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Sherman, M.H. (1971-72). Role Titles, Vocations, and Psychotherapy. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(4):511-527.

(1971-72). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(4):511-527

Role Titles, Vocations, and Psychotherapy

Murray H. Sherman, Ph.D.

I. The Concept of Role and Role Title

Various definitions of role have been proposed, each with its particular focus. The eminent sociologist Robert Merton8 describes the relationship between status and “role set.” Biddle and Thomas,2 in their comprehensive text, provide a complex analysis of role that includes reference to “behavioral class set,” “person-behavior matrix,” and “behavior segment.” In this essay, particular emphasis will be placed upon role title and its determining effects in vocational behavior and in the psychotherapy process. In this light, the following definition of role is proposed: Role refers to interrelated aspects of behavior—actual, implied, or potential—which may be subsumed under a more or less formalized title that is recognized as such by a given group of people.

Role title, therefore, refers to the social recognition and designation of particular role behavior. However, this process carries with it an elaborate masking process by means of which many related social and individual needs become both contained within the role and concealed by it. The concealment, or masking, is enacted through a distinction between the public and private meanings attached to role titles, which thus take on a defensive function in the psychoanalytic sense of repression and the unconscious. The individual is enabled to engage in a series of behaviors the existence of which remains out of his awareness through various semantic and other devices.

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