It's been 50 years since I got that lowly C grade in Introductory Psychology at Brooklyn College--the only such grade in my entire educational experience. It bothered me then as a personal failure, but it continues to irritate me now because what was wrong in 1950s psychology is still not fixed decades later. The core factors that transformed the puppy love I had with psychology at the start of that course into the nightmare of being stuck with a boring, irrelevant blind date for an endless semester are still evident.
Psychology continues to be a sea of professional disciplines, rarely connected with each other, loose from any common theoretical moorings, and rarely within sight of the shores of the "real world." Unlike other science texts, psychology texts cite every experimenter for each little finding advanced, as if we don't trust the conclusions and want to hold the researcher responsible in case replication fails. There is not enough evidence of collaboration, of team work among researchers and practitioners, and of finding truths and applying them to improve the human condition.
Time for a change
I want to encourage my colleagues to reframe psychology in ways that put the excitement of discovery at the center of the intellectual curiosity it stimulates in us and should in our students. Further, we need to value the challenge of applying everything we know to make a difference in some aspect of the lives of individuals, groups and communities. And we need to learn how to give psychology away to the public by more effectively working with our media gatekeepers.
Perhaps a working model for psychology's new look starts with the human brain's structure and function. Its many subunits and minimodules, although each specialized for particular functions, prove their worth by contributing to a functional output. The brain's goal is tightly coordinated behavior that enables survival and more--the ability to thrive, to go beyond givens, to transcend what has been by its dynamic plasticity of being. It responds to new stimulation and adaptively changes its very structure to function more effectively. The brain's holistic federation exemplifies cooperation in the service of efficiency and complexity. In contrast, modern psychology often seems as if the parts are more than the sum of the whole.
So, this is a call for greater collaboration among psychologists across and within all disciplinary boundaries. It is a recognition that specialization and generalization should be our yin and yang within research, teaching and practice as we blend new depths of knowledge with ever greater breadth of relevance and application. Starting with the PhD dissertation, psychologists should be encouraged to share their talents in teamwork, shedding the old model of the solo scientist-practitioner--of Freud's and Skinner's--in favor of integrated teams dedicated to the solution of brain, mind and behavior problems.
Similarly, the time has come for psychology teachers to reconceptualize what and how they are teaching, by considering collaborative team teaching, collaborative student examinations, projects and papers, use of guest experts, and adding the "what fors?" along with the "whys?" and "hows?" of psychology. New models of health-care delivery will challenge the old construction of the isolated private practitioner into being open to becoming part of health-care teams that integrate a number of specializations for the optimal treatment of clients and patients. All this collaboration now becomes possible as the Internet assumes the role of the brain's neural conduction of information across separate modalities.
Being open to change
Advancement of psychology as a scientific discipline, responsible practice and responsive domain in the public interest now requires a more holistic, integrative and collaborative approach that blends its traditional boundaries and dissolves others. This approach must be continually open to change and able to reinvent itself in response to new challenges and opportunities. It is time for a major change in our field; time to revive the pride we all had when we first chose to become psychologists; and time to take more joy in the privilege granted us to spend our lives in the most remarkable of all disciplines--a psychology that makes sense of the workings of brain, mind and behavior and helps to make them work even better.
Letters to the Editor
- Send us a letter