Is Psychology Stuck In a Paradigm Shaft?
Once scientists establish a paradigm in a particular area this has the effect of (1) framing the questions to be asked, (2) defining the procedures to answer them, and (3) mainstreams the models, theories and constructs within which new facts should be assimilated. I suspect that once a paradigm is established, even those agencies and instruments that provide the infrastructure for research contribute to entrenching the status quo. Funding bodies and journals are good examples. Both tend to map on to very clearly defined areas of research, and at times when more papers are being submitted to scientific journals than ever before, demand management tends to lead to journal scope shrinkage in such a way that traditional research topics are highlighted more and more, and new knowledge from other disciplinary approaches is less likely to fertilize research in a particular area.
This led me to thinking about my own research area, which is clinical psychology and psychopathology. Can we clinical psychology researchers convince ourselves that we are doing anything other than trying to clear up the status quo in a paradigmatic approach that hasn’t been seriously questioned for over half a century – and in which we might want to question it’s genuine achievements?
It’s a smart, lengthy prod. Clinical psychology is arguably stalled, and cognitive psychology and neuroscience have shown us some fascinating things about how we think, and even feel, but little, aside from the gains from cognitive behavioral therapy, that advances either diagnosis or treatment. (There are some exceptions; I’m among those who think the work of Helen Mayberg, which is base primarily on hard-won imaging findings, may produce actionable advances that could help a lot of people. But those are still potential, and not yet in hand.)
In any case, Davey’s nicely measured essay is the sort of thing clinical psychology and psychiatry need more of right now. If the DSM-5 controversy pushes this sort of inquiry, perhaps the book will serve a purpose yet.
David Dobbs, author of the Kindle Single bestseller My Mother's Lover, writes features and essays for publications including the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Nature, and other publications. He is working on his fourth book, The Orchid and the Dandelion. You also follow his wider wanderings on Twitter and Tumblr.
Follow @david_dobbs on Twitter.