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N. 1 (2022)

On unifying psychology: A view from the trenches; and what’s wrong with pluralism anyway?

29 July 2022


This paper addresses, from the perspective of a psychotherapist, a proposal for unifying psychology under some form of conceptual umbrella, as advanced by Salvatore and colleagues in this current issue of Rivista di Psicologia Clinica. My response raises conceptual and practical questions. The unhappy history of universal models in psychoanalysis illustrates personal, social, and political dynamics that interfere with finding and implementing such models. There is no neutral meta-position; any meta-position is subject to challenge according to its angle, methods, and interests. The question may not be whether, a priori, psychology should be unified, but whether it will turn out to be so. Generalized scientific models applied to psychotherapy may not be close to how people understand and talk about themselves. Psychotherapists are likely to incorporate general principles and models without much rigor and as metaphors to justify and shape change in accord with cultural values rather than to describe or explain. Given different conceptual categories in psychology, natural/causal and humanistic, universal principles or models could be so general and abstract as to constitute philosophy more than science. Balancing assimilation and accommodation, or general stability with local level instability, allow for complexity, flexibility, and responsiveness to unique local conditions for human meaning systems ‒ individual and collective, and for the academic disciplines that study them. Pluralism or polyphony may be an alternative meta-position which allows therapists to flexibly draw from scientific and humanistic perspectives, and from folk psychology, along with personal training and life experience, soft-assembled at the moment of contact with the messy subjectivity of the other.

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