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Clinical, Work and occupational

One on one... with Richard Hallam

Visiting professor of clinical psychology, University of Greenwich, London. Includes online-only questions.

18 June 2012

One inspiration
Ted Sarbin. His first article appeared in 1939, and his last was accepted for Theory and Psychology a month before his death in 2005, an incredibly long dedication to psychology. He was generous with his time and readily agreed to write a foreword to my book Panic in 1985. We met and corresponded many times subsequently. He had a breadth of vision that is rare nowadays.

One theoretical issue that psychology should face
Although this will be regarded as heresy, one hope I have for the future is that psychology will stop thinking that it should necessarily have a future. The way the sciences, and especially the social sciences, were originally carved up into separate disciplines was in many respects arbitrary. These disciplines have developed tribal characteristics, intent
on their own self-preservation. We need transdisciplinary thinking that attempts to understand human society in an ecological framework, dissolving ancient divisions such as the one between sociology and psychology.

One alternative career path
I was accepted for architecture school and would certainly like to have been a good architect.

One way CBT has changed
Originally, CBT adopted an anti-diagnostic, individual case formulation approach. It has now turned into a kind of quasi-medical administration of techniques guided by prescriptive models and cost-effectiveness considerations. The latter is not terribly appealing.

One thing that you would change about psychology
Mainstream psychology has become too narrowly focused on the brain and biology. These are absolutely important aspects of psychology, but they are not sufficient to define it. The proper focus of psychology is the person – let’s leave neuroscience to neuroscientists. Fortunately, some of them, and a number of philosophers too, can imagine an extended mind and see that our behaviour is also a function of the cultural niches we have created for ourselves.

One thing I took from social anthropology
Breadth of vision. My year in social anthropology was partly a response to the aridity of behaviourism and my distaste for the cognitive science that replaced it. Social anthropology encompasses
a variety of competing conceptual paradigms and retains a respectful awareness of its historical roots.

One thing that organised psychology could do better
I think that any professional organisation must cater for the diverse interests of its members and encourage an open dialogue between them. Although accepting letters from ‘outraged of Tunbridge Wells’ is one way of doing this, I prefer the kind of commentary published in response to articles in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. So perhaps a free-for-all discussion is to be preferred over the approach of
reviewer anonymity used by journal editors – a system which is never truly anonymous and never hides prejudices.

One final thought
There is little doubt that people have become more ‘psychological’ in their thinking since I first graduated in the 1960s. I believe this is part of an historical trend, not necessarily the result of psychological scientists convincing everyone of the profound truth of their empirical findings. So perhaps a little more humility is called for in this two-way exchange with wider society.

Online only questions...

One proud moment
I was recently delighted to receive the 2011 Erving Goffman award from the Media Ecology Association for my book Virtual Selves, Real Persons (CUP, 2009).

One regret
Spending too much time on meaningless university evaluation exercises. It is only since leaving full-time teaching that I realise I have had time to think.

One cultural recommendation
I am always happy to meet someone who shares my aesthetic tastes but I never know in advance who that person is going to be. Recommending an item of culture is a bit like telling someone what to wear and that never goes down well unless your opinion has been requested.

One moment that changed the course of your career
I guess switching from forestry to psychology and philosophy at university was one. Also, getting into the field of audiological medicine (more or less by chance) was another.

One book that you think all psychologists should read
The maxims of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld. Perhaps it’s best to read whatever excites your curiosity at the time. But it might well bore you later on.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
I don’t go in for nuggets except in the form of humorous aphorisms - of which I am now making a collection.