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The Big Answer

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The Story of Psychology

a book by Morton Hunt

(our site's book review)

Psychology's History

The book contains the whole history of psychology up until 1993. It gives many facts of interest, and is especially perceptive in tracing the development of psychological thinking from the Greek and Enlightenment philosophers to the early practitioners of the science of psychology, but sometimes gives short shrift to the meanings and ramifications of events and individual’s contributions.

Freud may have been one of the most influential psychologists, and his work on the unconscious and dreams may have been critical, but his negative influence on females in general, on feminism, and on abused children who—because of him—were not being believed, these were and are among his other enduring legacies for our society. But Hunt doesn’t get into it—thereby siding with the anti-feminists by default.

Glaring Omissions

Hunt has apparently never heard of Thomas Gordon, Louise Hart, David Riesman, Gail and Snell Putney, Erich Fromm, Louise Hart, Alfie Kohn, Aletha J. Solter, Gloria Steinem or Philip Slater, all of whom got it right and said it brilliantly in ways that would turn out to have more meaning and deeper implications than the work of most of the rest of the psychologists in his book (even though a few of these people are sociologists, not psychologists). And he gives the great breakthroughs of Abraham Maslow—one of the heroes of Humanistic Psychology, cofounder of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and inventor of Maslow's hierarchy of needs—pathetically little coverage, as if he didn’t realize the immense contribution this man made to the field of psychology—a more important contribution than Freud’s, in our opinion. Yet Freud gets lionized and glorified with very little qualification, in spite of his ambiguous contribution to society. And the great Erich Fromm gets one sentence in this book, in spite of his immense contributions to humanistic psychology, social psychology, and mankind in general.

There has been much progress in psychology since Freud, but Hunt fails to grasp its overall significance. Maslow’s Third Force Humanistic Psychology (see Toward a Psychology of Being) rejects the Freudian view of man as a base, grasping creature dominated by lower instincts, intrinsically at war with society, as well as the Behaviorist view of man as an animal mechanically responding to environmental stimuli. Both Freudian and Behaviorist views are old paradigm; both are mechanistic-reductionistic.

Behaviorists view man as an animal mechanically responding to environmental stimuli
Behaviorists view man as an animal mechanically responding to environmental stimuli

Humanistic psychology, like the best parenting psychology, realizes the profound significance of choice and self-actualization and autonomy. It believes in self-help, self-control, and self-development, all in a context of self-responsibility. The profound impact of systems thought, the Third Wave, and the new, ecological-holistic paradigm have escaped Hunt, who is a science writer.

A New Paradigm

Maslow epitomizes this new paradigm, and Louise Hart, Thomas Gordon, Shad Helmstetter and John Pollard (along with Carl Rogers, Aaron Beck, Nancy Napier, Gail and Snell Putney, Victor Frankl, Rollo May, Fritz Perls, John Bradshaw, Haim Ginott, Ken Dychtwald, Richard Farson, Harvey Jackins, R.D. Laing, Jess Lair, Claude Steiner, Bruno Bettelheim, Nancy Chodorow, Lester Kirkendall, Jerome Kagan, Richard Louv, Catherine C. Lewis, Willaim Pietsch, Jane and James Ritchie, Ronald P. Rohner, Philip Slater, Leontine Young, Fritjof Capra, Eric Berne, Thomas A. Harris, Thomas W. Roberts, Sidney Jourard, Susan Forward, Don Dinkmeyer, Rudolf Dreikurs, Jane Nelsen, Michael H. Popkin, Deborah Critzer, Kathryn Kvols, Erich Fromm, David Riesman and Wayne Dyer, to name but a few) have evolved the pragmatic, empirical principles of the application of this new paradigm to the fields of psychology, communication, relationships, family, personal effectiveness, self-esteem, self-talk and self-actualization, as well as parenting and family sociology.

Hunt’s book aptly summarizes psychology’s past, but gives little insight into its present and future. He is an excellent science historian and good at chronicling the facts about what happened when, telling people's stories in entertaining ways, but is weak in the area of finding the deeper meanings and ramifications of what he is describing. He's more of a good writer than a good thinker. His book can be said to adequately cover the story of psychology's happenings, but, like 1950s history books, it reads like a meaningless collection of events and dates (except for the stories), which is why 1950s history books bored the hell out most of the students. The meaning, the holistic context, the overall effect these events had on our world—these were mostly absent, leading most of the students to think: so what?

Bored reader
Bored reader

They say if we do not learn from our mistakes, we're doomed to repeat them. This is often applied to history, which has a lot to teach us. It applies at least as well to psychology. The Tofflers wrote The Third Wave which let us all finally make sense out of the chaos of the modern world, and cease searching for artificial security in obsolete beliefs and contexts of the Second Wave industrial civilization. His depiction of the Second Wave's mistakes shines a light into the future that will allow us to avoid those errors in Third Wave civilization. The long list of famous authors in the last paragraph, taken together, give a new-paradigm, Third Wave viewpoint of psychology and sociology as sciences best dealt with not as academic theorizing opportunities, but as meaningful tools from which to create ways of helping people grow and become autonomous and wise. And that is what the above people accomplished. But Hunt's book sees only historical facts and stories, while the above writers saw what it all meant and what could be done with it to make life work better.

Toffler's depiction of the Second Wave's mistakes shines a light into the future that will allow us to avoid those errors in Third Wave civilization—Hunt needed, but lacked, similar insights
Toffler's depiction of the Second Wave's mistakes shines a light into the future that will allow us to avoid those errors in Third Wave civilization—Hunt needed, but lacked, similar insights

What He Gets Right

On the positive side, he lists a few of the most enduring findings in the area of parenting, and among these he wisely includes: the importance of parents modeling examples to emulate, the fact that power trips are bad discipline—but, alternatively, talking with kids about their discipline and explaining things tends to get kids learning self-control, and, most of all:

“The children of authoritarian (dictatorial) parents tend to be withdrawn, low in vitality, mediocre in social skills, and often prejudiced, and, for boys, low in cognitive skills. The children of permissive parents have more vitality and sunnier moods but poor social and cognitive skills (the latter is true of boys in particular).

The children of authoritative (firmly governing but democratic) parents tend to be self-assertive, independent, friendly, and high in both social and cognitive skills.” He’s right except for his “governing” attribute regarding authoritative. They parent; they don’t govern, which means the exercise of authority to control another. The implication here is wrong. Authoritative, democratic parents aren’t out to control their kids and get "obedience." They’re out to empower them and teach them, by the application of natural and (for some methods of parenting) logical consequences and by modeling appropriate behavior, showing them how to control themselves—a much different concept than learning how to be controlled gracefully. Authoritative, democratic parents listen well and get listened to well, learning to speak in empowering ways. These parents stay out of the way of kids learning to solve their own problems, rather than making such problems their own and governing and controlling kids’ behavior.

Obedience is the correct goal of dog training, NOT at all the right goal of parenting!
Obedience is the correct goal of dog training, NOT at all the right goal of parenting!

Another plus in his book is his acknowledgement that one important factor in kids learning altruism is parents modeling this behavior.

Another plus: He sees cognitive therapy technique as one of the most widely used psychological methods because of its short term and its effectiveness. When self-help books get into the subject—using it as an adjunct to their other recommendations—they usually center on self-talk: remove negative thinking (conditioned into you by negative past influences, usually mostly parental) and insert positive thinking or cognitive therapy of the David Burns style—Feeling Good.

Another plus: He realizes how unfortunate, inappropriate and exploitative it is that advertisers, politicians, religious leaders and others have studied the psychology of persuasion and have used these scientific findings to their own ends. What makes it negative and exploitative is not that science is being used to communicate more effectively. It’s that the ads' messages are aimed at unconscious motivations and fears and they manipulate the target audience covertly and without their knowledge or permission.


Where He Falls Short

On the minus side, he mentions est, and in describing what it is and how it works, he gets it wrong. It always was a tool to empower being by helping participants find and center upon their real selves rather than the beliefs and expectations and other stuff that surround the self and try to confuse people into identifying with it rather than being who they really are. Its methods (as well as its leader's family relationships) may admittedly have been suspect and even mean, but its goals were honorable and on firm theoretical and existential ground. Hunt describes it as though it were a ludicrous scam, which is true about many cults, trips, pop psychology fads, astrology, channeling, psychics and others, but not est.

In mentioning systems thought—as is used in various forms of family therapy (which has grown greatly in recent years)—he fails to put it into any meaningful context. The most important worldview paradigm shift (from the mechanistic-reductionistic to the ecological-holistic) in history is starting to impact psychology profoundly, and Hunt doesn’t even have a footnote about it.

The most important worldview paradigm shift (from the mechanistic-reductionistic to the ecological-holistic) in history is starting to impact psychology profoundly, and Hunt doesn’t even have a footnote about it
The most important worldview paradigm shift (from the mechanistic-reductionistic to the ecological-holistic) in history is starting to impact psychology profoundly, and Hunt doesn’t even have a footnote about it

And in reporting Alfred Adler’s split with Freud (after realizing that all the infantile sexuality, oedipal motivations, penis envy, et al., in Freud’s theories were too reductionistic and too much a symptom of Freud’s sexual peculiarities rather than necessary components of good psychology), he doesn’t acknowledge Adler’s major breakthrough of finding out that child-rearing practices were the major factor in child development, even though Hunt’s book later reports, as we mentioned above, that parenting methods have a profound effect in how kids turn out.


Autonomy? Never Heard of It

Worse, his index has no such word as autonomy, the goal of psychological maturity. Various statements in the book make it plain that Hunt buys that the goal of therapy is to help people adjust to their environment (seen as the definition of psychological health by most of the characters that inhabit his book), however negative this environment is, and he also seems to buy the idea of conformity for the good of society, however stagnating. Hunt seems to be in serious need of reading The Lonely Crowd.

In The Lonely Crowd, David Riesman defines three types of "adjusted" conformists: tradition-directed, inner-directed and other-directed people. The first mostly relates, in America, to immigrants from peasant societies. The second relates to people who are guided and controlled by their superegos, which use guilt and fear to enforce the person acting according to his upbringing. The third, other-directed people, are also “adjusted” conformists, and they are run by “that’s what my peers expect of me.” All three types are obeying extrinsic pressures. All three are at effect, not at cause. Autonomous people are the only type that represent psychological maturity—all the other types represent psychological immaturity. This is the most important thing for any treatise on the history and significance of psychology to contain, and yet it was not to be found. Ouch!

(Note: Hunt's book The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature is a more insightful and comprehensive treatise on its subject matter: the relatively recent trend of special interest groups standing in the way of science when said science doesn’t happen to be in harmony with the particular beliefs of said groups.)

Authoritative Parenting

Hunt's erroneous concept of authoritative as "firmly governing but democratic" dovetails with his lack of recognition of the term autonomy. Apparently he thinks of the goal of parenting as producing obedient kids, in addition to the "self-assertive, independent, friendly, and high in both social and cognitive skills" attributions he cites about authoritative parenting. Both Diana Baumrind and William Sears would unfortunately agree, but the vast majority of parenting experts supporting authoritative parenting as the best method would vigorously disagree. The opposite of BEING GOVERNED is GOVERNING ONESELF. All "governors" want their governed to conform to the expectations of their constituents, especially if they are parents and the governed are their kids who they desire obedience from. On the other hand, kids who are encouraged, empowered, helped, guided and listened to (but never governed) learn to be self-governors.

How are we to reconcile the fact that Hunt wrote a huge psychology book in which he thought autonomy was so unimportant that he never even mentioned it, and he indicates that the best parenting method (authoritative) uses firm governing (when the opposite is true)—and yet he also thinks of authoritatively raised kids as independent and self-assertive (which is correct)? The treatment goal of the best psychological schools of thought and the best psychologists is empowering autonomy—the height of psychological maturity and self-actualization. So why does a book on psychology ignore it as if there is no goal except for academics to have something to talk about and psychologists' bank accounts to grow big and fat?


The less important psychological schools of thought think that adjustment and conformity are the goals, and yet these schools get lots of space in his book. Hmmmmmm. . . . One has to guess that people that champion adjustment and conformity goals ARE "adjusted conformists" and not autonomous since autonomous people deeply recognize the deep meaning their autonomy has in their lives and surely want to empower others toward autonomy as well. This is, of course, somewhat predictable since autonomous people are few and far between, and why would adjusted conformists champion anything more than the adjustment and conformity that is their own personal successfully achieved goal? Mystery solved? See The Adjusted American: Normal Neurosis in the Individual and Society.