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Richards, B. (1986). Psychological practice and social democracy. Free Associations, 1(5):105-136.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(5):105-136

Psychological practice and social democracy

Barry Richards

Somehow a really vital sense for the human individual or person was coming into its rights … especially through the English emphasis on biology … scientific naturalism and the living unit, rather than an excessive assertion of selves of supernatural origin.

So wrote the Swiss-American psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, reflecting in 1933 (p. 440) upon his intellectual development at the turn of the century. A synthesis of science and the person, a moderate assertion of individuality: over fifty years after he wrote, this theme still has a distinctly modern feel. For many theorists and practitioners in the psychological field, a major aim has always been the humanization of psychological science, and by implication the scientific apprehension of what it is to be human. A ‘balanced’ view is sought, one which preserves a sense of human agency and subjectivity, but which does so within some framework of scientific metaphysics (based, for example, upon a notion of ‘natural system’).


What follows is an abbreviated version of a more historically detailed study (Richards, 1983), which attempts to outline the emergence and development of this search for balance and synthesis in an integrated understanding of the ‘individual’. This search is seen as characteristic of various traditions in academic and professional psychology, in psychiatry and other cognate practices such as social work and counselling. It is also hypothesized that these practices, when viewed historically and in their social contexts, are attempts to moderate social contradictions. They produce, for practitioners, patients or clients or subjects, and even for onlookers in the broader society, an experience of being held together, of divergent social forces being brought into compatibility and coexistence.

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