From crushing unemployment to multiple global conflicts – 2011 is a year that desperately needs a psychology that helps people tap their inner reserves and find their sense of purpose.
Yet too often academic psychology seems to have set everything human about humanity in its crosshairs. Evolutionary Psychology tries to tell us that we are nothing but our ancestors’ habit patterns playing out in a new environment; neuropsychologists try to reduce consciousness to an accident of neurons; psychopharmacologists suggest we drug ourselves into a stupor rather than learning to address our issues.
We hear a lot about these psychological sub-areas in 2011, and at every turn its message seems to be: you don’t really have choices, you just have instincts and neurons and chemicals. At a time when psychology is called upon to elevate our capacity as human beings, the major movements in academic psychology are trying to strip us to base components. Their reductionism is not just a tool: it’s an obsession.
What about Humanistic Psychology? Where does it stand in 2011?
In a recent article in The Humanistic Psychologist, Richard Bargdill uses the fourth annual conference of the Society for Humanistic Psychology to gauge the state of the movement in 2011. The bad news: humanistic psychology continues to be a “third force,” and struggles to hold its ground among psychology departments. The good news: humanistic psychology has a strong appeal among the young in the profession. It may even be experiencing “a community renaissance,” as humanistic psychologists get organized and get connected.
“Perhaps the most noticeable feature of this conference … was the sheer number of young faculty members, early career psychologists, and graduate students who were present,” Bargdill notes in his article The Youth Movement in Humanistic Psychology.
Bargdill doesn’t speculate as to why (we’re happy to do that for him) but he does note that they bring something with them to the conference: the inclusion of art and music as a relevant part of an academic conference. In some ways this isn’t surprising: mainstream academic psychology is increasingly trying to reduce art to a bi-product of evolution or neural connections. To experience it on its own terms, let alone enjoy it, runs counter to the theories they promote. Not so with humanistic psychology, which often holds that the experience of art can have a key place in the development and maturation of personality. Art is valuable as art – often more valuable than scholarship.
In all, Bargdill says that Humanistic Psychology’s goals as a movement remain what New Existentialist Eugene Taylor set out over a decade ago:
- That we concentrate our research on personality, consciousness, and psychotherapy;
- That we reclaim our role as correspondents with the American public on issues related to personality and social psychological issues;
- That we renew our commitment to William James’ radical empiricism
Humanistic psychologists have been striving to do that for some time: the difference now is that we’re increasingly doing it as a community. That has the hallmarks of an growing movement.