Professor Murray Describes Department of Abnormal Psychology
Psychopathology the Study of Non-Average Mental Processes
The following article on the Department of Abnormal Psychology was written for the Crimson by Dr. H. A. Murray '15, professor of Abnormal and Dynamic Psychology in the University. Dr. Murray has charge of the Psychological Clinic at 19 Beaver Street and is also a practicing psychiatrist of Boston.
When Abnormal Psychology arrived at Harvard, the idea was entertained that its function was to minister to the undergraduate body; to dissolve its woes and anxieties and appease its truancies, and thus to diminish the incidence of depression and suicide and further sound scholarship. When it was understood that Dr. Shaw of the Department of Hygiene was competently fulfilling this office, black hints were circulated to the effect that the new group was about to conduct a systematic investigation of certain enigmatical obsessions prevalent in the Faculty. This notion was dismissed, however, when the appendage to the department of Psychology was sloughed out of Emerson Hall and quartered upon the most remote plot of land owned by the University. It was obvious that this geographical dissociation prohibited the possibility of a close analysis of faculty behaviour.
At present, judging from the questions asked by random interrogators, no plausible theory to account for the presence and activity of psychopathology at Harvard College has any currency. It might be well, then, to give a brief account of ourselves.
What Abnormal Psychology Is
In the first place, we will define abnormal psychology. Abnormal psychology is a systematized collection of facts, concepts and hypotheses dealing with types of mental processes and behaviour that depart from normal and average forms. It includes a study of such common phenomena as dreams, reveries, slips of the tongue, morbid fears and anxieties, feelings of guilt and inferiority, obsessional ideas and compulsive acts, as well as the less common manifestations of hysteria and the halucinations and delusions of the insane.
Clinic is on Beaver Street
The members of the section of abnormal psychology, or, as some wit flavored minds choose to call us "the abnormal psychologists", are housed in a small frame building of the Boston & Maine period of architecture at No. 19 Beaver Street. Beaver Street? The name is unknown to Cantabrigians; even the taxicab drivers in Harvard Square, with the exception of course of the sapient Nappy, are unacquainted with it. Hence we must state that it is a picturesque thoroughfare which leads off Memorial Drive a block beyond the John W. Weeks Memorial bridge. It is a very pleasant location for an embryonic organism, within view of capsizing single scullers on the Charles River, and amidst other renovated homes, painted like Old Gold cigarette packages, chrome, white and red. The Psychological Clinic, as it is called, contains a lecture room, reading and meeting room, waiting room, four consultation rooms, and two experimental rooms. On two afternoons a week students and instructors and a few practising physicians of Boston gather in the meeting room where, like flies on the wall, the framed countenances of the founders of modern philosophy and psychology leer down upon us, austerely critical. It is a livable house with no mammoth marble columns to remind us of the Roman Parthenon or the First National Bank, and no reinforced concrete to establish in our minds conceptual images of ourselves-as factory workers.
Three Types of Activity
The activities of this new segment of psychological discipline are threefold: 1. instruction in psychopathology by means of lectures, discussions and demonstrations: 2. systematic psychological investigations upon volunteer subjects, most of whom are members of the class; and 3. investigation and treatment of selected cases of the psychoneuroses. At present psychopathology as a science vibrates uncertainly between two extreme, points; concepts based upon the brilliant but unsubstantiated intuitions of certain eminent psycho-analysts and the results of a mass of unenlightened objective tests assiduouly performed by more conscientious but less inspired workers. The illumination that comes from the interplay of imagination and practical experience needs to be merged with scientific methodology, rather after the fashion of the experiments Dr. Morton Prince '75, before more progress is to be anticipated. It is this that we are attempting to do. During the fall research has been centered about the problems of suggestibility, and an attempt has been made by Mr. Herbert L. Barry to discover the correlation, if any, that exists between hypnotic suggestibility and group suggestibility. Coincident with this and other similar pieces of research a number of studies of the psychoneuroses have been completed. It has been possible, for instance, to bring about marked improvement in several refractory cases of compulsion neurosis. Such intimate contacts with the real world are good antidotes for occasional excursions into the metaphysical voids of frictionless thought.
Graduates Fill Clinic
This year the working space of the Clinic has been filled by the graduates carrying on their separate researches. This happy condition is due to the generosity of Mr. Clarence Dillon '05 who furnished us with the salary of an instructor for one year. This position is now held by Mr. D. W. MacKinnon. To maintain the present activity this instructorship is necessary. One man is enough to help conduct and superintend the work and he must be a man of talent; for certainly it is the prime function of a university to expose the student in as many ways as possible to as many men as possible of a high order of humanistic culture and creative conbusture.
University is Conservative
That there should be quizzical and suspicious glances cast in the direction of abnormal psychology is not to be wondered at. An American university is a coolbed of conservatism. It is not the breeding-ground for cultural and political revolutions as it is in Europe. Our professors are by nature prudent, our students docile. This pleases American parents who, when they entrust their progeny to others demand intellectual safety first and last. At Harvard the last symptom of vigorous eruptive life ceased with the death of the Medfacs. In such an atmosphere any new venture must steel itself to criticism. If a Radcliffe student suffers from morbid depression and a copy of McDougall is found on her shelves, her plight is put at the back door of the Psychological Clinic. It is known that abnormal psychology deals with the subject of hypnotism, and hypnotism has its parentage rooted in charlatanism and black magic. Sex and other so-called "Freudian material" tabooed by squeamish and soft-boiled natures are included in this domain. There is a rumor abroad, moreover, that psychopathology advocates the removal of repressions; the very repressions which all parents in an attempt to subdue "Old Adam" have so diligently planted and nurtured in the minds of their children. It is supposed that psychoanalysis in the Samuel Butler manner cries "J'accuse" to the older generation. The notion of the much-heralded Oedipus complex and the suggestion that the parent must adjust to the child rather than vica versa is disquieting and seems hopelessly impractical. The sins of flaming youth, it seems, are laid to the fathers by psychoanalysis, and the fathers return the compliment. What is more, from the point of view of the academicians, psychopathology is no science, and never will be, and hence it is damned. The kernel of it all is that the blue print of the mental underworld which it submits to our attention is so compromising to us all that at bottom we recoil. Psychopathology is, like "un bon petit diable", always up to mischief, and hence may be counted upon to infuriate the disciplined thinker on the one hand and the hundred percenter on the other.
If this is true, how is it that a university first fashioned by high churchmen should admit this troublesome child within its august portals?
To this question we have never heard the answer. It may be the policy or the unauthorized habit of the university never to percuss too thoroughly the heart of an enterprise which presents itself clothed in an adequate endowment or perhaps the college has considered that it was safer in the long run to tame such a dangerous little animal within its own menagerie rather than allow it to run wild in the world; or it may even be possible that Harvard feels the pulse of modern life and is willing to experiment with a branch of learning which may have a contribution to make to human culture.
Whatever motive prompted the authorities to admit abnormal psychology into the fold, it was Dr. Morton Prince '75 who raised the necessary fund and insisted that such an enterprise should be a part of the Department of Psychology in a College rather than in a Medical School. It was Dr. Prince's notion that such a group devoted to a program of scientific research could evolve with more vigor if free from the urgent therapeutic necessities of a psychopathic hospital.
A number of other cogent reasons for the inclusion of this subject in the college curriculum present themselves.
Psychopathology Fits in College
In the first place, psychopathology needs the university. Up to the present time it has been the handi-work of private practitioners; men prey to the claims of the nervous world. It has now reached a stage when it is ready for companionship with academic psychology. Its concepts need to be exposed to the experimental method and to a rigorous criticism, and for that the men who carry on the work must be able to enjoy the kind of leisure and intellectual fellowship that it is the business of a university to provide. Psychopathology requires contact with all the various attitudes of academic psychology, the sensational, introspective, 'gestalt' and behaviouristic. Just as pathology has come to rest upon normal physiology, so must psychopathology rest upon normal psychology. As there is no course of psychology in the Medical School, it is appropriate that psychology be made a part of the college.
It is also of importance that informal cooperations with general biology and philosophy be made possible. It seems that in the realm of philosophy certain men are coming down upon a number of comprehensive synthetic generalizations which will revolutionize and then include the more special concepts of physics, biology and psychology. The philosophy of organism as developed by Professor Whitehead dissolves the old dichotomy of mind and matter. At such a critical epoch in the history of thought when all disciplines are affected, it is of advantage to each science to keep in close contact with the whole.
These considerations should make it obvious enough that abnormal psychology can benefit by contact with other university sciences. Whether or not the converse is true, whether abnormal psychology has a contribution to make to Harvard, that remains to be seen. It is our prejudice of course that psychopathology makes for value.
Close Contact With Reality
Academic psychology has something to learn from it. Its subject matter is important; for the investigation of the aberrancies of nature is one of the recognized ways to truth. Psychopathology provides normal psychology with a welter of previously unconsidered facts, data that cannot be described by any of the available concepts. The concepts advanced by analysts to describe their findings are in many cases at variance with existing psychological hypotheses. The divergence is bound to produce intellectual tensions that will catalyze thought and make possible an ultimate harmony. The analysts have provided one of the shocks that have jolted the old-school of intellectualizing introspectionists out of their sedentary preoccupations. Once more a gust of real air has brought life to a fading hothouse plant. They who remain unspotted by the world will never know the whole truth. Truth includes the spots. In some such way were Spencer's brilliant deductions about the customs of savages proved insufficient when men took the trouble to live with primitive people and intimately observe their ways.
There has been much wholesale criticism of psychopathology on the part of the professors of psychology, but it safe to say that not one of them has ever enjoyed the experience of watching the language of gesture and listening to the free talk of a case of obsessional neurosis day after day for a year or more. In the presence of the insane a professor of psychology is no more at home than a country boy on his maiden voyage at sea, or a savage in the presence of an eclipse of the sun. It is a common error to condemn a subject on account of the peculiarities of the men that practice it. It is only natural that in the early stages of any science there should be an undue amount of mythological speculation. It it not to be wondered at that there are innumerable unwashed and untempered psychoanalysts who have discredited the subjects of psychological analysis in the eyes of the scientific world by their vague and extravagant statements. As if in blissful ignorance of the nature of scientific testimony phantasms have been promulgated with generous abundancy. Undoubtedly amidst the weeds there are to be found some flowers, but there is no telling one from the other and so criticism mows them down weed and flower alike. Certainly this state of affairs is more a function of the analyst than of the subject matter; for we have here a legitimate realm for disciplined inquiry.
Psychology Pictures the Mind
A number of psychopathological concepts such as those of dissociation, repression, complex, rationalization, identification, projection and introjection have already found a place as convenient forms of description for otherwise indescribable phenomena. It is the concept of the unconscious however that has raised the most bitter antagonism. To the psychologists who have had a first hand acquaintance with the eccentricities of the mind it has become increasingly clear that a complete description of mental phenomena was impossible without the supposition of processes in every way similar to those subjectively apprehended as psychical occurring outside the field of awareness. This had led to the paradoxical notion of "unconscious conscious processes", which has so puzzled the academic psychologists. This idea, however, should not in any way be disquieting, if like many concepts of physics for instance, it is understood as a convenient fiction.
Psychopathology has contributions to make not only to academic psychology but to culture in general. Willy nilly it has become the language of a large part of the contemporary world. It has had its affect in many quarters; the novel, the drama, biography, history, sociology, criminology, anthropology and primary education have all been touched by it for better or for worse. At the present day we are witnessing a momentously critical change in the attitude of mankind. Three hundred years ago Lord Bacon formally inaugurated the scientific era, and man turned his face from God to the natural world. Today the emphasis upon the study of nature as a physical world is being to some extent replaced by an emphasis upon the study of human nature as a physical world. Backed by the methodology of science, man is setting about his prime task, that of investigating his own kind. The inner world of mind, unconscious forces, subjective values; these are becoming problems for contemplation and inquiry.
Is Dangerous Subject
It is obvious of course that abnormal psychology is a subject that is loaded with dynamite: and pregnant with possibilities for the disintegration of character. It exposes the combustibles at the springs of life. When a man witnesses the transformation of a human being from a state of poised serenity to one of maniacal possession: and stands face to face with the inexpressible fury of concentrated spiritual rage, it is inexpressibly brought home to him that the potentialities for destructive power within the human mind are immeasurable and as appalling as a cosmic cataclysm. But when one feels all these things and is conscious of them, it simply leads one onward, as all men are in some measure intrigued by fire.
Abnormal psychology provides a double-barrelled benefit to its devotees; for it is not only a field which calls forth all one's resources of imaginative empathy and ordering reason; but it exposes the self to the self. In every psychosis one sees fragmentary versions of oneself dissected out by disease. This leads inevitably to self-revelation and progressive insights. Metaphorically speaking, such experiences expand consciousness. In James' language "I the Knower" looks into the psychic mirror and sees a larger "Me the Known".
May Awake Students
It may turn out, moreover, that abnormal psychology will contribute to the cultural life of the university in yet another way. It may be the key to the cerebral lock of some individuals whose intellectual potentialities can be opened by no other instrument. It is a matter of common observation that, although there are some students who come to college with an enlightened zest for intellectual pursuits and others who will be forever incapable of such experiences, there are many, not without potentialities, who go through the university unscorched by the cultural torch.
Youth is characteristically in search of subjects that have the ingredients of liveliness; subjects that appeal to their imaginations. They have a special predilection for "new" subjects; and if a new subject, no matter what its nature, can start a young man on the road to the intellectual life it is fulfilling an important function. Discipline may be provided by other courses, physical chemistry let us say.
Americans Lack Culture
Most Americans come to college without cultural background, without an intimation that the contemplative factor in life is one of the supreme experiences, even more thrilling than kicking a goal from the field in the stadium. Psychopathology, because it is a new subject, and because it deals with the spirit of man in all its vigorous vagaries, progressive and regressive, and hence is the subject par excellence for the pre-occupation of man, has the necessary explosives for lighting the intellectual fuse in the minds of at least some undergraduates. No young man should go through college unburned. It does not make a great deal of difference what subject infects him first; he should be infected. He may then proceed on his own fuel. Once the taste of blood, always a hunter. Let a man once smack his lips on abnormal psychology and it will lead him to the end of his days on a hunt through all the cultural activities of man to find an answer to his questions. For abnormal psychology, since it deals with all extremes of human activity, the mind behaviour of the criminal as well as the rotarian and the genius, ramifies into all attitudes and objectifications of the human soul. It is preoccupied with hysteria and visions, hence religious conversions, hence ecstasy, hence creative fervor, hence the poetry of William Black. It delves into the obsessional neuroses, hence witchcraft, hence persecutions, hence the devil voices of Cotton Mather. There is no end to it.
I have been furnishing you for the most part with rationalizations. If you ask me why abnormal psychology is at Harvard, perhaps the true answer, is that; "we're here because we're here". And if you ask me for what good are we, I might retort in the words of Benjamin Franklin: "What good is a new born babe?" an "enfant terrible" though it be.