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What Is Your Theoretical Perspective?

Question:

Dr. Dombeck I am a graduate student at the University of South Florida and I have been surfing your site. I was curious to know what your theoretical perspective is based. Your site offers a wealth of information for perspective clients and pre-professionals. It was very informative for myself and I will recommend it in the future.

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Answer:

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p>Thank you for the interest, for the nice comment and for any recommendations you may make for people to visit us. We do our best to provide a useful website and it is always nice to have your efforts recognized.

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p>As not everyone reading this will know what a “theoretical perspective” is within psychology, let me take a moment to explain. Psychology is what is called a pre-paradigmatic science – meaning that there is not a single way of looking at things that all psychologists agree upon. The field is still very young (only just over 100 years old), and the players don’t even agree on the rules of the game! Psychology is also very broad – touching on many other fields. You have psychologists out there who are primarily biological and neurological scientists, and you have other psychologists out there who are primarily counselors and therapists – artisans if you will – more like carpenters or bakers than physicists. Within this big tent, there are schools – groups of psychologists who see things a particular way and agree that the game should be governed by a given set of rules. I have actually been devoting my recent essays (with some exceptions) to describing these different schools. The big four schools would be “Behaviorism”, “Psychodynamics”, “Family Systems” and “Humanism”. Behaviorists are the most scientific of the bunch and play by the rules of learning theory, seeing the mind and behavior as lawfully governed and systematically manipulatable. The Psychodyamic folks are the decendents of Freud and focus on the role of early and current relationships and unconscious processes in determining problems. The Family Systems folks see problems as things that affect groups rather than individuals and work to root out problems at the group level (this is huge in Social Work circles). Finally, the Humanists believe that problems begin when culture corrupts the essentially innocent and good nature of the na?ve human being. They spend their time helping people to feel more loved so they can heal themselves. Read or listen to my essay “Philosophers, Engineers, Ecologists and Gnostics: Four Approaches to Psychotherapy“, and the follow-on essays since then for more information about these schools.

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p>The question is – “What school do you come from, Dr. Dombeck?” and the answer is that my teachers were all Behaviorists and I suppose that I am as well. A social cognitive behaviorist, to be sure, but a behaviorist, nevertheless. An Engineer.

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p>Being a behaviorist is kind of like being a member of a particular religious sect. You have certain truths that you hold to be sacred and you tend to think that people who think otherwise are idiots, fools or otherwise somehow brainwashed. At least that is how fundamentalist types (which exist within psychological schools of thought as well as within religion) would see it. I’m not a fundamentalist about being a Behaviorist. I’ve always thought that there were good truths to be found in the other schools and I’ve always sought to learn about those truths, mostly through informal channels such as reading. There are a lot of psychologists like me, actually. Folks who were raised up in one way of seeing things, but who are curious about the other ways and don’t think they constitute blasphemy.

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p>Some psychologists will tell you that they are “eclectic” in orientation; meaning that they have surveyed all the different schools and have taken the best methods from all of these schools for their use. I am not eclectic, myself; I am a behaviorist. There is something mushy about being eclectic, I think. Methods are not independent of the theories they come from, and many psychological theories are incompatible – they play by essentially different rules and cannot agree. By declaring yourself eclectic, you are saying that you have no essential way of seeing things, but rather see things from all directions at once. Eclecticism is just too – not internally consistent enough for me. What I like to do instead is to read about a technique or method from one school and see if there isn’t some behavioral way I can use to understand what they’re talking about. My heroes within the psychological community tend to be people who have done this sort of exercise themselves, people like Steve Hayes, a psychologist who has integrated humanism into behaviorism with his Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Marti Horowitz, a psychiatrist raised in the psychodyamic tradition who reformulated Transference concepts in cognitive terms in his great book, “Person Schemas and Maladaptive Interpersonal Patterns”. Stuff like that.

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p>That it isn’t immediately obvious to you (the author of this email), a student of psychology, that I am indeed a behaviorist is nice, I’d like to think, because that means I’ve been doing a halfway decent job of presenting the different perspectives on Mental Help Net without too much bias.

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