How an Intellectual English Teacher was changed into a Practical Psychologist
I found myself attracted to the field of psychology because of earlier interests in philosophy. (Yes, I really was an intellectual.) This interest had also led to my master’s degree in Philosophy of Education. In hindsight, it seems that during this degree program, that I was exploring the philosophical or ethical viewpoints which seem to be required for teachers to have coherent reasons for doing what they do. (These ethical and philosophical assumptions would naturally apply to practitioners of all the other “Helping Professions” such as nursing, medicine, social work, and of course, to psychologists and psychotherapists.)
In this master’s program in education, I studied ethics. There is a practical kind of ethical theory, (called Utilitarian theory,) which I preferred, because it seemed obvious to me that if someone is intending to be a good teacher, that person ought to evaluate teaching techniques in terms of how well the students learned. In Utilitarian theory, actions or plans of action are evaluated in terms of their outcomes or consequences, rather than by whether they were done with good intentions, or done according to traditional rules, or by some other standard. Therefore a utilitarian teacher should find or invent techniques which would lead to effective learning. I wanted to be able to predict what kind of outcome would result from what I might do as a teacher. (Of course, researchers in the field of education could conduct actual experiments to discover what would happen in terms of learning outcome, when various kinds of teaching were used. It is obvious that the relevant educational experiments involved would require very complicated plans, for a technique which might work well with young children might not work well with other age groups, and a technique which worked well with older students might fail dismally if tried on younger ones. Many other variables would also be relevant. But when I was studying Education, it wasn’t outlandish to think that universities might actually carry out such experiments, and (sarcasm alert,) that it might be possible to find out what kinds of teaching are effective.)
My field of study came to focus on teachers’ ethical and practical problems concerning what to teach, how to teach it, and how to make reasonable plans, (since all the experiments to find out what would happen in all the various circumstances have not been done,) it seemed obvious that teachers ought to consider whatever can be foreseen about the outcomes of what they do in the classroom. If a plan or an action is to be evaluated in terms of consequences, it seemed clear that consequences had to be taken to mean reasonably foreseeable consequences. I paid a lot of attention to issues related to foreseeing the consequences of actions which were intended to be helpful. In order to make utilitarian judgments about what to teach, how to teach, and so on, it seemed that one would need to predict the future behavior and future emotional reactions of persons who are the recipients of the “help” provided by teachers, and other well-intentioned professionals. I was paying attention to behavior and emotional reactions, which are the subject matter of psychology. Thus, I found myself studying psychology, and my thesis for my M.A. involved an exhaustive study of predictive theory. (I hope my readers have noticed that quite a bit of weight is placed on a practical ability to predict the future. I make many jokes about this, and about what happens when people do not predict the future!) In summary, this master’s program changed me into a practical teacher, and I was well on my way to becoming a practical psychologist.
My career continued for a few years, in education. I taught school (English and Psychology) after finishing my M.A. but then changed fields to psychology and entered a second masters’ program in Educational Psychology. When nearly finished that degree, I was invited to tranfer to a doctoral program in Clinical, School and Community Psychology, which was completed in 1988, when I was 40 years of age. During the time I spent in the Ph.D. program, I supported myself and acquired an invaluable apprenticeship in my field, by working part-time in a hospital emergency room setting, as a member of an Emergency Department Psychiatric Assessment service. The emergency department was where I truly learned the importance of being practical and of obtaining the information needed to predict the future. I have been in private practice, almost continuously, ever since.
My personal life has been integrated into my intellectual life and career, in that aspects of each one have influenced the other, often in quite amusing ways. I was married in my 30s, and have two daughters who are neither teachers or psychologists, but who learned much practical lore while growing up, which they use in their careers. I was divorced in my 40s and raised them as a single parent, on a small acreage where my lifelong enjoyment of horses was a major form of recreation. The horses taught my daughters. It has been a source of much amusement that I was a horse trainer before I became either a teacher or a psychologist. Being a teacher and then a psychologist have both trained me to be a better horse trainer, but being a horse trainer affected my attitudes and style, and my sense of humor. It clearly influenced me be practical in both professions.
While raising my children, I came to perceive that the stresses in my life, as a psychotherapist, were “counterweighted” or so it seemed, by the more physical work of maintaining the acreage and working with the horses, and by the family teamwork which acreage life seemed to enhance. I think that my daughters also benefitted from this, as they experienced me in a variety of contexts, as a person who would assume many different roles. There were jokes that I “wore many hats.” I continue to wear them, and I continue to enjoy those jokes.