fragmentation in psychotherapy represented a huge problem that was preventing the advancement of the profession. Yet as I probed deeply into questions of psychotherapy integration, my attention shifted as I realized a unified approach to psychotherapy depended on a coherent conception of psychology. It was out of pursuing the question of “What is psychology?” that the unified theory ultimately emerged. This chapter and the next apply the unified theory to solving the problem of psychology and fostering the move toward developing a unified approach to psychotherapy.
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Chapter 7
Defining Psychology
A well-defined subject matter, a shared language, and
conceptual agreements about the fundamentals are key elements
that constitute a mature science. The physical and biological
sciences have reached maturity. The psychological sciences
have not. Instead, students of psychology are given choices to be
or not to be radical behaviorists, cognitive psychologists,
evolutionary psychologists, social constructivists, feminists,
physiological psychologists, or psychodynamic psychologists,
among others. The lack of a shared, general understanding has
had unfortunate consequences. Paradigms are defined against
one another and epistemological differences justify the
dismissal of insights gleaned from other approaches. The result
has been a fragmented field and a gulf between the natural and
social sciences.
This analysis suggests that the fragmentation that currently
characterizes the field of psychology is unnecessary and a
coherent unified theory of psychology is possible. With it, the
truth stands a genuine chance of emerging.
G. R. Henriques (2003a, pp. 177–178)
We are now in a position to address one of the key issues in this book and offer up
a solution to the problem of psychology. Recall that my intellectual journey began
with a realization that the fragmentation in psychotherapy represented a huge prob-
lem that was preventing the advancement of the profession. Yet as I probed deeply
into questions of psychotherapy integration, my attention shifted as I realized a uni-
fied approach to psychotherapy depended on a coherent conception of psychology.
It was out of pursuing the question of “What is psychology?” that the unified theory
ultimately emerged. This chapter and the next apply the unified theory to solving
the problem of psychology and fostering the move toward developing a unified
approach to psychotherapy.
If you have any doubts about the importance of effectively defining the disci-
pline, I recommend the pointed essay, At War With Ourselves, by Cummings and
O’Donohue (2008). The authors articulate quite clearly the remarkable degree of
confusion that has permeated the discipline’s identity since its inception and the
negative consequences this confusion has had for the field. These authors briefly
review the history of the field, pointing how, for the first half of the twentieth century
181
G. Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology,
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-0058-5_7, C
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
182 7 Defining Psychology
in America, psychology was dominated by experimentalists who were “obsessed
with learning theory...with most of the so called discoveries deriving from rats and
pigeons, not humans” (Cummings & O’Donohue, 2008, p. 118). The term “clinical”
was frowned upon, and even an applied emphasis was looked at by many with suspi-
cion. Although psychoanalysis was in ascendancy in practice, it was off campus and
still practiced mostly by psychiatrists. Reporting on his own training experience in
the late 1940s and early 1950s at the University of California, Berkeley, Cummings,
who wanted to be a professional practitioner, stated that he...
experienced the shock of [his] life: Psychology did not have anything to do with people.
Psychotherapy training was nonexistent, as was the very word itself. We got all our training
in psychotherapy off campus...Had our graduate faculty learned of this, we would have
been drummed out of the program.
Cummings and O’Donohue (2008) go on to recount the rise of professional
practice and the ensuing battle for ownership over the discipline. They articulated
the conflicts between scientists and practitioners regarding licensure and the pro-
fessionalization of the discipline, the role of evidence and the scientific method
in informing practice, and the way that practitioners became the more dominant
force in the American Psychological Association, and how this ultimately resulted
in many scientifically oriented psychologists leaving the association and forming
the Association for Psychological Science. Additional evidence regarding the enor-
mous confusion about psychology is seen in the fact that originally psychologists in
America were scientists experimenting with animals in the lab, and, then with the
rise of professional psychology, it evolved to the point where the only people that
can legally call themselves psychologists are licensed practitioners. In most states a
social psychologist working at a university cannot legally refer to herself as a psy-
chologist! Instead, she must identify herself as a professor of psychology. All of
this shows just how much confusion there is regarding the nature and place of the
discipline in society.
In an article titled Psychology Defined (Henriques, 2004), I argued that the
unified theory could successfully define the science of psychology. After briefly
reviewing the difficulties psychologists have had in developing a consensual defi-
nition, I introduced the ToK System and argued that the diagram suggested a new
solution that could help resolve some of the most contentious aspects of the field,
including the debate between the mentalists and behaviorists, and the nature of the
relationship between animals and humans. The first point I made using the ToK lens
was that depiction of the dimensions of complexity and joint points (see Fig. 6.1)
indicated that the science of psychology could be as clearly and crisply defined as
physics (the science of energy and matter) or biology (the science of life). The sec-
ond point I made was that, from the vantage point afforded by the ToK System,
psychology had spanned two related but separable subject matters. Specifically, the
initial focus of individuals like Wundt was on humans, especially human conscious-
ness and culture (Wundt’s Volkerpsychologie), which, according to the ToK System,
is located primarily on the fourth dimension of complexity. In contrast Watson’s
behaviorism shifted the focus to animal behavior, which is the third dimension of
7 Defining Psychology 183
complexity (Mind). The discrepancy between the two approaches highlights the util-
ity of the map and taxonomy afforded by the ToK System. Different camps have
talked past each other in large part because they were not even located on the same
terrain.
To remedy the situation, I argued that, based on the conceptual structure of the
ToK System, the science of psychology should be divided into two broad but log-
ically consistent domains. The first domain has as its proper subject matter mental
behavior, which is the behavior of the animal-as-a-whole mediated by the nervous
system. Such behaviors can be overt (e.g., a beaver building a dam) or covert (e.g., a
rat simulating future consequences at a choice point in a maze). The second domain
has as its proper subject matter human behavior at the individual level and includes
the human mind and human self-consciousness. The other issue I alluded to and
argued more specifically in Henriques and Sternberg (2004) is that there is a fun-
damental difference between the science and the profession because one has as its
primary goal the description and explanation of animal and human mental behav-
ior and the other has the improvement of human well-being. Thus, although I view
psychology as unified, it also has two major dividing lines, one between animal
and human psychology and the other between the science and the profession. I will
return to these points below.
But did I effectively define psychology? In his commentary on the unified theory,
Haaga (2004, p. 1228) wished I had done so in a clearer fashion. He wrote
It is a testament to the difficulty of the task he has set himself that in an extremely eru-
dite paper called “Psychology defined,” I could not find a concise, quotable definition of
psychology. I learned a lot about evolution, some new ways of thinking about Skinner and
Freud, and the physics of the Big Bang, but I would not be able to tell you in one sentence
what emerged as the definition of psychology. Instead, Henriques (2004) concluded that
“psychology,” though unified and coherent, spans two realms—psychological formalism
(“the science of mind,” p. 1) and human psychology (“the science of human behavior at the
individual level”).
Upon reflection, I realized Haaga was right, and it is an issue I need to remedy. So
here is my one-sentence definition of psychology:
Psychology is the science of mental behavior and the human mind, and the professional
application of such knowledge toward the greater good.
This definition contains several key elements that need to be elaborated upon.
However, it is my hope that the logic of this definition will be readily graspable. The
first element of the definition that needs clearer specification is the concept of men-
tal behavior. Although I have introduced and utilized this conception in the chapters
on Behavioral Investment Theory and the ToK System, it has not been elaborated
upon, especially with regard to how it both resolves the mentalist versus behaviorist
divide and clearly demarcates psychology from biology.
The second element regarding the definition that needs clarification is that
although the concept of mental behavior is psychology’s foundational subject mat-
ter, there nevertheless are two additional great branches of psychology that need to
be clearly differentiated from the basic science of psychology. One branch is human
184 7 Defining Psychology
psychology, with its subject matter being human behavior at the individual level and
special attention paid to the human mind and self-consciousness. This follows from
the notion mentioned throughout this work that human behavior is mediated by an
additional dimension of complexity, Culture, which arises as a function of language
and consists of the collective justification systems that guide and coordinate human
action. Because of this qualitative shift in complexity, human psychology is identifi-
able as a fundamentally separate branch of the field. In addition to involving another
dimension of complexity, it is separate because, as I argued in the target article, it
represents a hybrid between the formal science of psychology and the “true” social
sciences (e.g., sociology, anthropology).
The second crucial division is between the science and the profession of psy-
chology, a division required because the mission, goals, and competencies of the
profession are fundamentally different than that of the science. The goal of the
professional psychologist is to enhance human betterment and well-being, whereas
the goal of the scientific psychologist is the description and explanation of animal
and human behavior (Henriques & Sternberg, 2004). Thus, at the institutional level,
the current proposal argues for dividing psychology into the following three great
branches: (1) psychological formalism or basic psychology which focuses on mental
behavior; (2) human psychology which focuses on the human mind and individual
human behavior; and (3) professional psychology which focuses on the professional
application of psychological knowledge for the greater good. In subsequent sec-
tions I clearly define mental behavior and outline the three great branches and their
interrelation.
Defining the Basic Science of Psychology As the Science
of Mental Behavior
Without a doubt the most foundational issue regarding psychology’s definition is
whether psychology is best characterized as the science of the mind or the science
of behavior. From Wundt’s conception of psychology as the science of conscious-
ness to Watson’s clear rejection of Wundt and proclamation that psychologists must
study behavior if they are to be “real” scientists, the mind versus behavior dispute
has been central to psychology’s definitional problem. The most common current
definition of psychology is an amalgamation of these two positions, and the majority
of introductory psychology texts now define psychology as “the science of behavior
and mental processes.”
There are several problems with this definition. First, without clarification the
term behavior is seriously problematic because, as elaborated on in Chapter 2,it
carries with it two mutually exclusive meanings, one being measurable change in the
object–field relationship and the other being the unique behavior patterns of animals.
The second problem with the definition of psychology as the science of behavior
and mental processes is that it potentially reinforces a problematic form of dualism.
At the very least it is ambiguous because it implies that mental processes are not
behaviors. This is a problem because, from the vantage point of the unified theory,
everything is behavior. That is everything—including your sensations, feelings, and
Mental Behaviorism 185
thoughts—is part of the unfolding wave of complexity and change depicted by the
ToK graphic, and all such processes can be characterized as behavior. Consider it
this way: Are mental processes not forms of behavior? The view of the unified
theory is that cognitive processes including sentient experiences (i.e., seeing red or
feeling hungry) are emergent entities that arise as a function of the behaviors of
neurons and neurotransmitters and the animal acting in context. A MRI or PET scan
is a picture of the neurophysiological behaviors that are underpinning and mediating
the cognitive processes and felt experiences. In short, then, mental processes are
behaviors.
A third problem with the current definition is a mirror image of the second, as
it implies that observable animal behaviors are not mental. The teleological behav-
iorist Howard Rachlin (1999) makes the important claim, much as I do, that overt
patterns of human action that can be seen are in fact mental behaviors (e.g., the lov-
ing kiss or the dogged determination of a boxer in the last round of a bout). Rachlin
describes his position as a teleological behaviorist because he argues that all ani-
mal behavior is purposeful in the sense of being organized by goal directedness.
Anchored to traditional behavioral epistemology, Rachlin goes much further than I
do in arguing that such overt patterns of action are the only patterns that exist and at
times he seems to completely discount the existence of the subjective, first person
point of view. This makes his perspective vulnerable to the rather absurd position
effectively highlighted by the old joke about two behaviorists who just made love
and one says to the other: “That was great for you. How was it for me?”
Nevertheless, Rachlin’s teleological behaviorism does highlight a crucial point
about mental behaviorism, and that is we do in fact see the mental lives of oth-
ers unfolding before us. When we are watching our lovers or our children or our
dogs, we are watching mental behavior—not just behavior caused by covert mental
processes.
This is a key point because it is where decades of dispute have occurred between
the behaviorist and the mentalist (cf., Rowlands, 2010). The mentalist tends to
view behavior as being caused by the mind, whereas the behaviorist argues we
should be studying the phenomenon under observation without recourse to unob-
servable causal agents. Grounded in the map of complexity provided by the ToK
System, the unified theory offers a new view that defines Mind as the third dimen-
sion of complexity, which consists of the set of mental behaviors. In doing so,
overt actions are connected with internal processes because the overt patterns of
action that we observe in animals exist on the same dimension of complexity as the
covert neurocognitive behaviors (including neuro-computational processes and sen-
tient experiences). To delineate this argument more clearly, I formally introduced
a new philosophical approach to bridging the mentalist–behaviorist divide called
Mental Behaviorism (Henriques, 2004).
Mental Behaviorism
Mental behaviorism consists of three basic points, each of which I have described
in some detail. The first point is that we need an adjective describing the unique
kind of behavior animals exhibit, which is what I mean by the term mental. Second,
186 7 Defining Psychology
the idea of the mind as an isolated and disembodied cause of behavior is not ten-
able; however, as discussed previously the mind can effectively be used to denote
the information instantiated in and processed by the nervous system, and it can be
conceptually separated from the biophysical material that makes up the brain in
the same way a story can be separated from a physical book. Finally, overt animal
actions and the covert neuro-computational processes that mediate them both exist
on the same dimension of complexity, Mind, which is the set of mental behaviors.
The mental behaviorist position starts with the argument that it is not the mere
fact that animals behave (all objects behave) but instead it is the fact that they behave
so differently than other objects that requires attention and explanation. Recall the
earlier discussion from William James in the chapter on Behavioral Investment
Theory where the behavior of frogs attempting to get air was contrasted with iron
fillings being attracted to a magnet. Both the fillings and the frog behave; however,
as James pointed out, the frog’s behavior was qualitatively different because it was
goal directed and, unlike the iron fillings, it would vary its action relative to obsta-
cles in order to achieve a particular end state. This is what Rachlin means when
he speaks of teleological behaviorism—the overt patterns of animal behavior are
organized around a goal or purpose.
It is interesting to note from a historical perspective that in his manifesto for
behaviorism, John B. Watson (1913) briefly but explicitly mentioned a positive incli-
nation toward the notion that psychology could be considered the science of mental
behavior. From the mental behaviorist perspective, it is tragic that the adjective men-
tal was lost because it is essential for conceptual clarity as it allows for a description
of the unique kind of behavior that psychologists are interested in trying to explain.
By including the adjective mental, we need to be clear about what, exactly, is meant
by it in this context. Mental is a descriptive term that refers to the distinctive manner
in which animals behave relative to material objects like rocks or organic objects
like plants or cells. So we are talking here about the difference between frogs and
iron fillings.
To put it in slightly different terms, the mysterious problem of animal behav-
ior to be solved is that they behave as whole units—what I refer to as coordinated
singularities (Henriques, 2003a)—that produce specific, functional effects on the
animal–environment relationship in rapid succession. The mysterious nature of this
ability was seen well by Bernstein (1967), a movement physiologist, who character-
ized it as the “degrees-of-freedom” problem. The problem can be stated in the form
of a question:
How can an organism with thousands of muscles, billions of nerves, tens of billions of
cells, and nearly infinite possible combinations of body segments and positions ever figure
out how to get them all working toward a single smooth and efficient movement with-
out invoking some clever “homunculus” who has the directions already stored? (Thelen,
1995, p. 80).
Scientific investigations have, of course, allowed us to make much progress in
answering the questions regarding the whys and hows of animal behavior, and
Mental Behaviorism 187
according to the unified theory, we can turn to Behavioral Investment Theory for an
integrated framework that can provide a natural scientific account of mental behav-
ior. Specifically, as delineated by Behavioral Investment Theory, we now know
the nervous system evolved as the system of behavioral investment and that such
behavioral investments are accomplished through the hierarchical arrangement of
neuro-computational control centers that represent goal states and adjust outputs in
response to the demands of the task within a continually changing environment. This
general process of behavioral regulation in response to goal states is represented in
the P M=> E formulation.
From the perspective of the fragmentation within the field of psychology, the
concept of mental behavior bridges the divide between radical behaviorism and
traditional psychology because it allows us to retain Skinner’s central insights
and simultaneously remove key mistakes that he made that prevented his views
from being integrated with cognitive neuroscience. From the perspective of men-
tal behaviorism, Skinner’s key insight was that animal behavior was not reducible
to biological theory and that psychology could be separated from biology with an
“evolutionary theory” much akin to the manner in which the modern evolutionary
synthesis separates biology from chemistry. Skinner’s biggest error was the manner
in which he defined radical behaviorism against traditional psychology and con-
ceptually and methodologically separated internal from external determinants and
argued that psychology should focus only on the latter.
On the night before he died, Skinner (1990) completed an article for American
Psychologist summing up his argument for why psychology could never be a suc-
cessful science of mind. Skinner’s anti-mentalistic perspective can be summarized
as follows: First, in a manner directly paralleling the ToK System, he argued that
human behavior was the product of three separate levels of variation and selec-
tion (the parallel dimensions on the ToK are in parentheses): (1) natural selection
(Life); (2) behavioral selection (Mind); and (3) verbal selection (Culture). He then
corresponded each level to its own discipline: (1) biology; (2) psychology; and
(3) anthropology/social sciences. Second, Skinner defined mind as an unobservable
cause of behavior, akin to a vitalistic life force that causes organism complexity.
(Recall from Chapter 6 that vitalists interpret life as arising from a supernatural
force). Third, Skinner argued that Darwin’s theory of natural selection provided the
framework for understanding how an environmental selection process can create
biological complexity, and in so doing it removed the need for vitalism. Finally,
Skinner concluded that, in the same manner that natural selection removed the need
for vitalism, the concept of behavioral selection removed the need for mentalism.
In short, Skinner argued that if psychology were to ever become a real science like
biology, the field must give up its notion of unobservable, mentalistic forces causing
animal behavior.
To Skinner and his radical behavioral followers, this argument is straightfor-
ward, sound, and confers many scientific benefits. For example, it clearly defines
the proper subject matter of psychology as the behavior of the animal as a whole.
Second, it differentiates psychology from biology with the same basic logic that
biology is differentiated from the physical sciences. Third, it defines psychology as
188 7 Defining Psychology
a science of behavior and removes the problematic concept of something nonbehav-
ioral (i.e., nonphysical), causing something physical to behave. All of these benefits
are genuine, and I believe they should be embraced wholeheartedly.
However, the argument is not entirely sound. In fact, from the vantage point of the
unified theory there is a glaring problem. According to the ToK System, Mind is the
same type of concept as Life. Both are emergent dimensions of informational com-
plexity generated by feedback loops of variation, selection, and retention. Darwin’s
theory of natural selection removed the need for the concept of vitalism, but it did
not, of course, remove the need for the concept of life. Indeed, the idea of Darwin
being “anti-life” is absurd. Biology is crisply defined as the science of life, and the
set of organic behaviors are what biologists are attempting to describe, explain, and
predict, and, in some circumstances, control. Likewise, the unified theory in general
and ToK System in particular suggests that psychology can be crisply defined as the
science of Mind, and the set of mental behaviors are what psychologists are trying
to describe, explain, and predict. Thus, the mental behaviorist answers Skinner’s
(1990) question, “Can psychology be the science of mind?” with the answer, “Yes,
so long as ‘mind’ is defined as a particular type of behavior.”
In contrast to many popular characterizations of Skinner’s position, he did not
argue that consciousness did not exist. Instead, he simply characterized it as behav-
ior that required explanation and was opposed to thinking of it as a mentalistic
force that caused behavior. The mental behavioral position largely agrees with this
formulation. First, as Skinner and other behaviorists appropriately argued, simply
attributing the cause of behavior to an “inner man” is potentially problematic and
circular. And like Skinner I also find it helpful to divide mental behaviors into two
broad domains: (1) overt mental behaviors, which are behaviors that take place
between the animal and the environment; and (2) covert mental behaviors, which
take place within an animal’s nervous system. Overt mental behaviors, to put in
fairly straightforward terms, are what an animal is observed to be doing and include
actions such as a fly avoiding a fly swatter, a beaver building a dam, and a man giving
his lover a kiss. Covert mental behaviors are the neuro-computational or neurocog-
nitive processes performed by all brain systems that mediate overt mental behavior.
It is important to explicitly note that the adjective mental includes both conscious
and nonconscious cognitive processing, as well as overt, observable patterns of
behavior.
The mental behaviorist position leaves open various positions that have been
taken regarding one of the key debates in animal psychology, which is the degree
and kind of anthropomorphizing that has a legitimate place in the science of ani-
mal behavior. Anthropomorphizing is the tendency to ascribe conscious thoughts
and feelings that would be commonly reported by a human to explain the actions
of an animal. For instance, if, after coming home from work and finding that your
dog had gotten into the trash and made a mess, whereupon she then presents to
you in a submissive deferential position, you then ascribe to her the experience
of a guilty conscience and thoughts that she has disappointed you, then you are
engaging in anthropomorphizing. The place and utility of such anthropomorphizing
in science has been the point of much contention. Early in the history of animal
Mental Behaviorism 189
psychology, Rommanes freely attributed sophisticated consciousness to many ani-
mals with limited operationalization, specification, or empirical validation and was
justifiably criticized for offering unscientific labeling of phenomena, circular rea-
soning, and making pseudo-scientific claims that did not really explain anything.
More recently, perhaps most notably through the work of Donald Griffin (1976),
anthropomorphism has seen something of a qualified revival, although there remain
many strong critics of any form of anthropomorphism (e.g., Wynne, 2007).
While not rejecting outright any form of anthropomorphism, the insights afforded
by the Justification Hypothesis strongly caution against imputing self-reflective,
language-based justifying thought processes in non-human animals. And along
those lines, it is clear that many of the objections against the scientific viabil-
ity of anthropomorphism have validity. At the same time, in contrast to the early
behaviorists, Behavioral Investment Theory strongly suggests the need to allow for
an animal-centered view, one that includes perceptual, motivational, and affective
states that guide and regulate behavioral output (cf., Panksepp, 1998). Importantly,
William Timberlake (2007) has outlined precisely such a system, which he argued
can integrate the approaches from ethology, the experimental analysis of behavior,
and neuroscience. His theromorphic (animal centered) behavioral systems approach
is very congruent with the mental behavioral approach to animal psychology
advocated for here.
Some have criticized the above argument for mental behaviorism as a form of
word play (e.g., Goertzen, 2008), claiming that it does not resolve the fundamental
differences and tensions between the mentalist and behaviorist perspectives. My
reply is that mental behaviorism rightly identifies the key conundrum regarding
the relationship between mind and behavior, and offers a “golden mean” solution,
whereby the key insights from both perspectives can be assimilated and inte-
grated into a coherent whole. Specifically, it dispenses with a problematic substance
dualism and embraces aspects of the behaviorist criticism when “mind” is concep-
tualized as an ephemeral, unobservable, disembodied entity that causes behavior.
At the same time, by emphasizing “mental” as a description of the unique behav-
iors in need of an explanation, the conceptual door is clearly opened to theorizing
about cognition and consciousness as aspects of mental behavior, as depicted in the
Architecture of the Human Mind diagram and the new tripartite model of human
consciousness.
There is one other issue that must be addressed if we are to proceed in char-
acterizing the proper subject matter of the basic science of psychology as mental
behavior. Mental behavior refers to the behavior of the animal-as-a-whole, but given
that, we must now consider the fact that the majority of researchers currently work-
ing on animal behavior are biologists. And surely there are those like E. O. Wilson
who would disagree with the claim that the science of animal behavior should be
characterized as a psychological discipline. Moreover, the significant majority of
psychologists currently deal with humans. Along these lines, in his commentary
on the unified theory, Kihlstrom (2004, p. 1244) argued that psychology “is first
and foremost the science of human mental life.” How does that fact square with
the analysis that psychology is defined primarily in relationship to the third rather
190 7 Defining Psychology
than fourth dimension of complexity on the ToK? Another important issue that any
attempt to define the field must address is the relationship between the science and
the practice of psychology.
These issues highlight that there are still some complications to be worked out.
In the next section, I spell out why, consistent with the formulation provided by
the unified theory and the definition of psychology offered previously, psychology
should be divided into three great branches of learning. This formulation elucidates
more clearly how the unified theory solves some of the longest standing dilemmas
in the field, specifically whether psychology is a natural or a social science, the
relationship between psychology and biology, the line between animal and human
behavior, and the difference between the science and the profession.
Psychology’s Three Great Branches
The current proposal to solve the problem of psychology divides the institution into
three related but separable branches. The three branches are (1) the basic science
of psychology, what I refer to as psychological formalism or basic psychology,
and whose proper subject matter is mental behavior; (2) human psychology, whose
proper subject matter is human behavior at the individual level and includes a partic-
ular focus on the human mind and human self-consciousness; and (3) professional
psychology, which involves the application of psychological knowledge for human
betterment. Thus, not only am I attempting to unify psychology but I am also advo-
cating for some fundamental divisions as well. Is it reasonable to argue on the one
hand that psychology is a singular coherent entity, and then proceed to divide the
concept up into three conceptually separable branches? Kihlstrom (2004, p. 1244)
raised this issue when he commented that, “There is considerable irony, I think,
in the discussion of the unity of psychology that immediately divides the field.”
Kihlstrom is correct in noting the irony, but from my vantage point, the irony is
revealing. Through its unexpected and somewhat paradoxical solution, the unified
theory reveals why the problem of psychology has historically been so difficult
to solve.
In responding to the criticism that the unified theory claims to unify psychol-
ogy but then divides it, it is useful to point out that the soundness of the logic
of the divisions proposed by the unified theory can be demonstrated by showing
that there are clear parallels between the divisions that I am proposing and the
way in which other sciences are organized and divided. Consider, for example,
the relationship between biology, neuroscience, and modern medicine. These dis-
ciplines are interrelated in the following way: (1) Biology, the science of Life, is the
basic science; (2) Neuroscience is a hybrid between biology and psychology; and,
finally, (3) Modern medicine can be legitimately defended as the application of bio-
logical science in the service of human betterment. The institutional arrangement
and conceptual interrelationships between these disciplines directly parallels the
arrangement I am arguing for regarding the three separable branches of psychology,
a point illustrated in Fig. 7.1. Psychological formalism, the science of Mind, is the
Psychology’s Three Great Branches 191
Fig. 7.1 Psychology’s three
great branches and parallels
with biology
basic science. Human psychology is a hybrid between psychological formalism and
the social sciences, and professional psychology is the application of psychological
science in the service of human betterment.
One additional element that I find helpful in clarifying the nature of three
branches is the association of each branch with a major icon in the field. Specifically,
I associate B. F. Skinner with the formal science of psychology, Sigmund Freud
with human psychology, and Carl Rogers with professional psychology. Associating
these icons with the three domains is more of a heuristic than any profound philo-
sophical truth claim. Nevertheless, the unified theory is organized to effectively
incorporate the key insights of these major figures into its system of understanding,
and by associating each icon with a particular branch a heuristic map is constructed
that has good pedagogical value. As will be delineated in greater detail below,
Skinner is associated with the formal science of psychology because he argued
that psychology: (1) has as its proper subject matter the behavior of the animal-
as-a-whole, which we are now referring to as mental behavior; (2) is differentiated
from biology with the same logic that biology was differentiated from chemistry
because animal behavior evolved as a function of the selection of consequences in
a manner that had direct parallel to the evolution of life; and (3) is a purely natu-
ral science discipline. Freud is the icon associated with human psychology because
he (1) identified key aspects of the dynamic relationship between self-conscious
processes and subconscious motives and emotions; and (2) saw the connections
between the justifications that individuals offer to maintain psychic equilibrium and
the cultural narratives, myths, and taboos that coordinate populations of people. Carl
Rogers is associated with the profession of psychology because he (1) identified the
centrality of the therapeutic relationship and associated factors like empathy and
acceptance in fostering human change during psychotherapy; and (2) recognized
that the vision of the human condition afforded by the science of psychology had
important implications for how people were viewed and treated.
These three icons, of course, were the primary leaders in the three great
paradigms in American psychology—behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and humanistic
192 7 Defining Psychology
psychology—thus suggesting a link between the three great branches of the
discipline and the three most historically significant schools of thought. The reason-
ableness of associating each of the three great branches with these icons is supported
by a fascinating book by Demorest (2005) titled Psychology’s Grand Theorists:
How Personal Experiences Shaped Professional Ideas. In it she offers powerful
profiles of Skinner, Freud, and Rogers, articulating how their unique life patterns
were associated with the ideas they promoted. I found Demorest’s justification for
choosing these figures especially heartening and supportive of the heuristic formu-
lation offered here. She wrote, “As prime representatives of what historically have
been the three dominant [forces] in psychology, Freud, Skinner, and Rogers were
all obvious choices” (2005,p.xi).
Psychological Formalism
Psychological formalism is the basic science of psychology, and its subject matter
is mental behavior, the set of which makes up Mind and is represented as the third
dimension of complexity on the ToK System. I call it psychological formalism to
denote that this branch of psychology is a purely natural science discipline. It is
hoped that eventually the term will simply be shortened to psychology, but because
the generic term psychology can currently be applied as readily to the other two
branches of the field (human and professional), the specification of “formalism” is
needed for now.
The prior argument regarding the definition of mental behavior suggests that
most research on animal behavior should fall under the discipline of psycholog-
ical formalism. This raises some significant questions regarding the relationship
between biology and psychology, a relationship and dividing line that is currently
not clear. The histories of the disciplines attest to the fact that they meet in the
domain of animal behavior. However, the dividing line between psychology and
biology remains poorly delineated, and currently the science of animal behavior is
an interdisciplinary enterprise that consists of both psychological and biological sci-
entists. Early in the twentieth century, psychology was probably the more dominant
force in the science of animal behavior. Behaviorists conducted the majority of lab-
oratory research on animal behavior patterns, and comparative psychologists like
C. Lloyd Morgan, T. S. Schneirla, Robert Yerkes, and Harry Harlow were hugely
influential. The landscape has changed since that time. With the ascent of cognitive
and humanistic perspectives in the latter part of the twentieth century, psychology
shifted more toward focusing on human behavior. This combined with the rise of
ethology, sociobiology, and behavioral ecology, and it is now the case that most who
study animal behavior are biologists. Given these considerations, it should be noted
that my prescription requires a shift in the gravitational center of the discipline.
Although this is likely to be a concern for some, there are good reasons to suspend
judgment and entertain the possibility that animal behavior mediated by the nervous
system constitutes the proper subject matter for the formal science of psychology.
First, the current conventional definition of psychology as a science of behavior and
Psychological Formalism 193
mental processes either includes the vast majority of animal behaviors with a general
definition of “mental” (as advocated for here) or struggles enormously with ambigu-
ity of what animal behaviors to consider if it is anchored to a conception of mental as
being equivalent to sentience or consciousness or a disembodied, nonmaterial force
that causes behavior. Second, American psychology was essentially defined as the
science of animal behavior for much of the twentieth century; thus, there already
exists a rich tradition in which this conception has been the rule. Third, humans are,
of course, a type of animal and thus are obviously included. Fourth, even the sim-
plest nervous systems, such as that in the planarian, have been found to exhibit basic
psychological phenomena such as associative learning. Fifth, defining psychology
solely in terms of human behavior opens up a host of serious problems. For exam-
ple, if only human behaviors are psychological behaviors, what kinds of phenomena
are sensation, perception, motivation, emotion, motor development, memory, attach-
ment, dominance, eating, mating, etc. that are currently studied in animals? Finally,
according to the ToK System, there is a clear dividing line between Life and Mind,
suggesting that there is a specifiable way to differentiate biology from psychology.
To understand the nature of the dividing line between biology and psychology
we can ask the question: Is animal behavior reducible to biological theory? In other
words, can standard biological theory adequately explain animal behavior or are
new theoretical ideas required to achieve a complete explanation? Interestingly,
two scholars who have figured prominently in this book so far offer strikingly
different views on this question. Edward O. Wilson, the prominent sociobiologist,
believes animal behavior is reducible to biology. In contrast, as mentioned above,
B. F. Skinner fundamentally disagreed with this claim and argued strongly that the
behavior of the animal-as-a-whole was not reducible to biological theory. He argued
instead that the science of animal behavior was as conceptually distinct from biology
as biology was from chemistry and physics, and for a very similar reason. Animal
behavior, like life generally, evolves as a consequence of variation and selection
giving rise to emergent properties, and thus could only be understood with psycho-
logical concepts (e.g., operant principles) rather than biological ones (see Naour,
2009).
In contrast to Wilson’s version of reality, the ToK System depicts a clear demar-
cation between biology and psychology and thus is aligned with Skinner over
Wilson in the claim that the behavior of animals with a nervous system represents a
qualitative shift in complexity that is not fully reducible to biology theory. The ToK
System adds the point that animal behavior mediated by the nervous system repre-
sents a qualitative shift because the behaviors are organized by a second information
processing system (the nervous system, in addition to the genetic system). I asso-
ciate Skinner with psychological formalism because of his view of animal behavior
as an emergent level of complexity.
Given this formulation, what are the disciplines that constitute the formal sci-
ence of psychology? The list would include the following: Comparative/Animal
Psychology, Behavior Analysis, Ethology, Behavioral Ecology, Behavioral
Genetics, Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience,
Psychophysiology, Biopsychology, Psychobiology, and Psychophysics. The unified
194 7 Defining Psychology
theory further posits that Behavioral Investment Theory provides the integrative
theoretical formulation to account for animal behavior.
Human Psychology
From Descartes’ dualistic conception of the conscious human mind and the physical
body and concomitant assertion that animals were purely mechanistic creatures that
did not think or feel to Wundt and Tichtener’s early conception of psychology as the
science of human consciousness, a number of historical traditions have explicitly
claimed that psychology only applies to humans. In contrast to these positions the
functionalists, spurred on by the work of Darwin, argued strongly for at least some
forms of mental continuity between humans and other animals, thus opening the
door for animal psychology. With Watson (1913), the behaviorists took this position
a step further and explicitly proclaimed that there was no dividing line between man
and brute. And yet, more recently, the shift in the science of psychology has been
back toward the human. In his critique of the current status of the field, Robinson
(2002, p. 10) wrote the following:
It might now be time to open the cages, let the birds fly south and the rats find their way back
to barns and marshes. Whatever the study of non-human animals might yield at the level
of fact, it is doubtful in the extreme that it will contribute significantly to an understanding
of the civic, aesthetic, moral, and transcendental dimensions of human life...Find creatures
with the power not only radically to alter the world as it is given but to do so in a deliberate
manner based on a critical appraisal of themselves and of that very world, and the conditions
under which an Evolutionary Psychology would be credible are simply eliminated.
As with so many other domains, the unified theory assimilates and integrates
both of these seemingly contradictory positions. It achieves this by showing via
Behavioral Investment Theory that human behavior is continuous with other ani-
mals, while simultaneously positing via the Justification Hypothesis that human
behavior is qualitatively different than that of other animals. Thus, according to
the unified theory, just as animal behavior is not reducible to biological theory
human behavior is likewise not reducible to Behavioral Investment Theory and the
formal science of psychology. Instead, as is suggested in Robinson’s critique, indi-
vidual human behavior is (a) mediated by another information processing system
(symbolic language), (b) self-reflective, and (c) embedded in a macro-level cultural
context of justification. Because of this qualitative shift (depicted on the ToK System
as the emergence of Culture), human psychology must be separated from the for-
mal science of psychology. In short, Watson was wrong—there is a dividing line
between man and brute. Moreover, unlike basic psychology which is conceptualized
here as a purely natural science, human psychology is part of the social sciences
and must then grapple more with issues of value, epistemological relativism, and
cultural context because of the problem of the double hermeneutic mentioned in
Chapter 1.
Sigmund Freud is the icon I associate with the discipline of human psychology.
It would certainly be justifiable to challenge the appropriateness of this association
Human Psychology 195
given how separate Freudian theory is from academic human psychology and how
much Freud originally got wrong. As I mentioned above, the association of the
icons with domains is more of a pedagogical heuristic rather than a deep analytic
truth claim. My primary reason for doing so is because the Justification Hypothesis
aligns well with Freud’s fundamental insight pertaining to the nature of human self-
consciousness, which is that there are systematic motivational reasons behind the
reasons that people give for their behavior. In the language of psychoanalytic the-
ory, Freud discovered the dynamic unconscious. Freud was, of course, not the first
to question the completeness of the conscious rationales people offered for their
behavior. But he was by far the most influential individual in articulating the sys-
tematic nature of the relationship between conscious and unconscious thought. In
essence, Freud ultimately observed that the justifications that people offer for why
they do what they do could be understood as arising from the inherent tension
between biopsychological drives that guide behavior and the socio-linguistic sys-
tem in which the individual is immersed. This is, of course, directly in line with
the Justification Hypothesis, and it is the reason I associate Freud with human psy-
chology. I also think we should be looking to separate the psychodynamic baby
from the psychoanalytic bathwater and build bridges with academic psychology so
that we can move forward toward building a cumulative science of human psychol-
ogy. For example, we should recognize that social psychologists’ work on cognitive
dissonance has many parallels with psychodynamic notions of ego defense.
I use the icons of Skinner and Freud to make an additional point pertaining to the
theoretical unification of psychology. Although they are arguably the two greatest
figures in the field, the two perspectives appear on the surface to be wholly incom-
patible. Skinner pejoratively dismissed “mentalistic” approaches and placed the
focus on the causal role of the environment in the selection of behavioral responses.
He also took an extreme fact-based approach to science and even questioned the
need for deep theoretical constructs in psychology. The foundational database for his
behavioral selection paradigm was the behavior of animals in the lab. Conversely,
Freud’s psychoanalytic paradigm was unabashedly mentalistic in nature. Stemming
from observations of troubled humans’ free-associating on a couch, Freud wove
together powerful insights with wild speculations and formulated an elaborate but
problematic grand theory of the human mind. Of course, both Freud and Skinner
are much maligned in opposing circles and the vast majority of psychologists view
each of their respective paradigms as incomplete and at least partially incorrect. Yet
both Skinner and Freud remain pillars of the field, and there is not currently a way
to blend the insights of the two together in a coherent fashion.
If there is in fact an elephant to be seen, a unified theory of psychology would
coherently unite the ideas of Skinner and Freud within the same overarching sys-
tem, clearly spelling out the errors and inconsistencies in each paradigm while
retaining the key theoretical insights from both perspectives. My argument in using
these icons is that the unified theory aligns the central insights of Skinner and
Freud both with one another and with science at large, allowing us to finally
see the elephant. Some additional graphics offered in Fig. 7.2 might help com-
municate this point. Specifically, the diagram on the left shows how psychology
196 7 Defining Psychology
Fig. 7.2 Solving the problem of psychology with the unified theory
is currently a fragmented discipline that exists between biology and the social
sciences, with psychologists on a spectrum of positions in the philosophy of sci-
ence, the ends of which are occupied by Skinner and Freud. The diagram on the
right represents the argument that by recasting Skinner’s central insight in light of
Behavioral Investment Theory and Freud’s central insight in light of the Justification
Hypothesis, we can align their insights with each other and biology from below and
the social sciences from above and see a coherent vision of the whole.
Given this discussion and the overarching goal of developing a precise definition
of psychology, the following question arises: If psychological formalism corre-
sponds to the third dimension of complexity on the ToK System, where is human
psychology? Because humans are animals, psychological formalism provides the
appropriate framework to view human behavior from a bottom-up perspective. We
can and should attempt to understand people’s behavioral investments from the
general principles derived from Behavioral Investment Theory. But it is further
argued that the behavior of human objects is qualitatively different from other ani-
mals because human behavior is imbedded in a meta-level societal context and is
associated with a novel information processing system, language. Thus to be com-
plete, human psychology must effectively allow for the top-down socio-cultural
perspective as well.
According to the ToK System and alluded to earlier in the context of the discus-
sion of meta-levels, the human individual is seen as the smallest unit of analysis in
the social sciences. Many share this conception. For example, Baumeister and Tice
(1996) proposed a very similar formulation, although their focus was on personality.
The point here in reference to the question raised is that human psychology should
be thought of as existing at the base of the social sciences and should be thought
of as a hybrid between psychological formalism and the social sciences. Moreover,
it is human psychology that is a subset of psychology more generally. Humans are,
after all, a subset of animals, rather than the reverse.
Professional Psychology 197
Because some may find the notion that human psychology is a hybrid discipline
between psychology and the social sciences confusing, it may be useful to point out
other hybrid disciplines that have quite impressive track records. Molecular genet-
ics, for example, is a hybrid between chemistry and biology and has seen some of the
most impressive scientific accomplishments of any discipline in the past 70 years.
Similarly, neuroscience is a hybrid between biology and psychology, and it has also
been witness to explosive growth and numerous revolutionary discoveries in recent
decades. As with my proposed conception of human psychology, both of these dis-
ciplines adopt an object-level perspective (molecular and cellular, respectively) on
phenomena that simultaneously exist as part of meta-level informational system
processes (Life and Mind, respectively).
What would the discipline of human psychology look like? A glance at the cur-
rent American Psychological Association is instructive in this regard. A perusal of
the subdivisions that currently make up the APA will demonstrate a relative lack
of correspondence between psychological formalism and the primary concerns of
the APA. While some might be inclined to use the lack of correspondence as strong
evidence that my conception of psychology is faulty, the answer regarding the lack
of correspondence is found in the fact that what has happened historically to the
field of psychology is that it has shifted its center of gravity from its base in psy-
chological formalism to now locating its center in human psychology. Although this
shift has occurred, the term “human” is very rarely used as a modifier, which results
in semantic confusion from the vantage point of the unified theory. Nevertheless,
in this regard, it becomes clear that the APA is primarily an organization of human
psychology (along with the profession), rather than psychological formalism. In
other words, according to this analysis the APA should technically be renamed the
American Human Psychological Association. This insight offers readily available
explanations as to why so many individuals in the basic psychological sciences
(e.g., behavior analysis, cognitive science, biological psychology) have expressed
serious objections that their interests have not been well served by the APA and
have changed affiliations to organizations such as the Society of Neuroscience, the
Psychonomic Society, the American Psychological Society, and the Association for
Behavior Analysis.
Professional Psychology
In contrast to the relatively few proposals that have advocated for a break between
basic and human psychology, much attention has been focused on the relation-
ship between the science and the profession of psychology, and several major
figures in the field have advocated that the two are separate branches in much
the same way that I advocate for here. And there have long been institutional
demarcations between the science and the profession. For example, the American
Psychological Association only accredits programs in professional psychology,
specifically programs in clinical, counseling, or school psychology or some com-
bination therein. Likewise, professional psychologists are demarcated in society by
198 7 Defining Psychology
virtue of licensing and other public safeguards such as the requirement to main-
tain continuous education. Thus, the proposal to formally separate the science from
the profession is not new and has already been done to some degree at an insti-
tutional level by virtue of the different regulations and competency requirements.
Nonetheless, unlike the clear distinction between biology and medicine, there has
not been nearly as clear a division and distinction between the science and the pro-
fession as there ought to have been and it remains yet another example of the field
being plagued by confusing semantic issues.
I noted previously that the sciences are separated from the humanities because at
its core the former concerns itself with questions of descriptive accuracy, whereas
the latter consist of creative–expressive enterprises that inform us regarding how the
world ought to be (Jones, 1965). Recalling the difference between these two cultures
is important here because it highlights what underlies the fundamental distinction
between the science and the practice of psychology (Henriques & Sternberg, 2004;
seealsoKimble,1984). The fundamental task of professional psychology is not
to describe animal or human behavior but instead is to improve the human condi-
tion. This is what makes it a more value-laden and prescriptive than the science of
psychology. It is not accidental, then, that Carl Rogers is the icon I associate with
profession of psychology, as he was the most influential humanistic psychologist.
He argued passionately that the vision of humanity offered by both psychoanalysis
and behaviorism was too deterministic, limited, and pessimistic, and that psychol-
ogy could and should offer a more hopeful, uplifting message regarding human
potential. I also emphasize Rogers because of the way he valued people, and that
one of his foundational insights was that the quality of the therapeutic relationship
is central to the psychotherapeutic processes. As I tell my students, good therapy
begins with Rogers.
Donald Peterson has been one of the most prominent and vocal leaders of the
professional psychology movement and has offered a vision very congruent with
the one promoted here. Characterizing the field as evolving from a pre-professional
phase through the scientific–practitioner phase to a full professional phase, he has
articulated with clarity and precision why professional psychology was ready to
establish itself as an independent field and how that identity is separate from psy-
chological science (e.g., Peterson, 1991,2002). Defining professional activity as
discipline inquiry, Peterson specified the distinction between science and practice
as follows: “Science and practice differ in fundamental ways. Science begins and
ends in a body of systematic knowledge...Professional activity begins and ends in
the condition of the client” (Peterson, 1991, pp. 425–426). Thus, the goals of the
scientist are qualitatively different from the goals of the practitioner. The goal of the
psychological scientist is to contribute to the fund of general, scientific knowledge.
By positioning him or herself as an objective observer, the task at hand becomes
fundamentally descriptive. False positives are a major concern and experiments are
conducted to discard errant leads. The primary task of the practitioner is different.
It is not to describe change, but to affect it, usually in terms of improvements in the
functioning and well-being of the client. To the practitioner, psychological knowl-
edge is not the end, but a means to the end. It is through the clear recognition of
Professional Psychology 199
this fundamental difference that the complementary roles of the scientist and the
practitioner are both seen as necessary and good.
Interestingly, many seminal thinkers in the field have not shared this conception
of the relationship between the science and the profession. O’Donohue and Halsey
(1997) reviewed the views of Freud, Skinner, Ellis, and Rogers and found marked
differences in the substance of their views regarding the science–practice relation-
ship. Both Freud and Skinner had visions that were in fairly direct contrast with
the science–practice relationship envisioned by Peterson and shared by the unified
theory. For example, Freud saw psychoanalysis as both a therapy and a scientific
process. Consistent with the claim that there are tensions between the goals of ther-
apy and the goals of science, Wachtel (1993, p. 180) reported that Freud experienced
many “epistemological anxieties” viewing psychoanalysis both as a treatment and a
method for conducting research on the unconscious mind. Specifically, Freud strug-
gled with making suggestions and giving advice in psychoanalysis in part because,
although such interventions might be helpful, they nevertheless would taint the
objective nature of the results revealed. Regarding this conflict, Freud (1916/1943,
cited in Wachtel, 1993) wrote, “The danger still remains that our influence upon the
patient may bring the objective certainty of our discoveries into doubt; and that what
is an advantage in therapy is harmful in research.”
Skinner also did not see a clear difference between science and practice. This
in large part was because Skinner reduced everything to behavior and argued that
the control of behavior was primary, and he also construed it as the ultimate goal of
science. As a consequence, he tended to view behavior therapy as a logical extension
of lab-based principles. His writings on how humans should give up the “myths” of
freedom and dignity speak to his views that behavior was all. And yet, as is made
very clear by Skinner’s Walden II and the criticisms it evoked, much value-focused
debate is elicited in the attempt to determine which behaviors to control and why,
and one cannot use the scientific method to resolve these issues.
I argued above that because it was explicitly concerned with promoting human
betterment, the profession was more value-laden and more closely connected to
the humanities. Although this is true, I want to be clear that I am not charac-
terizing the profession as a purely humanistic enterprise like literature. I view
professional psychology as an applied social science and health profession. And
I argue professional psychologists should be considered as scientific practitioners.
The logic of this argument is seen when professional psychologists are compared to
other helping professions, such as ministers or lawyers. In contrast to these profes-
sions, professional psychologists are trained in scientific methodology and anchor
their knowledge base to a scientific discipline. The parallels between professional
psychology with medicine and engineering offer further clarity in seeing how pro-
fessional psychologists can be considered scientific practitioners. As stated by the
National Council of Schools in Professional Psychology guidelines and consistent
with the model advocated here, “The properly trained professional psychologist is
a scientist in the sense that a skilled physician is a local clinical, biological scientist
and the skilled engineer a local physical scientist” (Peterson, Peterson, Abrams, &
Stricker, 1997, p. 376).
200 7 Defining Psychology
Debates between scientific and professional psychologists constitute some of the
most contentious and long-standing issues within the field. One flashpoint in these
debates is the conflict surrounding Empirically Supported Treatments (ESTs). In the
1990s, a movement emerged in professional psychology that practicing psycholo-
gists should employ only treatments that have been supported by scientific research.
At first glance, such a proposition sounds very reasonable. After all, who would
choose a treatment that was not supported by science over one that was? It turns
out, however, that the issue is extremely complicated. In the following section, I
articulate some of the problems associated with the EST movement, and explain
how the unified theory sets the stage for a much healthier relationship between the
science and the profession.
The Relationship Between Research and Practice
in Professional Psychology
From 1999 to 2003 I directed a randomized controlled clinical trial exploring the
efficacy and effectiveness of a brief cognitive therapy intervention for patients pre-
senting to an emergency room following a suicide attempt. I learned many valuable,
eye-opening lessons in carrying out this work. One lesson was that the magnitude
and complexity of the problems these participants faced was humbling and, at times,
even demoralizing. Consider that the modal number of psychiatric diagnoses was
three, two-thirds had a serious problem with substance abuse, the average scores on
a depression inventory were in the severe range, most were unemployed, a quarter
homeless, histories of abuse were the norm, and over 70% made less than fifteen
thousand dollars a year.
Another lesson was that the current system was failing these individuals.
Psychiatrists would offer diagnoses and medication management, and social work-
ers and counselors would lend a sympathetic ear and perhaps encourage patients
to enter a group or music therapy program in the afternoon. With rare exceptions,
professional psychologists were nowhere to be found. Brief hospital stays followed
by missed outpatient appointments were the norm. My sense that there were serious
problems with the ecology in which these folks lived and with the health system that
was providing treatment was greatly reinforced when I discovered that the degree of
psychopathology exhibited by the population of suicide attempters in Philadelphia
had markedly increased over the past 30 years (Henriques, Brown, Berk, & Beck,
2004). In the early 1970s, Beck and his colleagues had evaluated hundreds of sui-
cide attempters with the same basic instruments we were using in our outcome trial.
I realized that this afforded us a remarkable opportunity for a cohort comparison—
and when the comparison was made, the results were striking. On every substantive
measure of psychopathology and distress, the present-day suicide attempters were
worse. Perhaps the most striking and disconcerting finding was the difference in sub-
sequent suicide attempts. Four times as many present-day suicide attempters made
The Relationship Between Research and Practice in Professional Psychology 201
a suicide attempt in the year following the index attempt than was the case in the
1970s (40% compared with 10%).
What does this have to do with the unified theory? Everything. Why? Because
there is no current single-school approach that has the conceptual sophistication
and depth necessary to address the incredibly complex and multifaceted nature of
the problems associated with the suicide attempters. This is a key point because one
of the major impediments to a healthy relationship between the science and the pro-
fession has been the fact that the scientific frames offered to date have been either
ambiguous, wrong, or too narrow to effectively guide the practitioner. But in this
case, what about cognitive psychotherapy? After all, the treatment was generated
by the founders of cognitive psychotherapy and was derived from general princi-
ples of cognitive theory and therapy for the emotional disorders (e.g., Beck, Rush,
Shaw, & Emery, 1979), and it was found to have a positive impact cutting the subse-
quent suicide rate in half, as well as reducing self-reported levels of depression and
hopelessness relative to controls (Brown et al., 2005).
Although I am a strong believer that the treatment principles in cognitive psy-
chotherapy can be useful and effective, as the individual who directly conducted or
supervised the majority of the therapy, I can say with firsthand knowledge that the
treatment included many additional elements that are beyond the scope of cognitive
psychotherapy’s focus and consequently were not included in the written reports of
the project. By reviewing some of these issues, I want to help the reader understand
some of the complexities associated with conducting research on psychological
treatments and why the debate about ESTs is so complicated.
To understand some of the complications, let us start with the development of
the study. I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania just before the grant for the
suicide attempter project was awarded. Upon its award, I was placed in the role
of project director, which essentially required me to assume primary responsibility
for the day-to-day operations of the project. The original design of the study was
to screen for eligible participants in the ER, and after obtaining informed consent,
have participants who were randomized to the cognitive therapy condition assigned
to therapists working at the Center for Cognitive Therapy. These therapists were
well-trained and highly qualified. There became a serious problem, however, with
the study design. Participants would generally not show up, or if they did show up,
it was frequently at the wrong times. Moreover, we were supposed to track patients
for as long as 2 years, but given their relatively chaotic lifestyles and transitive liv-
ing arrangements, we quickly lost contact with many of the patients. During the
first year, we brought sixty subjects into the study, with thirty assigned to the cog-
nitive therapy condition and thirty assigned to the treatment-as-usual for a control
group. Of the thirty people assigned to the cognitive therapy condition, only about
one-third received four or more sessions, whereas one-third received between one
and three sessions, and one third never received any treatment. We also lost track of
approximately 50 percent of the patients in both conditions after the first month of
tracking. Not surprisingly given these numbers, when we examined the data on the
folks we did have, there were few differences between the groups.
202 7 Defining Psychology
Given all of these difficulties, we made a number of changes. Indeed, the changes
were so dramatic that we scrapped what we called “Study 1” and began “Study
2,” and started the data collection process completely from scratch. For Study 2,
we changed the protocol for tracking participants, and assigned an undergraduate
research assistant to each participant to maintain contact in order to facilitate follow-
up. We also changed the way we paid subjects, changed the way we interviewed
them, and especially ensured that we maintained contact as they were transitioned
out of the hospital. Perhaps most importantly, we changed the basic structure by
which the therapy was provided and who provided it. Instead of referring patients
to the Center for Cognitive Therapy, our research unit became responsible for deliv-
ering the therapy. I personally provided therapy to many of the patients and directly
supervised many others. The reason for this was because, as a researcher, I had
much more flexibility in my schedule and could assume much more responsibility
for getting the participants to their sessions. (I should also comment that, given my
role in the project, I had a stronger vested interest in having participants attend ses-
sions). For example, I could see the patients if they showed up on Monday when
their therapy was on Tuesday or if they were in the hospital or if they had no trans-
portation and needed to be seen at home. In addition, although I helped develop
the treatment manual and certainly followed it to the best that situations allowed,
it is nevertheless true that I was also trained in psychodynamic and humanistic
approaches and inevitably employed lenses and techniques from these traditions
in my work. There was quite a dramatic shift from the Study 1 results. In Study 2,
we successfully tracked the vast majority of the patients and 75% of those in the
cognitive therapy condition completed four or more sessions. And, as mentioned,
the intervention was found to have a significant and substantial impact on patient
functioning.
From a research perspective, these facts raise interesting points. For example,
given that I provided much of the treatment, either directly or through supervision,
and that I also used humanistic and psychodynamic treatment principles (by which I
mean I would sometimes use deep empathy to elicit powerful emotional experiences
and sometimes helped patients gain insights into defensive processes of which they
were not aware), how are we to glean the extent to which these techniques influenced
outcome? Moreover, from the point of view of basic research design, we did in fact
have an A-B design with Study 1 representing phase A and Study 2 representing
phase B. And we had good evidence that what we were doing in phase A had no
notable impact, but what we did in phase B did. Interestingly, cognitive therapy was
constant across both phases; what had changed was how it was delivered and who
provided it. In short, we had strong data suggesting that the novel developments that
distinguished Study 1 from Study 2 were central to the efficacy and effectiveness of
our intervention.
And yet in the major outcome article publishing the findings, it was the cognitive
therapy that was claimed to be the primary agent of change (Brown et al., 2005). And
although articulated in professional presentations, none of the above factors were
reported in the primary written record of the study. Why not? The answer is fairly
straightforward. The complexity of delineating these additional factors, the fact that
The Relationship Between Research and Practice in Professional Psychology 203
they did not fit clearly within the scope of cognitive therapy, and the desire to pro-
mote the successes of cognitive therapy all combined to result in the biased selection
of methodological reporting and framing of the results. I do not say this with any
smug sense of superiority. I am proud of the work we did, what we published, and
stand by it. But it remains the case that if our broad and general frame of under-
standing were different, we would have reported the results from the study in a
different way.
For example, imagine that after the initial trouble in conducting Study 1, Beck
had connected with a colleague in the Social Work Department who agreed to serve
as a consultant on the condition that if the changes were undertaken and the results
were successful, they would be the focus of the research report. If this had occurred
and resulted in the above-mentioned changes, the write-up would have been quite
different, and the message to the scientific and therapeutic communities would have
been significantly altered. But given cognitive therapy’s scope—which is broad but,
unlike the unified theory, is not comprehensive—we only reported our findings
through that lens, with the consequence being that those who read about the study
are given the impression that it was a rather straightforward application of cognitive
therapy when the actual reality was notably more complicated.
This would not be the first time that theoretical and conceptual frameworks
employed by clinical researchers resulted in written accounts that cloaked pro-
cesses that in fact were much more complicated than the language allowed for
by the operating theory. Consider, for example, the story and perspective offered
by Paul Wachtel. Wachtel was trained in psychoanalytic theory and, based on
his reading of behavior therapy, “found it foolish, superficial, and possibly even
immoral” (Wachtel, 1997, p. xix). And yet when Wachtel actually observed behav-
ioral therapists relating to patients and conducting interviews and interventions, he
found much sophistication and relational grace that was virtually never the primary
focus of the written accounts. He was so impressed by what he saw that he set
out to develop a theoretical rapprochement between behavioral and psychoanalytic
perspectives.
What relevance do these stories have for psychology’s fragmentation and the
consequent need for the unified theory? On the one hand it highlights the lack of
comprehensiveness of the language of current paradigms. Although some propo-
nents of cognitive therapy have called it a “unified theory” (e.g., J. Beck, 1995),
when one takes an interdisciplinary viewpoint it is clear that the frame offered by
cognitive therapy is of a relatively limited scope. The lack of comprehensiveness
gives rise to problems in terms of the reporting and interpreting of data, prob-
lems that are greatly exacerbated when individuals from different backgrounds and
paradigms interpret the findings. The combination of incomplete paradigms, biased
data reporting, and political antagonisms create a volatile brew, especially when it
comes to making policy decisions about how practitioners ought to practice. This is
why the debates about ESTs are so heated.
One does not need to look hard to see the struggle regarding the relation-
ship between research and practice playing out in the field. A recent editorial
in Newsweek (Begley, October 12, 2009) proclaimed baldly that psychologists
204 7 Defining Psychology
(note that she meant professional practitioners) ignore scientific evidence, and she
explicitly called for the public shaming, stigmatization, and marginalization of
practitioners who fail to employ cognitive or cognitive behavioral treatments for
depression, anxiety, bulimia, PTSD, and other conditions. The editorial was based
on a recent report (Baker, McFall, & Shoham, 2009), which in turn was accompa-
nied by a strongly endorsing foreword by the noted psychologist Walter Mischel
(2009). The Baker et al. (2009) report is notable mostly for the vigor and mili-
tant voice with which the authors make their case, rather than the novelty of the
message. The content of the message is straightforward: Cognitive and cognitive
behavioral interventions have been shown to reduce symptoms associated with many
psychiatric disorders equal to or better than competitors, and, consequently, there
is an ethical obligation to train psychological practitioners in these methods, and
ensure that they employ them. Moreover, the argument continues, many psycholog-
ical practitioners are soft thinkers, often anti-science, and tend to go on personal
experience rather than scientific evidence, and this is a trend that, if anything, has
gotten worse over time. Consequently, researchers, and psychological policy makers
(i.e., accreditors) need to insist on better scientific training and greater conformity
to the manuals that have been supported by the hard fought, scientific data gathering
process.
As one who worked directly with the Father of Cognitive Therapy on a random-
ized controlled clinical trial and who now directs a practitioner-oriented doctoral
program, I have a rather unique vantage point on this perennial arm wrestle within
the field. From my perspective—a view that is informed by the unified theory and
my personal experiences on “both sides of the aisle”—the resolution proposed
by Baker et al. (2009) and endorsed by Begley and Mischel is doomed to fail-
ure. That is, instead of working toward achieving their stated goal of closing the
gap between science and practice, it will almost certainly add to the antagonisms
and splits between scientists and practitioners. The reason is quite simple. Like
many clinical researchers, the authors are methodological fundamentalists and thus
tend to be blind to larger issues of theory, conceptual analyses, and sociopoliti-
cal forces. By this I mean that the authors believe in the power of the scientific
method to reveal divine truths that all should pay homage to, while failing to rec-
ognize that facts and fact gathering via the scientific method are only part of the
equation.
In their excellent article in which they liken psychology’s epistemological struc-
ture to a triangle that consists of facts, theories, and concepts, Machado, Lourenco,
and Silva (2000) show in a number of different ways that psychological research is
dominated by attention to fact gathering at the expense of theoretical and concep-
tual analyses, and this results in a number of detrimental consequences for the field.
I made a similar point when I argued that psychology has serious problems with
research proliferation sans conceptual consolidation. Returning to the issue at hand,
consider, for example, the question of what kind of enterprise is psychotherapy?
Two conceptually distinct models have been offered (Wampold, 2001). On the one
hand, some argue that psychotherapy should be modeled on medicine in general,
The Relationship Between Research and Practice in Professional Psychology 205
and thus consists of specifiable and conceptually transferable diagnoses of disor-
ders and concomitant treatments. Yet psychotherapy can just as readily be seen as
primarily a relational process between two individuals with the unique nature of
the relationship and the quality of the therapeutic alliance being the central defining
features that result in change. Baker et al. (2009) are committed completely to the
former conceptual framework and seem to be defined against the relational perspec-
tive, despite the fact that the empirical case can be made strongly for it. The situation
is obviously complicated at the theoretical and paradigmatic level as well. Consider,
for example, that the authors only explicitly endorse cognitive and cognitive behav-
ioral treatments, despite the fact that there is empirical evidence for treatments that
emphasize psychodynamic, interpersonal, and humanistic perspectives.
Thus, although Baker et al. (2009) frame the issues in terms of good scientific
researchers committed to the truth versus feel-good anti-science practitioners that
go with their gut, the fact of the matter is that the conceptual and theoretical issues
are muddled and debatable, and their emphasis at the empirical level is clearly influ-
enced by political horse racing. Yet the authors pay virtually no attention to these
issues, and certainly offer nothing in the way of resolving them. Consequently, I can
say with much confidence that their argument will be seen by those who have dif-
ferent conceptual and theoretical frameworks for psychotherapy as simply another
power play, an effort to ensure the dominance of cognitive and cognitive behavioral
interventions over humanistic and psychodynamic ones. As one who saw firsthand
the manner in which the limitations of such frames can combine with ego investment
and political aspirations to result in the somewhat biased reporting of particular data,
I am inclined to agree.
I believe the unified theory can help move the field of psychotherapy toward a
more comprehensive and coherent view of psychotherapy, one that sets the stage
for building more effective bridges between science and practice because the scien-
tific frame it offers allows for the assimilation and integration of numerous different
major viewpoints into a coherent, comprehensive picture of people in general. This
is in contrast to the Baker et al. (2009) position, which employs a frame of what
is “scientifically plausible” that is narrowly associated with behavioral and cogni-
tive science perspectives and does not effectively include scientifically grounded
experiential or psychodynamic lenses. In short, much of the debate and confusion
surrounding ESTs is confounded with the theoretical confusion and the horse racing
between the paradigms. If a coherent unified theory of psychology were shared by
both scientists and practitioners alike, the tensions between research and practice
would change from fundamental disputes about paradigms and concepts to much
more specific debates about what principles and processes are actually supported
by theory and research in the service of human betterment. In the subsequent chap-
ter, I articulate in greater detail how the unified theory leads to a unified approach
to conceptualizing people that effectively integrates and assimilates insights from
the major perspectives and sets the stage for a general approach to psychotherapy
that could fundamentally alter the research–practice relationship because it offers a
comprehensive view of people grounded in psychological science.
206 7 Defining Psychology
Conclusion
The goal of this chapter was to demonstrate how the structure of the unified theory
can be applied to solve the problem of psychology. Psychology can be defined as the
science of mental behavior and the human mind, and the professional application of
such knowledge toward the greater good. The unified theory characterizes psychol-
ogy both as a unified discipline and as having three branches that should be clearly
delineated and guided by different philosophical guide posts and assumptions. This
paradoxical solution helps us to understand why the field has resisted an effective
definition for so long.
How do we move the institution forward in the direction depicted by the uni-
fied theory? I believe we should take a kind of family therapy solution to solving
the problem of psychology. In many forms of family therapy, problems are identi-
fied in the roles, structures, and boundaries that members of the system have and
the therapy focuses on clarifying the nature of the overall system and the specific
role each member plays. I am arguing that there is a subset of psychologists, the
basic psychologists or formalists, who should identify as natural scientists, whose
subject matter is mental behavior, and whose charge it is to delineate the basic rela-
tionships between cognitive processes, the brain, and overt action. This of course
includes animal behavioral science, but also investigations of isolated or specific
aspects of human psychological functioning, such as the psychophysics of human
perception. In contrast, the human psychologists are concerned with human behav-
ior at the individual and small group levels. These theorists and researchers are
concerned with what Quackenbush (2005) calls the cultural person-as-a-whole and
study developmental, personality, and social psychology. Their identities should be
of social scientists because in addition to being grounded in the basic science of
psychology, they also need to understand the impact of culture, human social sys-
tems, and language on thought and behavior. As social scientists, there likely will
be a wider variety of epistemological leanings, ranging from those who align them-
selves more with natural science epistemologies to those who question the values
and benefits of such natural science approaches and advocate for more relativis-
tic and value-reflective approaches. Third, there is the profession of psychology,
made up of licensed individuals who are trained primarily as mental health profes-
sionals with a specifiable set of competencies shown to positively impact human
functioning and well-being. Such individuals should be informed by the science
of psychology to engage in the practices most likely to be effective in alleviating
human suffering and enhancing human flourishing. The last point to be made is
that although I am proposing clearly identifiable boundaries between the domains,
this does not mean we would not have individuals working on the boundaries. For
example, we need clinical researchers who work between the science of human
psychology and the profession.
It is my hope that an effective definition of psychology will allow us to rise
above the tendency to define ideas against one another and instead develop a more
harmonious conception of the field. The chapter has been primarily concerned with
definitional and conceptual issues and the institutional alignment. Although these
Conclusion 207
issues are central, as a trainer of budding clinicians, I am well aware that many
pragmatic and practice-oriented issues have not been addressed. Indeed, I argued at
the end of the chapter that one of the serious impediments to an effective relation-
ship between the science and the practice is that the single schools have not provided
comprehensive models for human functioning and the EST movement was entan-
gled in politics and the promotion of cognitive and behavioral orientations over
psychodynamic and humanistic ones. In contrast to this state of affairs, the unified
theory opens up the possibility of a broader, more holistic perspective on personality
and psychotherapy. In the next chapter, we address more directly the implications
the unified theory has for how we understand and help people.
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