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want to clean up your act
and clean up
Barry Dauphin, Ph.D.
The cover of the May 2002 edition of the Monitor on Psychology (a publication of the American Psychological Association, with which MSPP is affiliated through its status as a local chapter of Division 39) conveys interesting communications about current emphases in mainstream psychology. Intended as promotion for the (recently held) 2002 APA Convention, the cover contains a picture of an ersatz box of soap powder adorned in bright orange and yellow colors. “New in 2002” screams the large print. Over the pictures of “soap bubbles” appear phrases designed to entice, such as “bubbling with excitement,” “concentrated into 4 days,” “cutting edge research,” and “More CE.” In this age of irony, one might be inclined to generously suggest that the message crafters of the APA are winking at us. Of course, we are supposed “to get” the joke and move on, assuming we feel so generous.
Yet as those interested in psychoanalysis might note, sometimes a box of soap is a soapbox. And the soapbox that is the Monitor, and the APA convention for that matter, serves as the spin cycle for new messages in psychology. Exactly what is it that will be cleaned? Or who is to be taken to the cleaners? If the APA sells enough soap, will it be able to clean up the dirty laundry of its budget deficit? Dare I say more, lest the APA wash my mouth out with that soap?
By choosing such a near archetypal image of commercialism, the APA suggests that psychology education ought to be sold like soap flakes. Of course, one of the traditional avenues for selling soap has been the soap opera. And the pages of the Monitor suggest storied ways for state psychological associations to clean up on educational offerings. My suggested title for this soap opera is: The Dirty Bums.
Some state psychological associations and state psychology licensing boards have ginned up worries about (supposed) psychology laggards. The “fix” arrives in the form of Mandatory Continuing Education laws. So forcing everyone to acquire state sanctioned credits is supposed to clean up the dirty bums. If this were the movie Casablanca, one would be tempted to say I’m “shocked, shocked!” that politically appointed bureaucrats would press for laws that increase their power. And a curious thing happened along the way. Some state psychological associations have begun to turn CE into a clean and tidy profit center.
In the Monitor, the success of the New Hampshire Psychological Association (NHPA) is touted in an article. New Hampshire, whose state motto is “Live Free or Die,” has 20 hours of government mandated CE per year. A state barely the size of a soap bubble, New Hampshire has managed to rake in some big bucks. Of course, the plot line of this soap opera contains the accustomed anxieties about size. “Don’t think small” (p. 66) urges the executive director of NHPA (who is not identified as a psychologist, implying that she is not one). The repeated urgings are all about ways “to attract more attendees” (p. 66). Like soap opera hunks and vixens in heat, state associations are encouraged to put on a show to lure as many gawkers as possible. And in the service of the fantasy of keeping one’s hands clean, associations are exhorted to consider pharmaceutical company funding as “they’re not telling (italics added) you what you have to talk about” (p. 66). Much of the article read to me as not so subtly glamorizing the most superficial aspects of workshops to the point of worshiping at the altar of celebrity, if that will make enough suds. Absent is any mention of the educational value of these measures.
In essence the theme of the new soap opera is something like: How can we bubble up our offerings enough to attract the dirty bums responsible for the “need” of mandatory education in the first place? Although they promote “lowering your price” (p. 66) as a means of gathering eyeballs, just how long do teaser rates last when a market becomes over regulated by the state? Such practices are effective at herding people, much the way we do cattle. But then what becomes of cattle? Well, their tallow is used to make soap!
Till now Michigan remains a free state, but what will become of us? Will we be awash in new regulations to clean up our thinking? Will we become a new source of soap? Can we make a clean getaway? Stay tuned.