Psychology Graduate School Experience or Why I Didn't Become a Shrink

The Sex and the I
The Sex and the I | Source

Modern Psychology Is Hijacked by Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism

"Marx, Darwin and Freud are the three most crashing bores of the Western World. Simplistic popularization of their ideas has thrust our world into a mental straitjacket from which we can only escape by the most anarchic violence." William Golding, 1954

Over the past 7 years of my academic exploration of psychology I was repeatedly disappointed with the level of dishonesty in the field. I felt cheated. I felt like my education was a scam, although a very convincing one. I was being sold common dirt in a package that said "Holy land".

I just couldn't escape that Alice in the Wonderland feeling of being in a bizarro world where everyone was the opposite of what they were supposed to be. My mentors - learned academicians and seasoned practitioners - were teaching me behavioristic and psychoanalytic nonsense with a straight face, like nothing happened since the 1930s.

It was like human thought had stopped at the notion of penis envy, unable to topple such magnificent insight.

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Operant Conditioning: the Pigeon Experiment

Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism Are Not Even Scientifically Credible

For almost 100 years psychology has been stifled by psychoanalysis and biological determinism - the most "scientific", I was told, approaches. At a closer look, however, neither withstands the scrutiny of even the most basic scientific credibility standards of today.

Freud's theory is mostly based on personal observations of his patients and self-analysis, yet "the father of psychoanalysis" remains an unparalleled authority on human psyche.

Behaviorism is almost exclusively based on observations of animal behavior, and no matter how much you want to be one with nature, people and rats are just not the same.

Behaviorists like Skinner or Watson used lab research on animals to explain or modify human behavior. "Operant conditioning" was an extension of the Pavlovian "classical conditioning", the idea that animal behavior can be influenced by the environmental stimulus, or pairing of stimuli, producing a desired conditioned response.

In its most radical form, behaviorism only considers behavior to be scientifically relevant. Feelings, states of mind and other intangible experiences simply have no place in a lab. And neither do people, not to the degree necessary to conduct extensive research. In that sense, behaviorism has more to do with zoology (and perhaps physiology) than psychology.

These are lab rats rescued by animal rights groups. Rats are smart and gentle animals, they don't deserve to be experimented on!
These are lab rats rescued by animal rights groups. Rats are smart and gentle animals, they don't deserve to be experimented on! | Source
Transpersonal (or integrative) psychology seeks to reach a deeper understanding of the human nature, and to illuminate the spiritual aspects of life.
Transpersonal (or integrative) psychology seeks to reach a deeper understanding of the human nature, and to illuminate the spiritual aspects of life. | Source

Other Schools of Thought are Arbitrarily Skipped

As a clinical psych student (the scientist-practitioner model), I was supposed to learn that anything out of the ordinary should be treated with extreme suspicion and demonstrative contempt. Anything other than strictly definable measurable phenomena is to be discarded as ignorant old wife's tales.

Even the well-respected humanistic psychology was often skipped in favor of more traditional approaches, never mind Gestalt, integrative psychology, ecopsychology, transpersonal psychology, existentialism, bioenergetics or the deplorable paragon of pseudoscience itself - parapsychology.

If it cannot be observed and replicated in the lab, I was taught, it's not a valid study subject. Anything that can be labeled soft-hearted, soft-minded or "sloppy science" is garbage and not real science. I have nothing against vigorous research, but I maintain that there are areas of human psyche that cannot be addressed or experienced in lab conditions, and that have nothing to do with penises.

The School Or the System?

You might be thinking: this isn't true of all psychology graduate programs. It was probably just my school; different universities offer different study programs, and you can always choose a concentration that suits you.

It's true to a certain degree. Of course, there are exceptions and some wonderful psychology grad schools (Sofia University, the former Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, for example) that celebrate spiritual and creative aspects of life, as well as physical, emotional and intellectual aspects. But as a rule, this diversity is rare and generally neglected when you start going deeper into your chosen field.

Initially, I've dealt with my frustration by changing schools, until I realized that it wasn't the place or the people - it was the system. The entire institution built on the idea that the physical reality is superior to the metaphysical one; that human beings are complicated feeling machines devoid of spirit.

It was staggering to me that a discipline dedicated to studying human nature is narrowed down to studying human body, if not bodily functions.

Neither science nor philosophy had yet explained normal human consciousness, never mind the abnormal one. Mental illness - the bread and butter of clinical psychologists - is a condition that is still very poorly understood, yet psychological establishment would rather drag Freud's corpse through the streets of Vienna than admit that.

What Do You Think?

Do You Think Modern Psychology Ignores the Spiritual Side of the Human Nature?

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  • What was the question again?
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Final Thoughts on the State of Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology (and even more so - psychiatry) not only claims the absolute certainty in the matters of human consciousness, it insists on the exclusive right to determine what is healthy and what is sick. In that sense, it's an oppressive institution stifling the natural evolution of the human thought towards a more balanced, more spiritual understanding of reality.

As for me, I took Carl Jung's advice:

"Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar's gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world."

Thank you, Herr Jung. I owe you the fact that I still love psychology (and people, for that matter) despite years of academic training.

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