In this issue

A message from the current president

The division president discusses how humanistic and existential psychology can contribute to healing a polarized society and ways to ensure humanistic educational opportunities for future generations.
By Kirk J. Schneider

Dear Colleagues,

I am energized to begin my tenure as president of Div. 32. I have a long and kindred relationship with both our division and the governing board. My ties to the division go back to Rollo May, James Bugental, Stanley Krippner, Naomi Remen, Ed Sampson and others when I began my doctoral training at the flagship humanistic psychology graduate school of the time, the Humanistic Psychology Institute (now Saybrook University) in January 1980. But even before that, I felt very close to humanistic psychology through the doctoral work of my father, Murray Schneider, who wrote his thesis on creativity in children and immersed himself in the writings of Maslow, Rogers, Barron, May, Torrance, Moustakas, and other pioneers at the dawn of the humanistic movement. I had many occasions to talk with my father about these writers and humanistic philosophy both as a child and adolescent, until he tragically died at the all-too-young age of 53 when I was 23. My father also steered me to the major humanistic graduate school on the East Coast at the time, West Georgia College (now the State University of West Georgia) where I met the late and wonderful Mike Arons, Robert Masek and James Klee, and struck up what was to become a lifelong friendship with the current chair of West Georgia, Don Rice.

Since that time, I have been privileged to become a member at large of Div. 32 in the early 90s and stay connected with many who have graced our governing body over the ensuing years. We stand now at a very critical time in our field where humanistic principles of theory, practice and research are experiencing a striking revival within our profession as a whole. This is exemplified through the publication of several books and videos on humanistic and existential therapies by the APA; more explicit philosophical works, also published by the APA; and the renaming of the old “tests and measures” Div. 5 to Quantitative and Qualitative Methods. But we also face major challenges with regard to trends toward psychological reductionism in the renewed emphasis both by our federal government and U.S. culture on the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines, which engender major funding sources for our profession. These funding sources put enormous pressure on psychology to adhere to theories and practices that cleave to the needs of STEM disciplines and in some key ways divert talent and resources away from the arts and humanities dimensions of our profession, which certainly pertain to humanistic, psychodynamic, multicultural and other personal and relational oriented psychologies. And this at a time when, arguably, such dimensions are needed as much as ever to treat the polarizing and mechanizing trends of our contemporary world.

It is in this light that I inaugurate my presidential theme for my 2015-16 term: “Reawakening Awe in Psychology and Life.” By “awe” I mean the humility and wonder or sense of adventure toward living. I mean a reawakening of our recognition of the paradoxes of life, that is, the whole of life, that embraces both our great vulnerabilities and fragilities before the vastness of existence, as well as our equally great resiliencies and capacities to participate in that vastness and create our lives anew. This presidential theme calls individuals and our field to a renewed respect, indeed veneration, for life as well as capacity to wonder about and engage life, based on that veneration. The theme is of course no panacea, but it is a time-honored sensibility that in many ways seems to be receiving decreasing honor—particularly at a time when the “quick fix,” efficiency oriented model of living is in its ascendancy.

Fortunately, however, increasing numbers of people, both lay and professional, seem to be recognizing this danger, and that is why we are seeing the restoration of a sense of awe as well as non-dogmatic spiritual and philosophical positions arising in the popular consciousness. Indeed, it appears that the fastest growing “religious” movement are the so-called NONES, which stands roughly for those, especially younger folks, who refuse to affiliate rigidly with any one religious or spiritual standpoint but who deign to search and inquire about the many possible ways to celebrate the mysteries of life and creation. These are people who in my estimation are the humanists of the emerging generation and who, if they can get in power soon enough, can help substantively redress the wars and hatreds, class and cultural divisions, and desecration of the earth and its resources that we see all about us.

In our small but powerful way, Div. 32 is a part of this vanguard that is pressing our fellow professionals to redirect resources toward a more awe-based view of humanity. We're endeavoring this in the realm of practice where, through the task force I initiated, the Task Force on Humanistic-Relational Reform of APA-approved Clinical Graduate Training, we have teamed up with divisions such as Div. 29 (Psychotherapy), Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis) and Div. 17 (Counseling) to provide input on the implementing regulations (IRs) of the Commission on Accreditation (COA). As of this juncture, we have mobilized some 60 comments calling for the aforementioned reform at the COA/IR website. We're also accomplishing this awe-based reform with our Task Force on Developing Humanistic Approaches to Psychological Diagnosis, where we have had a key impact both professionally and in the social media regarding the need to re-envision the current diagnostic nomenclature. We have also made important headway in the realm of a more awe-based, person-centered approach to legislative relations with our newly formed Task Force on Experiential Democracy in the Legislative Setting, and our Task Force on Human Dignity and Humanistic Values and Task Force on the Advancement of Humanistic Research, Diversity, and International Psychology continue to invigorate many with their email lists and meetings.

And last but certainly not least, we took a major step toward addressing the awe-deprived stance of several of our fellow psychologists when our own Scott Churchill took the lead at the APA Council of Representatives meeting this past August to support passage of a resolution that banned psychologists from participating in military and intelligence interrogations. This imperative resolution, which Scott had a major hand in both drafting and articulating on the council floor, is a landmark that hopefully will spur our association to reassess and re-humanize its mandate to heal, and help to make whole, the lives of those we serve. From my standpoint, and that of a growing constituency within the APA, the long-term challenge is to effect a paradigm change that prizes humanistic principles at its core.

In closing, I want to thank my predecessor, outgoing President Krishna Kumar, for his remarkable stewardship—as well as personal support—throughout the past year. Along with our extraordinarily dedicated board, he has set the table for a vibrant and productive new year.