What Unites Us in the Field of Psychology?
PSYCHOLOGY AND THE PURSUIT OF COHERENCE
Opening remarks at the 2019 Congreso Colombiano de Psicologia were delivered by Bernardo Useche Aldana, President of the Colegio Colombiano de Psicólogos, and Diego Restrepo Ochoa, President of the Asociación Colombiana de Facultades de Psicología. Both strongly advocated for disciplinary unity in psychology. It was emphasized that when not trapped by dogma, the strengths of the discipline can be reflected not in the number of its practitioners or researchers but in the solidarity they share. Certainly, subjects encompassed in psychology are expansive. However, a definition of what psychology is may offer problematic implications regarding unification when the diversity of interests is so extensive.
Expectation of what purposes psychology serves necessarily become associated with its use in routine discourse. The discipline, both theoretically and in practical application, remains committed to a relatively narrow mode of inquiry used in the natural sciences. However, it was argued by Koch (1993) that psychology is the only discipline to have adopted a method of inquiry before agreeing on what its subject matter was. Surely the creation of agreed upon systems of thought are necessary in any discipline, otherwise there would be no subject of study. Similar critiques have also been offered by Robinson (1985; 2000), who claimed that psychology remains in what might be considered an undisciplined discipline.
THE UNDISCIPLINED DISCIPLINE
If the discipline does belong in a scientific field of study, ridged measures used in the physical or biological sciences are not easily replicated in psychology. Instead, it resembles something of an assorted scientific endeavor. Nevertheless, other disciplines certainly offer room for a wide array of interests and remain integrated and coherent, such as in physics and biology. Perhaps it is not the diversity of interests, but the intrinsic nature of the phenomena which makes unity in psychology problematic?
Through scientific methods of inquiry, psychology often attempts to derive functional application from variables studied in controlled settings. However, the use of universal laws, such as those derived in classical physics, are primarily absent. Certainly, in some subsidiary fields of psychology, such as in visual information processing psychology, reliable predictions based on certain assumptions have been successfully acquired from scientific laws.
Perhaps one of the most notable application of this line of thinking has been demonstrated in contemporary cognitive neuroscience. Nevertheless, the deficiencies of earlier paradigms in psychology remain. For example, the validity of models used to measure and evaluate unique psychological experiences remain limited and contested. Consider scientific investigations of emotions. The use of statistical methods of analysis in rigorously controlled studies have provided questionable value regarding practical purposes due to the private nature of emotional states.
Our semantic reach begins surpassing our epistemic grasp when we begin appealing too heavily on models meant to provide meaning to terminology. This may depreciate explanatory enterprises in psychology by losing valuable constraints that both inform and reasonably limit what is being claimed. It certainly becomes hazardous to begin adopting ridged measures rather than conceptions when investigating abstract phenomena.
The introduction presented at the 2019 Congreso Colombiano de Psicologia had the potential of fostering confidence for some and certainly inspirited active discourse among practitioners and researchers. The premise for unification was spirited and cogently articulated. Diverse interests certainly require a level of specialization but should strive to cooperate and compliment rather than remain detached and conflicting. Certainly, the opportunity to actively communicate and collaborate among different fields of study should inspire innovation and allow psychology to act as a multifaceted instrument for individual and social change.
When objective distance is observed in a clinical setting, it should not be enormously contentious to claim that affective and cognitive events remain largely subject to individual interpretations, rather than purely objective measures. For example, does relying too heavily on manualized treatment do more to categorize instead of permit flexibility in the treatment? This may be particularly relevant to those who must work with strict, bureaucratically restrictive treatment plans. Perhaps re-examining methods of inquiry are necessary in order to promote best practice, especially in practical applications?
Koch, S. (1993). “Psychology” or “the psychological studies”? American Psychologist. 48(8): 902-904.
Robinson, D. N. (1985). Philosophy of psychology. New York, New York, United States: Columbia University Press.
Robinson, D. N. (2000). Philosophy of psychology. American Psychologist, 55(9), 1018-1021.