I first noticed the failure of psychology as a young psychologist, fresh out of graduate school with my half-mortgage-sized student loan. But because of that loan and all the training it represented, I refused to say this out loud. I was a new convert, an evangelist, a believer. I had to defend the faith.
But deep inside, I knew Psychology itself failed to solve our mental health problems or teach us how to find happiness. For all its sophisticated academics, it failed to reveal the meaning of life. Yet, Psychology thumped “spirituality” into the rubbish bin and said, “Ew.”
Psychology measures things: intelligence, anxiety, anger, therapy results. But to measure, you must quantify. And to quantify, you must reduce: strip the deeper, more nuanced meanings out of the moment, the behavior, the thoughts and experiences of a person. And because it so enjoys evaluation and computation, Psychology tells lies with numbers.
Is she suicidal? YES or NO
Is he a good parent? YES or NO
Was therapy effective? YES or NO
Will I ever be at peace? YES or NO
These answers are not so easy to rip out. So why would Psychology lie to us? Why would it pretend, experiment after experiment, to tell us something solid and indisputable?
Because of ego. Psychology wants to see itself as a big kid, all tough and mean like the astrophysicists. All proper and sure like orthopedic surgery. All binary like engineering. All authoritative like The Vatican.
But psychology (versus Psychology) is really none of those things: psychology (small p) listens and loves and recognizes when ego gets in the way of these things.
Where Psychology poses as the ultimate authority on us, psychology admits the field is too vast to be contained by an organization.
Where Psychology recruits and trains and protects its turf, psychology is often better practiced by good fiction writers.
Where Psychology takes public positions, wears smart-looking glasses, works on its scientific image, psychology humbly says, I don’t know…But I will sit with you while you weep.
The rebel psychologists, the innovators, the artsy ones: they get called quacks, frauds, pseudo-scientists, or charlatans. But these rebels know: Psychology can be too big for its britches. Rebels (of which I am one) know that while we may not always be able to explain how something works in neurobiological terms, we see people heal, every day. And this rebel will tell you that I’m not doing the healing. A mystical healing force comes through me: I’m just the carrier for it (think pitcher, think tap, think fractionated coconut oil).
So, thank you, Psychology…for giving us Dr. Seligman and cognitive therapy and family therapy and emotional intelligence and EMDR (especially EMDR)…for overseeing the work we do…for spelling out the rules of good therapist behavior (e.g., don’t sleep with your clients)…
But now it’s time for us (you and me, regardless of professional license) to engage the soul work of psychology…to open our awareness to the new and unexplainable, inside ourselves. We contain more than our IQ, our personality type, our life-stress score, and our trauma history. We are much, much more than the sum of our parts.
We are part of the Great Mystery of the Universe…
Contact me if you’d like to find out how your spiritual development and emotional recovery can be the same thing.