Presidential Column

Benefitting from Multiple Voices: A Choice for Clinical Psychology

By Gary R. VandenBos, Ph.D.

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There is much political division in Washington, DC these days.  More and more it is reported that Republicans only listen to Republican news outlets, and Democrats only listen to Democratic news outlets. Pre-conceived opinions get reinforced, and citizens increasingly do not know or understand the reasoning and facts behind alternative political views.  This generates distrust of other political viewpoints – even hatred.  Today, compared to just 20 years ago, more people actively dislike the candidate from the “other party.” We have created a divided nation, lacking in understanding of “the other.” This is not good.

The same thing happens in Psychology, particularly along theoretical lines.  When we only read material that is consistent with our own biases, we lose a broad and rich understanding of the field – of human behavior, cognitive processes, and emotion.  It is not good to live in a theoretical silo, but that is what too many of us do.  It takes work to avoid it.

As a journal editor, I use an approach that tries to capitalize on different points of view to enrich and broaden the perspectives explored and discussed in journal articles. In selecting potential reviewers for a given manuscript, I first consider what qualified reviewer will “love” the article and results, and then what qualified reviewer will “hate” the article and results – often this is along theoretical lines it turns out. I also pick a third qualified reviewer who is generally knowledgeable about the broad research area without strong biases.  Occasionally I get a review from a reviewer who simply cannot tolerate the alternative viewpoint and tries to “beat it to death” in their review (which I do not use), but mostly I get thoughtful reviews that describe the pros and cons of the methodological design and statistical analysis and consider the findings in context. As the editor, I try to help the author sort through the potential conflicting assessments and recommendations. I believe this process improves the resulting eventual publication. 

As a clinical supervisor, I attempt to do something similar.  After listening to a new case, I will frequently ask how the trainee conceptualizes the patient’s problem and how it should be addressed.  Then, assuming the supervisory relationship on the case will be ongoing, I will ask the trainee to attempt to conceptualize the case (and potential intervention) in one or two other theoretical perspectives. I generally am trying to insure that the trainee thinks about the case from a dynamic, CBT, and humanistic (or emotion focused) perspective.  They may proceed with the case within the model of their dominant training, but the exploration frames the groundwork for their thinking more broadly.  If the case does not turn out to be a success (which half the time it does not), then it is easier to explore whether a different treatment approach might have been more successful.  This also opens the door to more “integrative” thinking about patients, symptoms, interventions and outcomes.

I believe it is also important to engage in a similar process in association governance. When asked to suggest someone for a position in an organization, for an editorship, or for an award I always strive to make several suggestions – and a set that reflects theoretical diversity, or age group diversity, as well as the typical gender and ethnic diversity. Including more viewpoints generally results in better decisions, because more factors and data are considered.  I encourage all of us to encourage greater theoretical diversity in our research project, training programs, our clinical programs, and our journals – and our own professional reading habits. Consider voting for a Divisional candidate who thinks differently than you on issues.  Consider nominating someone for a Divisional award who utilizes a different theoretical perspective from you.