Psychology’s Current Status
By Stephen Scherer, Ed.D.
The field of psychology has yet to become “unified,” in the sense that all psychologists are in agreement as to the fundamental ground rules of behavior. As a matter of fact, very little agreement
exists among psychologists, even with regards to our most basic questions about behavior. Why does behavior occur? How much of it is due to the environment? What role do genetics play? What about the questions of choice and free will? Each of the different popular perspectives in psychology is likely to provide different answers to these same, basic questions. This, in turn, can be a very frustrating experience for those who are interested in changing their behavior and the behavior of those around them for the better.
Applied Behavior Analysis. Science gives us a possible starting point to begin to address our problems, a starting point, a way to establish ground rules for understanding behavior. The framework is established, documented, and agreed upon by many. That framework is called Applied Behavior Analysis, which is the application of scientific principles of behavior to address practical problems.
Family Therapy. The science of behavior helps to establish ground rules of behavior, but is criticized by some for being too impersonal, and of little practical value outside of the treatment of very specific problems (nail biting, cursing, etc.). Complicated problems exist amongst humans, and many believe that a science of behavior somehow lacks the firepower to address these issues. For example, how can very basic principles help a couple to stop relying so heavily on their children for emotional support? Why does Johnny continuously find himself in “bad” relationships? Jane is the oldest child, and was always treated like an adult. Will she ever be able to unlearn her “head of household” behaviors and have a relationship with her spouse as an equal, now that she is married? While such issues can be addressed with scientific descriptions of all involved, it is generally more productive to incorporate an existing body of knowledge, that of the family therapists.
The precision of behavioral sciences, especially Behavior Analysis, is awe inspiring. Additionally awe-inspiring are the findings of family therapists, whose works have helped us to understand some of the most important “big picture” issues that govern our behavior throughout our lifetimes.