Psychology’s Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back

Psychology’s Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back

Psychology's Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back

This book is the product of years of thought and a profound concern for the state of contemporary psychology. Jerome Kagan, a theorist and leading researcher, examines popular practices and assumptions held by many psychologists. He uncovers a variety of problems that, troublingly, are largely ignored by investigators and clinicians. Yet solutions are available, Kagan maintains, and his reasoned suggestions point the way to a better understanding of the mind and mental illness.

Kagan identifies four problems in contemporary psychology: the indifference to the setting in which observations are gathered, including the age, class, and cultural background of participants and the procedure that provides the evidence (he questions, for example, the assumption that similar verbal reports of well-being reflect similar psychological states); the habit of basing inferences on single measures rather than patterns of measures (even though every action, reply, or biological response can result from more than one set of conditions); the defining of mental illnesses by symptoms independent of their origin; and the treatment of mental disorders with drugs and forms of psychotherapy that are nonspecific to the diagnosed illness. The author’s candid discussion will inspire the debate that is needed in a discipline seeking to fulfill its promises.

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1 Comment so far »

  1. E. Jaksetic said,

    Wrote on December 8, 2012 @ 6:46 am

    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Interesting, thoughtful reflection on the limits and shortfalls of modern psychology, July 22, 2012
    E. Jaksetic (Virginia, USA) –

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    This review is from: Psychology’s Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back (Hardcover)

    The author, Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Harvard University, draws on his career experiences, a wide-ranging review of scientific literature, and occasional references to historical and literary sources to: (1) reflect on the current state of psychology; (2) identify recurring problems with contemporary psychological research; (3) discuss the methodological strengths and weaknesses of different types of psychological research, and various ways that the results of such research can be misunderstood or misinterpreted; (4) compare and contrast mental diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill with medical diagnosis and treatment of the physically ill; and (5) make suggestions and recommendations on how psychological research and practice can be better conducted, better evaluated, better understood, and more effectively applied.

    The author tempers his belief that psychology has much to offer with interesting observations about its limitations and thoughtful criticisms of its failings. The author conscientiously strives to make his criticisms of psychology constructive in nature, and offers specific suggestions and recommendations to address the limitations and failings in psychology that he identifies. In general, the author’s observations, criticisms, suggestions, and recommendations are cogently presented and warrant serious consideration, even if the reader ultimately concludes they are not persuasive, in whole or in part.

    My only disappointment with the book was the inconsistent handling of the author’s comments about the psychological motivations and thought processes of various individuals and groups. The author often cites memoirs, biographies, and other relevant sources to support his comments and observations about the motivations and thought processes of various individuals and groups. However, the author occasionally fails to cite any similar documentation or sources to make comments about the psychological motivations and thought process of other individuals and groups. Without such citations or references, the author’s comments about psychological motivations and thought processes of some individuals and groups are merely speculative and not entitled to much weight.

    This book is not recommended for readers looking for a casual or general introduction to the current state of psychology. The author’s discussion, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations will be better understood if the reader has some prior knowledge of, or experience with, psychology, psychological research, the scientific method, and the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

    Any reader interested in the difficulties associated with trying to apply the scientific method to subjects beyond traditional sciences should consider also taking a look at Jim Manzi, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society

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