26 Feb Exposing and Re-Defining ‘Values’ in Psychology
In response to a post of mine on facebook regarding psychology’s inadequacy to address the larger questions of human nature, the following first two paragraphs are a response from Brent Dean Robbins (psychologist and professor at Point Park University in Pittsburgh). The paragraphs after that are some other responses by Dr. Robbins addressing a question elsewhere on facebook, wondering if Humanistic Psychology speaks enough of what it is about instead of just what it is against.
I feel these are some poignant words for the study and practice of a psychology that matters and actually contributes to the wholeness of our well being as humans.
Brent Dean Robbins, PhD stated:
I think you’re onto something when you identify psychology as a secular religion. What else would explain the fact that the field of psychology includes a disproportionally huge percentage of atheists compared to any other field of research? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Psychology claims to be able to give answers to problems of meaning, often by reducing them to more concrete, simple issues, i.e. chemical imbalance, repressed memory, disease.
Humanistic psychology while still secular, and especially h.p. [humanistic psychology] when most fully at home in its existential roots, opens us up to the big questions most directly and fully — puts us right up against that mysterium tremendum and in its best moments, doesn’t give us the answers. Just holds us there, inviting our own answers to the question of being.
I can’t speak for others, but I am personally working hard on this — to bring out more explicitly the existential ethical foundation of humanistic psychology. Martin Luther King, Jr. is probably one of the best examples of existential personalist ethics put into practice in society and in community. I think by aligning ourselves with Dr. King, and similar figures, we can better explicate our message. It will help to link the value-set with certain ideal examplars, like Dr. King and Ghandi for example.
Yes, and I think this is because the problem of values has been marginalized in psychology. Since we cannot speak affirmatively of a set of values, because we have to pretend to be value-neutral, we speak instead about epistemology — for example qualitative vs quantitative methods. But I see this as a distraction from the real issue.
Mainstream psychologies are not value-neutral, they are simply blind to the often destruction set of values that are operating behind their assumptions about what it means to be human. We have an alternative set of values. But since psychology suppressed and oppresses any talk of values, we come across as merely rejecting positions.
How can we affirm a set of values without being oppressive? I think existential personalism is the answer to that problem.
We can be more affirmative about the values for which we stand, like the early humanistic psychologists. This was key to their success. They were able to speak more clearly about what they stood for. This is exactly why I have been working so hard lately to explicate the existential personalist ethics at the root of humanistic psychology. It’s about affirming what we stand for, and not merely coming across as negative, or rejecting everything.