Letter/Observer Forum

Forum Letters

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

AS READERS OF THE OBSERVER know well, the ability to understand and use behavioral science information can be personally and collectively liberating and empowering, so the goal of APS’s Fund for Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science is commendable and should be given top priority [“Shipping News,” Observer, December 2004].

At the heart of the matter, as Bob Cialdini astutely observed at the October 2004 planning meeting for this initiative, is the fact that psychology fails to “ship” its products to the general public. To expand on this business metaphor, it can be argued that even before psychological information can be shipped, it has to be marketed and sales contracts must be signed. The question is: To whom should psychological science be marketed, sold, and shipped?

After 20 years of teaching introductory psychology, I continue to encounter students who believe in creationism, extrasensory perception, precognition, flying saucers, and the like, suggesting that freshman year of college may already be too late to instill a scientific world view. Competing and incompatible world views have already moved in. It would make more sense to target younger children – perhaps as early as first grade.

To wage a successful campaign, psychologists must be prepared to compete with other purveyors of ideas, goods, and hedonic gratifications who have already monopolized the milieu in which kids live. This milieu is shaped in large part by sales pitches for food, beverages, clothing, toys, technological gadgetry, and simulacra (think “Disney World-view”). While this milieu is superficially commodious, it does not foster authentic understanding of how things work, and it does not promote personal or collective efficacy. Hence the need for a sophisticated marketing strategy and a dedicated, persistent sales force. Any attempt to sell kids tools for understanding human behavior will be an enormous challenge – but one well worth it.

-Peter Crabb
Pennsylvania State University-Abington

Student-Run Journal Connects Science and Practice

IN HIS ENGAGING PRESIDENTIAL Columns of the October and November [2004] issues of the Observer, “Patients and Impatience (Part I and Part II),” Robert W. Levenson discusses the National Institute of Mental Health’s recent proposal to reallocate extramural resources from basic behavioral and social science research to issues related to the mentally ill. According to Levenson, this shift in the NIMH’s funding priorities raises a number of concerns for the field of psychology. He noted that many psychological scientists, in contrast to clinical practitioners, are never exposed to individuals who suffer from serious mental illnesses. Consequently, many talented psychologists fail to apply their research to the psychopathology of mental illness. Levenson also draws attention to the isolation of clinical psychology programs from other areas of psychology, which has resulted in the impression (perhaps justifiable) that clinical students have little interest in research and concentrate primarily on becoming practitioners.

Our own [New School University] psychology department, which includes both an experimental and a clinical program, strives to avoid the division that often exists between clinical and scientific training. Work in both areas is strongly encouraged, and students are taught the importance of the integration and application of both areas of psychology. As clinical students who value scientific research, we decided to create a project that would both support and advance the collaboration between the two programs. The result is a student-operated journal, the Graduate Faculty Psychology Bulletin, which publishes both clinical and experimental research.

Before discussing why a student-run journal relates to Levenson’s point, it is worth noting that his concerns – the isolation of clinical psychology and the limited research being conducted by clinical psychologists – are at the heart of the broader scientist/practitioner debate, which often, although somewhat incorrectly, is said to have originated with the legendary Boulder conference in 1949.

The Boulder conference established the principles for how a clinical psychologist ought to be trained. According to the conference, the clinical psychology student should receive balanced training necessary for diagnosing, treating, and researching psychopathology. This is what is referred to as the science-practitioner model (or Boulder model), and today doctoral programs in clinical psychology typically adopt this approach.

However, critics have argued that programs often focus on one aspect of the model over the other. The result, which Levenson’s column alludes to, is that graduate departments fail to deliver a program of study that represents an appropriate balance between research and clinical training.

The Graduate Faculty Psychology Bulletin addresses both Levenson’s concerns about the lack of interaction between scientific and clinical psychology and the continuing scientist-practitioner debate over integrating research and clinical issues. The Bulletin highlights the research being conducted by both clinical and experimental psychology students in our department, creating a venue for scholarly research that serves as a forum for internal debate. Moreover, the journal creates opportunities for students to work together in a collegial, interdisciplinary manner. The Bulletin also gives clinical and experimental students an opportunity to publish their research in a less competitive peer-reviewed journal, thereby preparing them for the rigors of publishing in psychology journals.

We recognize Levenson’s suggestion that meeting the demands of the new NIMH funding will require a real shift in the scientific culture and feel the Bulletin can facilitate the training of clinical psychologists to become producers of empirical research. The journal also may provide increased opportunities for the next generation of scientific scholars to begin relating their work directly to mental health.

-Daniel Antonius and Adam D. Brown
New School University

Read the Bulletin at www.newschool.edu/gf/psy/bulletin/index.htm.

No Joke!

I WAS DELIGHTED TO SEE YOUR interview with me in the November 2004 Observer (or, more accurately, I was delighted to point out to my friends and colleagues that I am regarded as a psychology superstar). However, I don’t know what conceivable reason the editor had for inserting (twice!) the comment that I was kidding. Those who know me well know that I am completely incapable of humor. All I can say is that it’s a good thing I wasn’t asked about how I “chose” my first job out of graduate school.

-Charles S. Carver
University of Miami

Editor’s Response:
Once again, we’re sure Carver is only kidding…

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