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Review of "Psychologists Defying the Crowd"

By Robert J. Sternberg (Editor)
American Psychological Association, 2002
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Psy.D. on Nov 12th 2003
Psychologists Defying the Crowd

   I've seen Robert J. Sternberg in action at the American Psychological Association conventions, and he's always been a favorite of mine. Given a list of choices for say, a morning, I would choose him out of the crowd of presenters. No matter what his subject matter it was sure to be interesting. He motivated me to go back home and do what I do best: psychology.

   A group of 16 psychologists each contributed a chapter to this book. Each of them had their way of "defying the crowd." The introduction by Sternberg sets the tone. Most of these psychologists state that they never intentionally set out to be "defiant," but found their passion in whatever they did to be out of the mainstream of psychology. Any psychologist reading this book would recognize at least one of these people. Some are in university settings, some are clinical, and most do psychological research.

   I think it is important to learn what the crowd is doing first, in graduate school, and then to make up your own mind about what is ethical and then interesting, relevant, and helpful to society. Each of these individuals definitely has a great story to tell, and the variety of what they each do make this book on top of my list of books every psychologist should read.

   I attended graduate school in Florida during the mid-80's, which is important to know because some of these people hadn't yet come into their own, while others were at the height of their career when I was in high school. I went to school for nine years in a row to complete all of my degrees leading to my doctorate, and I chose a clinical degree (PsyD) because I knew I wanted to be a clinician. Nevertheless, I learned early in my schooling about the importance of publishing research, and in my junior year of undergraduate I published my first article on rape. I also later published articles in graduate school, although I was more peripheral to the design and statistics involved. Still, when one of the students presented his work to the faculty, I was the one who told him on a break what was wrong with his statistics. Sure enough, the faculty came back into the room with the same comments.

   One other relevant thing to mention is that psychology on the west coast is different than psychology on the east coast or in the Midwest. These are generalizations all with exceptions, but it could generally be said at the time (mid-80's) that the east coast, especially New York, focused on psychoanalysis in therapy, while the Midwest was generally more cognitive-behavioral, and the west coast was cognitive. I was trained on both coasts because undergraduate work was at San Diego State University, which had a significant impact on my own approaches to clinical work later, and on the east coast I received my doctorate, where the "crowd" was psychoanalytic, or as they liked to say, "object relations." I managed to get myself into a practicum where the professor was a woman who became my mentor. She was a feminist with a cognitive and family therapy thrown into the mix.

   When I read the stories in this book, it reminds me of my own story of going against the crowd, because other students in my class were using object relations and I was guided by mentor and other wonderful supervisors to use concepts from feminism, family therapy such as Bowenian, and cognitive therapy. I specialized in learning about women's issues, working mostly with victims of domestic violence. My approach affected not only the lives of many women, but also that of their partners, with whom I also worked separately with groups of men, and children. I taped my therapy sessions with the consent of the patients, and used them with my supervisors to improve my skills. Some of the supervisors and professors were very psychoanalytic, and I often put my grades on the line by disagreeing with them. Amazingly, my grades were as high as they could be, and I believe, as did my mentor, that at times I was educating the supervisor about women's issues, without using the psychoanalytic approach.

   The reason I have told my story, which is only a small part of my story and time, is to show by example how the authors in this book "defied the crowd." My peers were sure I would fail, not be liked by my professors, etc., but my mentor and supervisors were much better than they gave them credit for. I had learned what the crowd did, and could pass any test on it, but I had learned several totally different approaches that in that time and place were not with the crowd. Years later, as a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice, I applied whatever I needed to for any particular patient. I've never believed in seeing every patient with only one model. The authors of this book have similar stories except each is unique in the specifics of how they defied the crowd. I am not famous, but most of them are.

   I think this would be an excellent book for third year graduate students, who have learned the basics, and now consider alternatives. No matter which way they go in their career (psychologists have many choices), each story would provide fodder for class discussion, followed later by application. Each story can be applied to a different facet of psychology; for example, social psychologists would Elliot Aronson's story applicable to their career. Sternberg has kept up with my expectations and more. Psychology professors and clinicians should all read this book for consideration of not only their careers, but those of their students, who in turn go out into the world and affect the lives of so many people.   


© 2003 Patricia Ferguson


Patricia Ferguson is a freelance writer/editor/publisher, as well as a licensed clinical psychologist. She is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Apolloslyre, an online magazine for and about writers of all genres. She is an editorial reviewer for The Writer's Room, and a book reviewer for several venues, including, among others, Absolute Write and Metapsychology Online. Her most recent publication was in Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying by Cheryl Dellasega, PhD and Charisse Nixon, PhD. She and her husband and son live in northern California.