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One on one… with Migel Jayasinghe

‘I became an atheist and freethinker’

20 January 2015

One inspiration
Dr Leonie Sugarman when lecturer at Birkbeck College (1980–82) now Reader in Applied Psychology, University of Cumbria. She was my tutor during my MSc in Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck. I had arrived from Zambia without any hope of returning to the profession with only a first degree. She was so supportive.

One alternative career path you might have chosen
I could have read English instead and become a recognised creative writer. I am now a self-published poet, author of Solace in Verse.

One first
I believe I was the first immigrant from Sri Lanka to qualify and practise as a psychologist in the UK. There have been several since, who achieved recognition in the fields of occupational and clinical psychology.

One book that you think all psychologists should read
Freud’s Civilisation and Its Discontents. I think this is one of the seminal books in applied psychology, although it is classified as political philosophy. I first read it as a sixth-former in Ceylon. Coming from a Buddhist background my world-view was not so different from Freud’s (‘eros’ and ‘thanatos’).  Like Freud, I became an atheist and freethinker.

One moment that changed the course of your career
While a research assistant at Industrial Training Research Unit, Cambridge, I was interviewed for work as an occupational psychologist at the Educational and Occupational Assessment Service in Lusaka, Zambia, by Dr Mary Allen. After I had answered a couple of questions she turned to her Zambian colleagues on the interview panel and said: ‘Look no further, you have the right applicant for the job.’ That was the moment when, at the age of 38, I began to believe that a career in applied psychology was a possibility.

One hero from psychology
Vygotsky. Always compared and contrasted with Piaget, Vygotsky was one of the most influential theorists on child development of the last century. Piaget studied the individual child from a cognitive perspective while Vygotsky concentrated on social constructivism. Vygotsky’s theory of the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ was a radical breakthrough in child psychology.

One great thing that psychology has achieved
Giving permission to question the status quo.

One thing that you would change about psychologists
Call upon them to embrace the new paradigm of complexity theories (e.g. hermeneutic, chaos, non-linear dynamics, and quantum theory).

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Treat human beings not as ‘subjects’ or natural objects, but as persons.

One proud moment
A young rehabilitee (in his early 20s) who had never attended school was, at my insistence, kept for more than month at the Waddon Employment Rehabilitation Centre, and instead of being recommended for manual, unskilled work was sent for further education. He eventually gained a 2:1 degree in philosophy and found work as a library assistant (see Counselling in Careers Guidance, 2001, pp.87–90).

One cultural recommendation
Shakespeare’s Hamlet (text, play, and film versions). This is a play of ideas, philosophy and beliefs. It is not based on action as most plays are. It uses rhetorical devices such as the anaphora, (Words, words, words), asyndeton (to die: to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream), and hendiadys (the expectancy and the rose of the fair state). Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones commented on the oedipal theme in the play. Jacques Lacan also critiqued Hamlet in terms of oedipal theory and semantics. There is much more that psychologists can learn from this play.

One hope for the future
Cross-fertilisation with other disciplines.

One problem that psychology should deal with
How to intervene optimally in global conflicts.

One more question
As an undergraduate I kept being told that there is no such thing as ‘mind’. There are so many things going on at the same time inside your head, the brain, how can you generalise and say it is ’mind’? I retorted: ‘There are so many more things going on inside you at any one time, how can I then call you a ‘man’?’. Someone in the class shouted ‘Iconoclast’.

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