Now That We Are Thoroughly Lost


The best way to understand psychological research and research in general is as a paradigm for living. When my committee chair said that he didn’t believe in the Scientist Practitioner model what he was saying was that he was a pure researcher and he did not thinking that research should enrich the mental health practitioner nor should the practice of mental health therapy be considered as enriching or giving guidance to research. So, you might ask, what is the use of this kind of research and why should anyone living in the real world be interested? From his perspective, the answer clearly is that no one in the real world should. That type of psychological research is for researchers and has no relationship to the world at large, although it is psychology.

This raises still other problems which seem not to be considered when the researcher identifies a research question. Most obvious is whether a question needs to be asked at all. Why not just collect data? Shoot first and ask questions later. Just turn on the vacuum cleaner and suck up the data, the numbers that may potentially explain things. Then, all you have to do is run the numbers through different forms of data analysis and, depending on how things seem to correlate or not, ask a question that may be applied to the data and say that that was what you were looking for in the first place.

This is the cheapest form of research, which is to say that it takes no imagination to begin and certainly lacks any sense of purpose other than to find something that a publication may accept. If published, you will ensure that you continue in your job. Why, you can even establish yourself as an expert for your efforts and you can present earthshaking analyses to other experts and be asked back for further presentations. Given what’s at stake, it is impossible to imagine that any academic worth his/her salt could do otherwise.

Compare this with the European model of training and research, which is so experimental as to be conducted for the most part in a laboratory where everything is so controlled as to actually measure things. I remember reading a book on Anxiety years ago, in which much of the research required measuring things like eye movement rather than attitudes and considered things like engrams, to try to approach the minutest part of brain structure to see how it affects people’s responses. I’ll say it was very dry reading. In fact, I fell asleep reading it. I never dreamed that research could be conducted that way. But it was honest in that each study began with a theory and identified a hypothesis that, if correctly answered, might help us find some small support for a part of that theory. By looking at little bits, which, with much effort from a large number of very small studies, tiny really, one can gradually develop a bigger and bigger picture of what might someday prove to be a whole, like the Mona Lisa or a Jackson Pollack, maybe the Universe. Who knows?

There are advantages to the latter approach. First, you have a solid structure on which to proceed. Second, you have history on which that structure is based. Third, the resulting whole is rigorous and it leads a trail that stretches solidly into the future for others to investigate. And, if need be, no one would have any trouble tracing this body of research back to its roots and see the connections. On the other side, this type of researching is hard to formulate and carry out and leads to very limited results. It is more like Zen.

Between the two, Psych Survival is more like the laboratory version except that it makes very different assumptions. First, that it is extremely difficult to find one’s way in the world. We seem to be dropped down in a world that may be at war or at peace, but where there is so much happening. There are so many events and experiences. And people, so many people, all trying to tell us where we are at and where we are trying to go. Especially if we are unsure ourselves, we need a method to evaluate what we are told, unless we are content to accept everything everyone tells us at face value, in which case nothing can hope to get any better because everything we are told is in such conflict.

If we are to be successful in our approach to the world, we need to set down some ground rules and some way of measuring what we are told and what we are experiencing in all the chaos swirling around us. If we are to use an American approach to understanding ourselves and the world, we will suck up everything, giving all that we learn equal value, which becomes indecipherable when considered against the whole that we perceive. At least, if we start off with a more European research approach it allows some way to sift things to make them interpretable. We can worry about engrams later.

If we ask the right questions, we may begin to find the place where theory and practice meet in the real world so that what we discover can have meaning for the people who need it, the people with real world problems. If that is to happen, everything needs to be rethought and rewritten in order to develop a language of the mind that works. And the best part, we don’t need a laboratory other than the one we are living in. We don’t need to control things because nothing is controlled out in the world. That is, we don’t need to control anything except for ourselves. That’s what makes it so scary. But there are touchstones and trees we can cling to when the wind gets uncontrollably high. The research lab is in the world and also within ourselves.