President's blog: Psychoanalytic psychology and the APA - Part I
By Bill MacGillivray, PhD, ABPP
Psychoanalysis has had a curious relationship within American psychology and the APA in particular for over a century. As is well-known, J. B. Watson saw psychoanalytic ideas largely as a challenge to be met and defeated in advancing a strictly behaviorist approach to understanding people; but that is not the whole story. Clark Hull, John Dollard and Neal Miller, among others, viewed psychoanalysis as largely compatible with learning theory and sought to integrate Freudian concepts into their work. B.F. Skinner, and following him the radical behaviorists, were attracted to many aspects of a psychoanalytic approach and reportedly Skinner applied to the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute for training but was turned down. So much for the spirit of inclusion within American Psychoanalysis!
Despite these important connections (and a review of former presidents also suggests that psychoanalytic psychologists have played a prominent role in the APA), it seems fair to say that psychoanalytic theory, therapy, and research have been consistently marginalized over the years within the APA and American psychology generally, never more so now than before. While many of the criticisms leveled against psychoanalysis have accurately noted the absence of rigorous, controlled studies demonstrating the efficacy of psychoanalytic therapy, this has actually changed quite a lot in recent years and there have been numerous studies and meta-analyses demonstrating that psychoanalytic therapy works, and in many ways works better that other approaches (e.g., more qualitative improvement, more sustained improvement, more emotional growth following completion of treatment, and so on. Despite this, the dismissal of psychoanalytic treatment has continued apace and increasingly reveals the ideological biases within American psychology. See Jonathan Shedler's article, "Science or Ideology" for a clear exposition of what psychoanalytic researchers must face. While increasingly demonstrating that psychodynamic researchers can "play the game" and use RCTs and other presumably "gold standard" procedures, Shedler concludes that the ideology of those committed to CBT trumps any fair evaluation of the results obtained.