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Robert Romanyshyn

Educator, Author and Psychotherapist 

In the Gap Between Psychology and Psychological Life

October 8, 2016

There is a gap between psychology as a profession and as a vocation. In 1962 I chose psychology as a profession. Ironically that choice was made in relation to a dream. It was ironic because the discipline that I chose was through the dream the discipline that chose me. Over the last 40 years psychology as a vocation has been leading me toward un-becoming the psychologist I had become.

In this gap between psychology as a profession and as a vocation, it is and has been the issue of language that has informed my work. What characterizes psychological language hasbeen and still is for me the key question that has shaped my thinking, teaching and writing. 

The word psychology means the logos or speaking of soul, and if what is in a name matters, then psychology defined as a STEM discipline whose language eschews the humanities in

favor of the languages of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, invites us to question if it has been true to its name. In becoming a science that takes the measure of behavior has psychology lost soul? 

These questions have been asked for a long time and I am wary of them because they presume an either/or dichotomy, as if one is to make a judgment about what is right and what is wrong. 

I have, therefore, approached this issue of psychology and language by reframing the question of profession and vocation in terms of the difference between the noun psychology and the adjective psychological. 

As a profession, psychology as a noun is appropriate. It defines a set of methods and practices that apply, for example, to psychology as a STEM science as well as to the depth psychologies of Freud, Jung and their descendants, and the existential-phenomenological schools. Each has a particular and specific way of imagining the human person and each has a language in relation to that image. Moreover, in its identity as a discipline in its own right, psychology is taught in universities and institutes throughout the world.

As a vocation, however, the adjective psychological is required primarily because every thing a human person does is done by one who is a psychological being. An economist is a psychological being. So too is a physician, and a philosopher and a poet and as well a psychologist. Indeed, psychology is that strange discipline where the object of study is also the subject who studies that object. From the noun psychology to the adjective psychological, psychology as a discipline with its own identity becomes a perspective, a quality that colors, shades and qualifies every human action.

Holding the tension between profession and vocation, staying in the gap between the noun psychology and the adjective psychological, each of the many languages of soul are games we play and in each of those games something of soul is revealed and something concealed. Each language from STEM to depth and existential-phenomenological languages of soul making has a virtue, its strength, and each its shadow, its weakness. The danger lies in forgetting that in playing the language game of psychology, the psychologist is in a perspective. Then a perspective becomes identified with the truth. Then a particular game becomes the only game in town

The way out of this danger is for the psychologist to remember that he or she is always in some perspective even if he or she does not know with full clarity what that perspective is, even as he or she is fully identified with that perspective.

That kind of knowing is what I have described over the years as a metaphoric sensibility. (Mirror and Metaphor; Images and Stories of psychological Life; and The Wounded Researcher)Such a sensibility is a kind of alchemy that dissolves one’s fixed belief systems and encourages openness to dialogue with other perspectives. It is the bête noir as it were of the true believer. A metaphoric sensibility is a paradox, a piece or irony, a way of saying ‘I believe in making believe I believe.’ 

A key implication of this move from psychology to psychological is that departments of psychology would be balanced, if not largely replaced, by institutes for psychological studies. The primary purpose of these institutes would be to work alongside people within other disciplines to identify the psychological dynamics of those fields of study. 

For example, a psychological consultant or commentator working along side an economist would not only bring a psychological perspective to the issue of money, he or she would do so less as an outsider and with a more intimate knowledge of that discipline. In addition, he or she would have at their disposal the multiple languages of psychology that could be applied to describe more fully the many facets of money, employing, for example the STEM language game to highlight the behavioral aspects of making and spending money, the symbolic language game of depth psychology to underscore its unconscious dynamics,  and/or the social and cultural language games of the existential-phenomenological tradition, to describe the effects of how money is made and distributed in ways that enrich some and impoverish others. 

I realize that this proposal goes against the grain of our times. In an age of increasing specialization, the psychological commentator would be an unabashed generalist. Such a stance challenges one’s status and identity. 

For the sake of full disclosure, during the course of my life and work as a psychologist I have been a psychological commentator, making raids, as it were, or forays into the fields literature, art, history, science and the humanities, mining them for their psychological gold to better enrich my understanding of the psychological dynamics of contemporary events, especially regarding the question of technology.

Staying in the gap and along the way I have come to realize that in becoming a psychologist I have been following a path coded in my name, Romanyshyn, which means ‘son of a gypsy’. I have been a wanderer, a drifter, drawn to those fringe areas where psychology spills into philosophy and poetry, where history and literature percolate with the shared collective dreams of soul, and where the splendor of the world’s simple displays can awaken a forgotten, lost and elemental sense of home. 

Along the way and with some good companions psychology has been a good cover story for me, a good disguise. But the path seems to be getting steeper and lately—the last ten years or more—I realize that it would be un-becoming of me to continue to be and to further become the psychologist in disguise. 

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