Not So Abnormal Psychology: a pragmatic View of Mental Illness

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Not So Abnormal Psychology A Pragmatic View of Mental Illness
, by RB. Miller
Copyright © 2015 by the American Psychological Association. All rights reserved.
Psychology is a hybrid subject. With its basic concepts and theories rooted in ancient religions and philosophy, its branches reaching into experimental biology, physiology, pharmacology, anthropology, sociology, and even biography, psychology’s theories and data are diverse, inconsistent, and at times contradictory. Attempts to produce an integrated comprehensive theory remain elusive. In its place we find an array of mini-theories tied to specific subareas of the field (e.g., cognitive, developmental, physiological, or social psychology. Although we remain intrigued, compelled to search for answers to the riddle of ourselves and others, we can often feel more than a bit overwhelmed by the task.
Nowhere is this truer than in the subdiscipline of abnormal psychology. Its topics directly affect our quality of life both as individuals and as a society, sometimes even in life-and-death ways. Multiple professions draw on and in turn influence our view of abnormal psychology (e.g., psychology, psychiatry, social work, counseling, nursing, special education. Within and across
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these professions, competing theories, treatments, and public policy positions vie for dominance. Increasingly there are consumer advocacy or self- help groups that offer an alternative to professional services, often motivated by a deep disappointment with services that had been received. Alcoholics Anonymous, Survivors of Psychiatry (A. J. Joseph, 2013), the recovery movement for persons with serious mental illness (Roe & Davidson, 2008), and the Son-Rise Program (Kaufman, 1995) for parents and their autistic children all claim insights and knowledge ignored by the mainstream mental health professions.
As one examines the subdiscipline of abnormal psychology, one stark division is striking the struggle between clinical research scientists and clinical practitioners over the right to claim expert knowledge in the field. This schism in the field is often referred to as the
scientist–practitioner gap

& Trierweiler, 2006), though Saltzman and Norcross (1990) may have more aptly described the situation as the therapy wars Both sides of this division have their own theories, kinds of data, research methods, professional literature, networks, and associations. Sometimes they collaborate, but more often than not they operate in parallel universes, except in competing for research funding, tenure positions in academic departments, contracts from employers, reimbursements from insurance companies for their services, and publishing outlets for their writings (Sternberg, In seeking legitimacy for our psychological expertise and knowledge, we psychologists rarely acknowledge our own humanity even when it is revealed by our professional conflicts and rivalries. We are reluctant to acknowledge in ourselves the same irrational forces that we attempt to explain in our research populations or that we attempt to treat in our clinical and counseling practices. But to understand anxiety, interpersonal conflict, perfectionism, paranoia, dependency, narcissism, and so forth, we must start with ourselves.

Honest self-examination has its roots in philosophy (the Delphic oracle of ancient Greece who admonished all who would enter her temple to First, know thyself ”), the Catholic confessional (Saint Augustine of Hippo’s autobiographical Confessions c. 400 AD, and pastoral counseling (Bostons Emmanuel movement c. 1905). It was adopted by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1920/1966), in his method of free association and later amplified in humanistic psychology’s (Jourard, 1964; Rogers, 1951) focus on self-awareness and self-disclosure. Contemporary interest in Buddhist mindfulness practices in cognitive–behavior therapies reflects a similar orientation, requiring us to be accepting of all of our thoughts, images, feelings, and memories (Hayes, Follette, & Linehan, 2004). Granted, each of these traditions has many institutional differences and varied practices and traditions, but they share a core component The individual must pay attention to, and become responsible for, his or her inner experience.
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