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Personal and Impersonal Influences on Psychologists

M. Allan Cooperstein, Ph.D.

Cooperstein, M. A. (2003, May). Personal and Impersonal Influences on Psychologists. Pennsylvania Psychologist Quarterly, 63(5), pp.10-11.

Life is measured by the rapidity of change, the succession of influences that modify the being.
                                                                George Eliot,
The Radical, (1866).

Shaping and Classifying Psychologists

Although little research exists on the subject, numerous influences mold careers in psychology. One classification style distinguishes between the scientist-practitioner and practitioner-scientist. The Boulder (Colorado) Model of the scientist–practitioner training philosophy, was finalized by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1949. This emphasizes the psychologist as predominantly a scientist, capable of conducting research, with testing and psychotherapy skills as secondary skills. Albee (2000) isolates the prominent flaw in this model as a product of the zeitgeist in its intense reliance upon and uncritical acceptance of the medical model and related explanations of mental disorders.

An alternative was presented in 1973, in Vail, Colorado. APA confirmed the Boulder model, but added support and guidelines for the “Vail Model” of the practitioner-scientist (and Psy.D. programs). This accounted for the majority of applicants to clinical psychology doctoral programs who aimed towards clinical service. Research skills received less weight, while clinical skills were highlighted. Interestingly, Snepp and Peterson (1988) found that, except for a slight superiority of Psy.D. students in “sensitivity” and of Ph.D. students in “scientific attitude”, there were no reliable differences between interns from practitioner programs and those from scientist-practitioner programs.”

Influenced most conspicuously by Jung’s (1971/1976) work, Mitroff and Kilmann (1978) formulated a typology based on scientific orientation. Their types, however, should be seen as representing personal orientations in combination with external influences (e.g., instructors, mentors, authors, etc.).

bullet Analytic Scientist: Logical, detached, and impersonal, they appear value-free, exacting, reductionistic, and empirical.  Relying upon consensual agreement, external validity, controlled inquiry and the maintenance of distance between scientist and the observed object/phenomenon, they may be seen as impassionate, unprejudiced, skeptical, and systematic.
bullet Conceptual Theorist: Also detached, value-free, holistic, imaginative, open to multiple causation, and accepting of ambiguity and uncertainty, CTs recognize conflicts between disparate and/or comprehensive holistic theories and appear unbiased, impersonal, imaginative, with speculative tendencies, and capable of embracing a variety of views.
bullet Conceptual Humanist: The CH is personal, valuing, holistic, and imaginative, open to multiple causation and uncertainty, and concerned with human issues.  They are emotionally invested, admit to and are aware of personal biases, are imaginative, speculative, and holistic.
bullet Particular Humanist: Often applied to psychotherapists, the PH is personal, value-constituted, interested, and open to causal and nonrational inquiry.  The case study is the main mode of inquiry and they appear interested, humanistic, admit bias, and are committed to an action-oriented science.


A Sample of PPA Psychologists’ Career Influences

Illustrating some of the above information, four PPA psychologists volunteered information about influences that impacted their career and related choices.

bullet Psychologist 1 matriculated as an artist and biologist before entering psychology. He blends the Boulder and Vail models, his work products ranging from Analytical Scientist in testing and reporting, to Conceptual Humanist in other professional writings, to Particular Humanist in his psychotherapeutic approach. He tends to be analytical and holistic and open to a variety of hypotheses. While valuing intuitions, he relies most heavily on empirical data.
bullet Psychologist 2, as an undergraduate physics major, took mathematics and research-based courses, suggesting an intrinsic Analytical Scientist orientation. He studied the philosophy of science, becoming interested in epistemology and theories of knowledge. Preferring theorizing (as would a Conceptual Theorist), he believes “all science is psychology”; he was most interested in how the mind worked, not the clinical aspects of psychology. He was exposed to psychological education and supervision, but exposure to psychoanalytic treatment became his most profound experience: he learned to understand and discriminate “wise intuition and rationalized neurosis."
bullet Psychologist 3 was influenced by a background of humanism from her early home life. She majored in English, minored in philosophy and history, and later graduated from an Existential-Phenomenological psychology program. She says, had she not discovered the inclusive, holistic, and humanistic program, she may not have attended psychology graduate school. Professors were influential and she was a graduate assistant to a well known phenomenologist. Consequently, graduate school "felt so right." The influences to which she was exposed identified the virtues of all systems and approaches, and acknowledged their truths and limitations: “Man is too large for one perspective”.  She treats “the whole person using the system that best suits him or her… does not pathologize but thinks about a person in a way that allows us to see and strengthen the strengths while acknowledging the limitations and their destructive power.”
bullet Psychologist 4 was most deeply influenced by his psychotherapy experience: “My therapist…would probably have described herself as an ego psychologist”. He says “Psychotherapy was…the best educational training that I could have had for my work now as a psychologist--far more helpful than any class I ever took or book that I ever read. It was also a major, if not the major turning point in my life…I can't imagine doing what I do now without knowing what it is like to sit in the other chair.” Influenced greatly by Jung, he says “I think I probably also saw in the image of the older Jung a sort of father figure that I had never had in my own life, a man with whom I could identify and who was, you might say, encouraging me to look inward for the first time.” Consequently, he was, at least in part, attracted to the psychoanalytic approach.



Paradoxically, psychology has neglected the study of psychologists and the traits and influences that guide their entries into the field. Clearly, psychologists differ in their diversity beyond the fundamental Boulder and Vail models and the Mitroff and Kilmann typology. Hopefully, additional research will not only better identify those who are best suited for careers in psychology and its subfields, but also identify traits and influences that could guide their career directions and enhance their abilities as scientists and/or practitioners.



Albee, George W. (2000). The Boulder model's fatal flaw. American
, 55(2),
C.G. (1971/1976). Psychological Types [Bollingen Series XX,
    Volume 6]. Princeton, NJ:
University Press.

Mitroff, I. I. & Kilmann, R. H. (1978): Methodological approaches to social
. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Snepp, F. P. & Peterson, D. R. (1988). Evaluative comparison of Psy.D.
    and Ph.D.
students by clinical internship supervisors. Professional
    Psychology: Research &
 Practice, 19(2), 180-183.


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The purpose of the content is to educate, inform and recommend. Under no circumstances is it meant to replace the expert care and advice of a qualified professional as rapid advances in medicine may cause information to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Dr. Cooperstein assumes no responsibility for how information, products and books presented are used and does not warrant or guarantee the content, accuracy or veracity of any linked sites. Dr. Cooperstein  makes no guarantee to any representations made by listings in professionals or support services directories.

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Last updated: June 26, 2011 12:55 PM