Professional Human Service Occupation Biases Represented in General Psychology Textbooks

By Firmin, Michael W.; Johnson, Erica J. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Professional Human Service Occupation Biases Represented in General Psychology Textbooks


Firmin, Michael W., Johnson, Erica J., Wikler, Jeremiah, Journal of Instructional Psychology


We examined the coverage given by General Psychology textbooks, representing 8 major commercial publishers, regarding the professions of psychology, counseling, marriage & family therapy, and social workers. Of the 24 textbooks assessed, we found substantial bias favoring the coverage of psychology. While 25% of the texts mentioned social workers, there was relatively little attention given to professional counselors or marriage & family therapists. A case is made for more parity to be shown for a larger cross-section of professions in these texts--since General Psychology courses tend to hold some measure of gate-keeping exposure for the human service professions.

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The human service professions have a sordid history relative to collaboration (Schmitt, 2001). This partly relates to their history, with psychology deriving itself first from philosophy and then the hard sciences (Hunt, 1993), whereas counseling emerged from the American guidance movement, following World War II (Capuzzi & Gross, 1997; Nowlin, 2006). Social work sketches a separate family tree, tracing its roots to caring for the poor, indigent, and immigrants at the turn of the century who were mistreated or needed advocacy in society (Barker, 1998). Marriage & family therapy largely was derived eclectically from behavioral and cognitive psychology, with many of the original founders being psychoanalytically trained (Gurman & Fraenkel, 2002).

Although all the professions share much in common, they also possess differences that bear unique emphases for training, supervision, and practice. Traditional clinical psychologists have advocated a historic scientist-practitioner model of the profession (Albee, 2000)--whereas counselors, marriage & family therapists, and social workers--comparatively, are more practice-oriented (Booth & Cottone, 2000; Houston, 2005). Psychologists often are considered the leading profession, since they require the doctoral degree as the entry-level credential for state licensure. The other helping professions require only a master's degree for independent practice.

Inter-professional collaborative efforts have not generally been strong between the main human service professions (Goldin, 1997). Weigle (1977) notes that the 1970's became a period when increased conflicts among the professions arose, mostly due to licensure laws being passed by the states for the respective professions. Randolph (1988) labeled the mental health community organizations as their own worst enemies in this regard. This largely is because of the inter-professional squabbles and sometimes outright hostility that exists between the groups--often expressed in the open media.

Goodyear (2000) indicates that the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 began the modern tension and that the professions had relatively little conflict prior to that time, compared to present quarrels. This act provided federal funds for reimbursing the fees of particular mental health professionals. As this act has been updated over time, and insurance companies heavily have weighed-in on the matter, the contention has grown worse--not better. Irvine, Kerridge, McPhee, and Freeman (2002) concluded: "Conflicts over authority, power, control, and jurisdiction pose an undeniable barrier to effective collaboration and teamwork, particularly when occupational groups attempt to defend activities that are thought to be strategic to the maintenance of their professional identity" (p. 204).

Cummings (1990) notes further evidence of battles between these professional organizations vis-a-vis the Joint Commission on Interprofessional Affairs (JCIA) in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Although the organization was initiated to encourage cooperation among various mental health organizations, they chose to include only four major professions: psychiatry, psychology, social work, and psychiatric nursing.

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