As a psychologist in training, I have the unique pleasure of trying to figure out, on a regular basis, exactly what I do for a living. When I stopped to really think about it, I think it isn’t quite entirely my fault that I still don’t know.
No, seriously. Stop laughing.
The best reason I have for blaming someone else for my sustained confusion is that the questions that psychology asks are so profound, so broad, that it would be like identifying as a ‘democrat’ or a ‘republican’. Everyone understand it’s just a bit more complicated than that, but uses those terms out of convenience.
A more developed reason is that, rapidly approaching, if not already in effect, is an era in which the question “what kind of psychologist are you”, is pretty much as natural as “what type of medical doctor are you?” I’m sure that back in the day, a doctor was the man that took care of your illness, whatever it was, and really did the best he could with the leeches and the damp towel cloth, or whatever level of understanding and technology he had. But, as time progressed, and the wealth and technology available increased, we got to a point where we have pediatricians, anesthesiologists, neurologists and dermatologists.
And when I thought more about why I didn’t know exactly what the hell I did for a living, something else occurred to me.
‘Psychology’ is dead. Now before you get upset or accuse me of being sensationalist, just gimme a minute to ‘splain.
Originally conceived as a branch within philosophy, as the study of the mind, ‘psychology’ come so far, and gone in so many directions, that any attempt to define it is doomed to failure. Anyone that’s suffered through an introductory psychology course knows this well. It’s like the blind men who try to describe the elephant as they use their hands to feel the part closest to them. To one, it’s a like wall, to another, like a pillar, and to another still, like a rope.
Back in the day, when there was just one giant land mass, things were simpler. But as we all know, over time, things broke off,
separated and developed their own unique climates, plants and animals. Hawaii lucked out, and Greenland just had to deal with it.
The tricksy (yes, it is a word because I want to use it as one, like psychology) part of it is, time, in a rate of movement sense of the word, is speeding up. One of the key reasons for this is rapidly enhanced communication methods like the internet. Another is the fact that we can use tools which help us make better tools, which speeds up the movement of those giant moving plates that we give different names and borders to as time passes and wars are won and lost. We do to knowledge what we do to land. We fight over it, but in different ways.
With knowledge, as with tectonic plates, there’s a lot of pressure that’s been building, in different places, in different issues, as a result of this speeding up of time. And as always when plates and worlds collide, there’s a lot of damage, but in the end, what emerges is a new vista, a place of elevated height where we can see further than we’ve ever before. If we’re lucky, maybe, just maybe, we can catch that it’s not flat, but it curves, ever so slightly. Instead of on the shoulders of giants, we find ourselves on the edges of plates, and by extension, paradigms.
So, if all this take of the ground moving gives you motion sickness, don’t stress. This is good news. I promise, and everything.
In a concrete way, this means that we can carve out a critical role in preventative care as people that teach others how to take care of their bodies, and the behavior that’s so intimately connected with them. It means that we can more deeply understand and explain to others how thoughts are wrapped in language, and fired through cannons of genetics set off by environmental fuses. It means that with positive psychology we can measure the upper limits of human mind and spirit, and train people how to reach them before we send them out to face the challenges on behalf of others.
I live in Florida at the moment, and I see the flux, I sense the sublimated chaos oozing from everywhere around me. Even people in my own building are foreclosing on a regular basis. Chaos is a part of growth, and true change means destruction before reconstruction, and dissolution before recrystalization.
It’s been said that the best way to predict the future is to write it. As a field of thought in flux, fledgling, the synthesis of so many other things synthesized before it, a great many things are now possible. Millennia old thoughts like mindfulness are being recast as therapies that help those previously thought to be forever on the cusp of self-harm. Enigmas are giving way to sharper ways of expressing truths that were always known, but never fully articulated.
Old wine in new bottles? Maybe.
Old wine in red bull? Intense! (see health psychologist)
Open bar? Sweet.
I’m not saying it will be easy, but it is being done, and will continue to be done, with or without your two cents.
Terrifying? Possibly. Exciting? Most definitely. Your choice? Always.