The lesser known journeys illuminated
By Shelia, J. Henderson, PhD
“Pathfinders in International Psychology” will provide a rich context for our students as they explore the direction of their careers. I found the book enjoyable and engaging, as it illuminates the challenges, choices, detours and rebounds in careers of 17 psychologists, psychiatrists and healers living from 1727 to the present across the world. I can only imagine how my own career might have evolved had I been inspired by these stories at the outset. Alas, resources like this were not at one's fingertips even 15 years ago.
My impression from knowing hundreds of students from high school to doctoral programs is that they are looking for ways to place their emerging careers in psychology in the context of an increasingly diverse world. When courses are grounded in multicultural and international contexts, all students can begin to imagine how they might fit in the world with psychology as a career. My hope is that students reading “Pathfinders in International Psychology” might be inspired to reach daringly beyond what those around them think possible. From Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779) in Austria to Saths Cooper in South Africa (1950-) to Soueif in Egypt (1924-), this book tells captivating stories about the development of psychology's lesser known heroes. In fact through this book, pioneering instructors can offer a window to the Hero's Journey potentially embedded in psychology careers (Campbell, 1991; Henderson, 2000). As our students go out as trainees and interns on the front lines of psychology, they can draw courage from understanding that psychology pioneers often began with the desire to help and heal individuals and often grew to influencing hundreds of students and professionals in the field.
It is also my observation that instructors still struggle to find accessible supplemental texts to infuse their courses with the rich tapestry of local and global diversity. “Pathfinders in International Psychology” offers a solution through a relatively inexpensive hardcover or paperback. There are impressive alternatives. One example is the “Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology: Global Perspectives” by David B. Baker, which offers a treasure trove of insights nestled in 672 pages. I prefer a paperback like “Pathfinders in International Psychology,” which, at a third of the weight and price, I can toss in my bag and read it while riding the bus. I also enjoy knowing that wherever I am, I still have the opportunity to mind travel across “space and time” (to quote the authors) to gather wisdom from psychologists, psychiatrists and healers before me.
Editors Grant J Rich and Uwe P. Gielen designed this book purposively with thoughtful criteria for the biographies they included and a set of goals and objectives for the work. Both of these attributes help to reassure the reader of the sound psychohistorical and qualitative methods used to frame this work. Consequently, the depth and breadth of the contributions made by each individual chronicled are relevant to students in medical school, linguistics, neuroscience, as well as programs in psychology. Each biographical account is created with principles of fact-based storytelling, avoiding speculation common to historical fiction, which makes the book even more suitable for use in AP high school, undergraduate, master's- and doctoral-level courses.
From my point of view, “Pathfinders in International Psychology” excels at illustrating how lesser known psychologists (but no less worthy of note) across the globe have contributed the foundations of psychology today. This underscores the fact that household names and popular theories in psychology inevitably fail to footnote their origins to the lives of psychologists who pioneered the ideas early on. We see this same phenomenon in science and technology where forgotten geniuses from underrepresented groups and nations initiated discoveries that undergird phenomena like the International Blood Bank all the way to the mobile refrigeration (Henderson, 2004).
Another accomplishment that compelled me was how the authors offered vivid glimpses of how these individuals created themselves through whom and what they studied, where they lived, how they worked, how narrowly or broadly they studied, whether or not they were acknowledged by their colleagues and how all these factors influenced the emergence of their specialties.
From a career development standpoint, students in medicine and psychology can benefit from this perspective. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi's research in “Flow” (2008) and “Creativity” (2013) illustrates how artists and athletes created themselves by how they invested their energy. Rich and Gielen have similarly illustrated how psychologists around the world have purposively and through happenstance developed their careers and influenced the world.
“Pathfinders in International Psychology” is also a book for history buffs. I was recently at a university book club meeting where non-psychologists were analyzing a bestselling popular book, force-fitting Freudian perspectives on phenomena that, from my perspective, had more naturalistic and behaviorally based themes. If I had read this book prior I could have offered perspectives from other psychologists whose lives and insights were more relevant to the novel's characters. In this way, “Pathfinders in International Psychology” is a translational text bringing to the general public insights on the evolution of psychology as a field.
In this troubling time when the psychology profession appears to be struggling with identity and redefinition, “Pathfinders in International Psychology” reminded me that transformation has been at the core of our field since the moment when people sought to understand the mystery and struggle of being human. I now am reassured that perhaps our current field's redefinition is as natural as a changing landscape. We need only embrace it for the growth that may emerge.
Sheila J. Henderson, MBA, PhD, is a counseling psychologist licensed in California and is currently living in New York City consulting for non-profit organizations. She has coauthored books and articles in the area of multicultural competency development, career development and fostering creativity in children and adults.
Campbell, J. (1988). The power of myth. New York: Doubleday.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (Reprint). New York: Harper Perennial.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity (Reprint). New York: Harper Perennial.
Henderson, S. J. (2000). “Follow your bliss”: A process for career happiness. Journal of Counseling and Development, 78(3), 305-315.
Henderson, S. J. (2004). Inventors: The ordinary genius next door. In R. J. Sternberg, E. L. Grigorenko, & J. L. Singer (Eds.), Creativity: From potential to realization (pp. 103-125). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.