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.