Psychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human Relationships

By Wynne, Louis | Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Psychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human Relationships


Wynne, Louis, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry


Psychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human Relationships. Laurence Simon. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, 239 pp., $69.95.

This book, as its title suggests, is an ambitious work. The author, trained in psychoanalysis, attempts nothing less than the reconstruction not only of psychoanalysis but of the entire field of clinical psychology. The reconstruction of psychoanalysis has been tried before (e.g., Schafer, 1976), and I am not qualified to judge the effectiveness of these endeavors. The reconstruction of clinical psychology, however, has to my knowledge not been tried, unless one wants to include the Skinnerian attempt in the 1960s and 1970s. In any case, the effort is long overdue, and the thrust of this review will be to evaluate how well Dr. Simon has accomplished it.

The book is also an intensely personal work, as indicated by Simon's persistent use of the personal pronoun, and it might also be seen as the history of his career-an apologia par vita sua.

He calls to our attention Stephen Toulmin's (1992) observation that psychology has developed as the result of the politics involved with the Thirty Years War (1618-1648); that is, psychology participated in the reversal of the gains made in understanding human conduct by Rabelais, Shakespeare, and Montaigne in the 16th century in favor of the more abstract and less "human" theoretical stance of Descartes and, eventually, Rousseau. The consequence of this "choice" was that in the 20th century, psychologists deified Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner as great scientists while viewing the likes of Studs Terkel (e.g., 1972), when they condescended to consider them at all, as interesting characters but certainly not serious students of human behavior.

Simon notes that the separate and independent disciplines of anthropology, sociology, history, political science, and, of course, psychology speak very different languages despite their being concerned with the same subject matter. He blames this on the felt need of these disciplines to engage in "overly abstract and reductionist thinking" (p. 12) to achieve the status of science. We may conclude that a more concrete approach would have resulted in a more eclectic and less fragmented study of humankind.

The issue is indeed, as Postman has agreed (1988), one of language, and Simon takes the position that the language of description and the language of explanation are one and the same: they are different only in the events and processes that are being described. This was Skinner's point of view and, whether or not psychologists realize it, it is still very much a minority opinion among them, regardless of their stripe.

Simon's agenda here is to dispose of moral judgments as explanations of human conduct, and he does this by demonstrating the circularity of such explanations. "If our judgments are of the behavior," he says, "then they should exist grammatically as modifiers of the verbs.... Grammatically, only verbs can be used to denote behavior." He continues, "We now ignore that ... an adjective (e.g., lacy) and not a verb now accounts for a behavior, and that a judgment can be the cause of human actions" (pp. 22-23).

I agree that a judgment, expressed in the form of an adjective, cannot legitimately account for a behavior, but it is not clear to me that a verb can either. Certainly a verb can describe behavior: (I) run, catch, kiss, and fall; but not (I) love or (I) hate. These latter two are verbs but they are not behaviors; neither do they "account" for behavior. In this way they are like the lazy that Simon uses as his example.

I suggest that explanations of behavior are best expressed in the form of nouns-not nouns denoting mythical entities or states, such as "id," "schizophrenia," or "laziness;" and certainly not conceptual malformations such as "burdensomeness," which was recently hypothesized (Joyner, 2005) as one of the factors instrumental in suicide. …

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