Psychology in Canada: The Future Is Not the Past

Article excerpt


The past and future of psychology in Canada are addressed from the perspective of different challenges to the unity of the discipline and profession. A number of current forces that affect the current status of psychology, as well as an emerging set of forces, are discussed. It is argued that psychology is not a single phenomenon, but that there are several psychologies. These psychologies, with their attendant push towards multiple perspective and organizations, are seen as a sign of the strong diversity of psychology. The author argues that diversity in psychology should be accepted and used for mutual gain, rather than taken as a sign of the failure of psychology.

The CPA Presidential address represents a special forum to address Canadian psychologists, and it is my intention to use this platform to share with CPA members some of my developed and developing ideas related to the discipline and profession of psychology. In my article I briefly highlight some of the forces that have helped to shape the evolution of the discipline and profession of psychology in Canada. Having discussed the evolution of psychology, I address the current status of psychology, with a particular focus on the issue of the unity of the discipline and profession. The issue of unity is discussed both in terms of its organizational structure as well as the contemporary issues we face. I suggest that some of the forces that have enabled psychology to forge its current status will shift in the future, and that we must collectively recognize the differences that exist within the discipline and professional aspects of psychology. I specifically argue that the leadership of Canadian psychology not only needs to recognize and accept those differences, but to also develop new models of cooperation within psychology for its optimal development.

Throughout this paper I refer to the discipline and profession of psychology. By discipline I am referring to the research/science/post-secondary education, largely university-based aspect of psychology, where-as by profession I am referring to the applied/practice/service-setting aspect of psychology. While I recognize that these distinctions are not between clearly discrete functions, but rather represent fuzzy sets of psychology with some overlap, I think that the distinction has some merit, and I suspect that most readers will appreciate the distinction I am drawing.

Early forces in Canadian Psychology(f.1)

The early history of Canadian psychology is found within the university system (Wright & Meyers, 1982). The emergence of most Canadian departments of psychology took place in the period between 1920 and 1970, although there was certainly a sufficient mass of psychology faculty for the founding of the Canadian Psychological Association in 1939, and for the contribution of those faculty to the Second World War (Wright, 1969; 1974). By all descriptions, the majority of university departments, and certainly those in English-speaking Canada, had a strong bias towards experimental psychology from their beginning (Webster, 1967; Wright & Meyers, 1982), and many enjoyed the contributions of world-class researchers.

The post-war era saw the further establishment of university departments of psychology, some within the new universities that emerged in the 1960s such as the University of Waterloo, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Calgary. Departments of Educational Psychology, with a more applied focus than that found in many Psychology departments, also began to emerge in this era.


The post-war era also was witness to the more distinct emergence of what was referred to as applied psychology (Bernhardt, 1961; Webster, 1967). The development of applied psychology had a number of bases, including:

1) emerging agreement about training models in clinical psychology, as reflected in such phenomena as the beginning of the accreditation of professional psychology training programs by the American Psychological Association in 1949 (Raimy, 1950; Shakow, 1948);

2) the 1953 development of a Code of Ethics by APA and its 1957 adoption by CPA (Sinclair, 1993);

3) the increasing number of recognized applications of psychological knowledge (Craig, 1993; Dobson & Dobson, 1993a), and;

4) the legislated requirements for the registration of psychologists at the provincial level, the first piece of legislation being enacted in 1960, the most recent in 1991. …


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