Future prospects for Humanistic Psychology

President David N. Elkins discusses the promising future of humanistic psychology, the appointment of new division task forces and committees, and the upcoming division conference and APA convention

By David N. Elkins

As I survey the contemporary professional landscape, I see changes that bode well for the future of humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology is experiencing renewal on various fronts.  For example, the scientific research on psychotherapy is now showing that techniques have little to do with effectiveness while the personal and interpersonal dimensions of therapy are potent determinants of outcome. Many of us have noticed at our Society for Humanistic Psychology Annual Conference that dozens of students are expressing excitement about humanistic perspectives. The scholarly literature is also reflecting an increase in humanistic and existential perspectives. Because of this zeitgeist, I believe humanistic psychology has a historical opportunity to make significant contributions to the larger profession and to regain some of its former influence in American psychology.

To take advantage of this historical opportunity, Division 32 recently launched a "Division 32 Task Force for the Advancement of Humanistic Psychology." The task force, chaired by Brent Robbins, is made up of major leaders in the humanistic movement whose mission is to recommend projects and activities to advance humanistic psychology. For example, the task force currently is reviewing the humanistic literature to identify gaps that need to be filled and books that need to be written. The task force will present its recommendations to the Division 32 board at the midwinter meeting in January, 2012.

In an effort to increase membership, Division 32 also launched a "Division 32 Task Force for the Recruitment and Retention of Members." The task force, chaired by Richard Bargdill, will study this issue and make recommendations to the Executive Committee designed to increase and retain members.

Shortly after becoming president, I appointed an ad hoc committee composed of Brent Dean Robbins and Sarah R. Kamens to work with me to raise concerns about the proposed DSM-5 which, in our view, had major problems and could be dangerous to vulnerable populations. We prepared an "Open Letter to the DSM-5 Task Force and the American Psychiatric Association." We posted the letter on a petition website and encouraged mental health professionals to read it and, if they agreed with the letter, to sign the petition. We had no idea what was about to happen. Hundreds of psychologists and other mental health professionals signed the petition the first day and, as they say, "the rest is history." At the time of publication of this Newsletter, we have received over 9,000 individual signatures and the endorsements of more than 35 mental health organizations, including 14 Divisions of APA. In early November the DSM-5 Task Force responded to our Open Letter and we then responded, reiterating our concerns about the proposed DSM-5 and requesting that the controversial proposals be submitted to an outside and independent group of scientists and scholars for review. Please read the article in this Newsletter for more information about the DSM-5 controversy and Division 32's leadership in that debate.

In late November, we added three new members to the Open Letter Committee: Jonathan Raskin, Professor of Psychology and Counseling at State University of New York at New Paltz, a respected constructivist in the humanistic movement, and a Division 32 Fellow of APA; Frank Farley, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Educational Psychology at Temple University, Div. 32 Board Member, one of our two Council Representatives, and past APA President; and Donna Rockwell, Associate Faculty at the Michigan School of Professional Psychology, Div. 32 Member-at-large, and a former TV journalist who has been writing press releases and other media outreach work for the committee. Also, and unrelated to the new committee additions, Sarah Kamens who had served so effectively on the committee decided to move to a consultancy position and will continue to work with the committee in that role.

On other fronts, I recently appointed a "Division 32 Exploratory Committee for a Humanistic Training Institute." The committee, chaired by Mark Stern, will explore the feasibility of establishing a humanistic training institute to provide long-term and in-depth training in humanistic psychotherapies. Although distinctly humanistic, the institute would be similar in structure to the Jungian and Psychoanalytic institutes. If all goes well, the project will have three stages: (a) exploring the feasibility of an institute, (b) developing a model institute "on paper," and  (c) establishing an actual institute at some point in the future. 

In November, I appointed a "Division 32 Exploratory Committee for an Old Saybrook III Conference."  The committee is composed of Louise Sundararajan, Louis Hoffman, Brent Robbins, and myself. Old Saybrook II was held in 2000 and in the last decade humanistic psychology has made great advances. The purpose of Old Saybrook conferences is to identify the accomplishments and hammer out future directions for humanistic psychology. The members of the committee unanimously agreed that is time for another Old Saybrook conference and have set the tentative place and date as San Francisco in 2014. The committee will contact leaders in the various humanistic organizations and schools here in the United States and in other countries to form a large steering committee to carry the project forward.

The Division 32 Annual Conference of the Society for Humanistic Psychology will be held March 29-April 1, 2012, at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Brent Robbins and Robert McInerney, co-chairs of the conference, are putting together an excellent lineup of presenters including, among other luminaries, Dr. Robert Stolorow. If you want to hear fascinating presentations and see lots of passionate students and professionals, attend the annual conference. In many ways, it has become the epicenter of Division 32's renewal.

The APA convention will be in Orlando, Florida, in 2012.  Ed Mendelowitz and Jason Peng are co-chairs of the Division 32 APA Program and Kevin Keenan and Susan Gordon are co-chairs of the Division 32 Hospitality Suite program.  I encourage both students and professionals to attend the convention. The DSM-5 debate will be the "cornerstone" of the Division 32 program at Orlando. Among other programs, there will be a symposium on the topic and an Inter-Divisional Meeting with 13 other Divisions. Dr. Melba Vasquez, APA President, will speak at the Inter-Divisional Meeting.

Finally, I thank Louise Sundararajan who served as Division 32 president during the past year. Louise has made many contributions to humanistic psychology. We are fortunate to have had her as president and also fortunate to have her on the board this year as immediate past president. Many people, too numerous to mention here, give their time and energy to keep the Division functioning at an optimal level. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

I am honored to serve as your president for 2011-2012. Please feel free to contact me.