A Brief History of Practice—Expanded By: Robert J. Resnick Randolph-Macon College Note: Robert J. Resnick, PhD, was president of APA in 1995. This presidential address was presented at the 104th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, August 1996. Psychology can trace its historical antecedents to the Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle. Plato saw a separation between the mind and the body, whereas Aristotle believed the mind was a functional interaction of the body and experience. Early psychology was a mental philosophy that included the study of the mind as well as people's “animal nature.” Thousands of years later, psychology redefined itself as the science of behavior, and the emergence of psychologists as scientists (not practitioners) occurred slightly more than 110 years ago. Wilhelm Wundt is generally credited with the beginning of psychology as a science. He was a physiologist and philosopher who believed that psychology was the study of immediate experience. It should be noted that William James created his laboratory a bit earlier at Harvard University, but James's lab was exclusively for demonstration purposes and not ongoing research. The earliest “schools” of psychology were essentially experiential. There was structuralism, which utilized experimental introspection to look at conscious experience, and then there was functionalism, which emphasized the function rather than the content of consciousness. Behaviorism negated subjective conscious experience in both its content and function as it sought to study what was observable and measurable.
Shortly thereafter, Gestalt psychology moved the study from behavior alone to behavior with experience from a holistic view, and under Freud, psychoanalysis was promulgated to study biological urges, unconscious processes, and conflict in human behavior as its subject matter. A proliferation of theories—learning, behavioral, and dynamic—soon followed.
In 1892, the American Psychological Association (APA) was founded by a group of philosophers, educators, physicians, and a psychologist or two. Psychology's roots were firmly embedded in the discipline of philosophy. Many of the early significant names in psychology never considered themselves psychologists because they studied sensation, perception, and other intrapsychic events. Membership continued to grow in this new organization until about 1901, when APA membership dropped slightly and then leveled off for two to three years. This was due, in part, to the first “walkout” in 1898, when members were not allowed to form a division of philosophical psychology and, in 1901, formed the American Philosophical Association ( Hilgard, 1987 ). Psychology was moving away from and indeed leaving much of its roots in philosophy and evolving into psychophysics, animal behavior, and human assessment. As these new areas of psychology were embraced, the membership in APA began to increase once again. An interest in measurement was noted as early as 1896 when an APA committee was formed to adopt standards. The Committee on Physical and Mental Tests, as it was
known, may have been the first venture into “practice” but had no impact on psychology's evolution ( Sokal, 1992 ). In December 1906, the Committee on the Standardization of Procedures in
Experimental Tests was charged with identifying standardized instruments for groups and individuals, both applied and technical. This committee, like its predecessor, had difficulty defining its agenda and was disbanded in 1919. With the advent of World War
I, Robert M. Yerkes, the then-president of APA, mobilized psychology. Although the APA Council of Representatives was divided on mobilization (so what else is new!), APA and Yerkes moved forward and established 12 working committees. One committee, chaired by E. L. Thorndike, was on selection and induction within the surgeon general's office for the U.S. Department of the Army. The Army Alpha Test of Intelligence, the first published American intelligence test, was developed largely through the efforts of Robert M. Yerkes, E. L. Thorndike, and Lewis Terman. More than 42,000 officers and 1.75 million recruits were administered this instrument. In 1917, what may be the first published diatribe by psychiatry against psychology occurred ( Cornell, 1917 ), initiating what would become an unwavering adversarial stance against the autonomy of psychological practice. Post-World War I did have a positive impact on psychology, as there was an abundance of students, jobs, funds, and faculty as well as new departments and buildings. The first world war took psychologists out of pure academia and put them into psychological assessment in ways no psychologist had ever contemplated before! It is of historical interest to note that four days before the founding of the American Association of Clinical Psychology (AACP), on December 24, 1917, the War Department adopted the Army Alpha Test of Intelligence. The measurement of mental abilities had significantly and irrevocably expanded the boundaries of psychology to include practice.