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Bringing Up Baby - Page 7

The Researcher's Role

It's not really surprising that researchers and clinicians often speak different languages—they live in different professional worlds. As a scientist, I don't have to face the task every day of helping troubled people handle whatever challenges life has sent their way and deal with the dilemmas that have them stumped. Researchers demand a degree of empirical correspondence between ideas and data that isn't possible, or always desirable, for the mental health practitioner dealing with the unique, case-by-case demands of their practices. Of course, sometimes research can guide a clinical decision in a particular case, but more often, clinicians are faced with the idiosyncratic circumstances of a client's situation and find it difficult to always rely on a set of broad principles that tell them what to do or say. Nevertheless, psychological research can play an important role in helping clinicians do their job.

By remaining skeptical of oversimplified explanations of the human psyche and reductive answers to complex questions, psychological research forces clinicians to ask difficult questions and not pretend that they know more than they do. In that way, research serves as a corrective against the pervasive human temptation to construct a narrative that matches our preconceptions and unexamined biases, walled off from the messy reality in which all of us—clients, therapists, and researchers alike—have to live.

Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., has conducted groundbreaking research on inborn temperament, personality, and the interaction of biology and psychology. His many books include Temperamental Thread: How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are, Galen's Prophecy, and An Argument for Mind. Contact: jk@wjh.harvard.edu. Tell us what you think about this article by logging in and using the comment section below.

Resources

Adler, Nancy E., Thomas Boyce, Margaret A. Chesney, et al. "Socioeconomic Status and Health: The Challenge of the Gradient." American Psychologist vol. 49, no. 1 (January 1994): 15-24.

Beard, Courtney, Ethan Moitra, Risa B. Weisberg, et al. "Characteristics and Predictors of Social Phobia Course in a Longitudinal Study of Primary–Care Patients." Depression and Anxiety vol. 27 (2010): 839-45.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Current Depression Among Adults–United States, 2006 and 2008. Weekly Report vol. 59 ( 2010): 1229-35.

Johnson, Jeffrey G., Patricia Cohen, Bruce Dohrenwend, et al. "A Long-
itudinal Investigation of Social Causation Between Socio-Economic Status and Psychiatric Disorders." Journal of Abnormal Psychology vol. 108 (1999): 490-99.

Kagan, Jerome, and Nancy Snidman. The Long Shadow of Temperament. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.

Sandmaier, Marian. "Who Do You Think You Are?" Psychotherapy Networker vol. 33, no. 3 (May 2009): 20-27, 56-57.

Schreier, Sina-Simone, Nina Heinrichs, Ronald M. Rapee, et al. "Social Anxiety and Social Norms in Individualistic and Collectivistic Countries." Depression and Anxiety vol. 27 (2010): 1128-34.

Schwartz, Carl E., et al. "Structural Differences in Adult Orbital and Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Predicted by Infant Temperament at 4 Months of Age." Archives of General Psychiatry vol. 67 (2010): 1-7.

Weich, Scott, Glyn Lewis, and Stephen P. Jenkins. "Income Inequality and the Prevalence of Common Mental Disorders in Britain." The British Journal of Psychiatry vol. 178 (2001): 222-227.

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