Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Can Psychology Be “Researched”?

Originally posted on September 10, 2015

In considering what types of psychotherapy work, I become aware of the sheer multiplicity of variables. I suspect this problem is perhaps insurmountable, because what we’re talking about isn’t a machine, as in what kind of gasoline gets the best mileage, or energy, or whatever can be measured. Human behavior cannot be measured! Well, it can and it is measured, too, but only of one variable is measured and the others kept constant. The problem is that this degree of control is quite impossible.

Psychological research tends to be a Procrustean Bed—a literary allusion to a process that examines a multi-dimensional process only according to one criterion. (There is a classical ancient Greek story whereby an ogre, Procrustes, subjected his victims to a bed that was for most people either too short or too long. If the bed was too long, Procrustes stretched them on a rack-like device so they would fit; if too long, he’d slice off whatever parts of feet, ankle, or leg again didn’t “fit. The happy ending was that the hero, Theseus, killed him.) However, much in the field of psychological research may be critiqued on the grounds that the scale of measurement thought to be valid is really sort of a Procrustean Bed.

We should not assume that research is good or valid. The fact that some editorial board passed it is irrelevant: I do not assume that those who are supposed to be intelligent really are enough to question fundamental assumptions such as whether what is being tested in fact can be tested using any of the methods designed for that purpose. There is a hidden assumption that people of high status do know—a fact that I doubt.

For example, in questions regarding the practice of psychotherapy: People are so very, very different, in so many ways. For example, consider the many ways intelligence, temperament, or aptitude may vary. A person may be strong in one sub-category but weak in others. The blend is unique. Note also that there are often not insignificant sub-sub-categories and mixtures! Furthermore, mixtures generate new potentials. For example, the gasses hydrogen and oxygen when combined make water (something quite different) and energy (boom). We must not assume that all human capacities are “scalable.”

Here are some other qualities:
    – stamina, stick-to-it-ive-ness, levels of energy. This also involves motivation, hopes of success, lack of distractions or other priorities, etc.
    – temperament, and again many schemes and sub-variables
    – degrees of psychological-minded-ness, introspectiveness, insight
    – education, capacity to talk about phenomena with any degree of articulateness; and as a corollary, frustrations if not.
    – cultural background, and whether any of the aforementioned skills are even recognized or have high or low status in the person’s subculture
    … and so forth. I imagine that people are really different in the way they think! I think that scientists who minimize this are deeply foolish, even if they may be clever in fifty other ways. To not minimize this reality would inhibit their capacity to do research, so they have every inducement to ignore psychological differences. It’s a matter of positive ambition, after all!

Two other variables include the presence of others with whom one is creating, good rapport, mutual stimulation and encouragement, mutual support. If this is not happening, it should be noted. If it is, well, we cannot say what will come of this synergy. We may not know all of the variables in interpersonal relationships.

For example, degrees of competition may mix with mutual encouragement. 32% competition may make a significant difference from 24% competition, or 42%. Our tools are not that finely calibrated, plus the level may fluctuate. What if certain combinations of people work optimally with 58% support, 22% encouragement, 24% encouragement, and various other elements. Really, these cannot—CAN not!—be accurately assessed; and then each person has his or her own sense of what combination works best for both self and others.

Nor should we underestimate the context, ability to read accurately, speak well, or not, and what for each participant constitutes sheer pleasure, discovery, and empowerment of improvising in the process rather than following someone else’s rules. On the the other hand, many need more or less guidance, leadership, help in warming up and then functioning.

My point here is that there are truly inconceivable numbers and subtle permutations of variables involved in many aspects of relationship itself—beyond mere civility. To think that they can be controlled is folly. Your thoughts on this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *