Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/March 1911/The Consulting Psychologist


By Professor C. E. SEASHORE


TO the popular mind the "consulting psychologist" is a medium in the rookery on Broadway to whom one may go for paid advice—decidedly practical. But the meaning ascribed to the term by Professor Royce, in his now classic address before the National Educational Association, twelve years ago, has perhaps found some recognition. It is in this sense that I shall use the term.

With the growth of science comes the specialist, and with the development of the specialist comes the consulting specialist—a man who does not engage in competition with the rank and file of the profession, but conserves his energies and fits himself for dealing with special problems. In the past the consulting practise has generally come as a result of preeminent success in ordinary practise, and from a desire to select the most important work. This is illustrated in medicine and engineering. But with the passing of the self-made man, and with the growing differentiation of work, comes an opportunity for the trained specialist, still young, to get recognition for special service. In all the branches of medicine and engineering, and in many other fields, there is now a demand for the man who is master of something specific. Now, as psychology becomes a science and so begins to show signs of being of practical value, there is more and more demand for men who have not only a thorough mastery of the subject, but who will devote themselves to some aspect of its application.

We are just now at an epochal turning point in psychology. The subject is passing its infancy as a pure science and the world has taken us all too seriously in the promise of what we can do to be useful. We stand amazed in the face of the confident and insistent demand from the various walks of life for psychological principles of explanation, organization, guidance, economy, efficiency, conservation, expansion, growth, evolution, development, transference, impression, retention, elaboration, attention, affection, action, fatigue, rest, etc. The demand comes from the arts, the sciences, the professions and the industries, as well as from the patrons of liberal culture. Education as a science knows no other foundation equal to psychology; fine art, in all its branches, is interpreted in terms of psychology; social, charitable and corrective agencies grope for psychological justification in every movement; medicine, as it faces the bewildering ills of mental life, recognizes the necessity of a psychological point of view and technique; law has caught a glimpse of the fact that it has to deal with human nature; the ministry has hit upon the fact that the soul which is to be saved and made like unto the divine is the human mind; the merchant has discovered that impression, attention, interest, satisfaction and action in salesmanship can be enhanced by knowledge of the laws of human nature; the manufacturer is beginning to realize that skill, invention, economy of process, etc., can be improved by knowledge of the nature and laws of the psychophysic organism; the great wave of interest in the conservation movement which is sweeping over this country reveals the fact that the most serious depredations we have to check are the inroads upon the human mind, and the most precious resource which the country has to conserve is the mental energy of the race; preventive medicine and eugenics invoke the science of the mind to decrease ills and increase power, happiness and beauty of mind.

In short there is a very great demand for applied psychology. The world believes in it. What, then, shall be our attitude toward this demand? I venture to suggest a point of view in the following four propositions:

1. The facts of psychology are fast becoming common knowledge which will profoundly influence thought and action. Men in all walks of life will apply their knowledge of mental life; but, be they ever so well grounded in this science, psychology is not their calling, and they will treat it merely as one of many points of view in their broad outlook.

2. All psychology is more or less practical. The psychology of the class-room is not a mere decorative frill, and we are not all the time tuning our fiddles in the academic laboratory; but the primary aim and ambition in all is academical, and it should be.

3. Research in pure science is farsighted, and thus ultimately of the greatest service. The work must be fundamental. This is its chief merit and distinguishing trait. If the investigator who gave Marconi the principles of wireless telegraphy had aimed directly at the saving of ships at sea, he would probably have failed; but he devoted himself to the mastery of an abstract principle and laid a large foundation. Countless achievements may be built upon this foundation.

4. There remains a distinct field for the consulting psychologist, an expert in psychology who may be employed as adviser in matters pertaining to the ascertained facts of mental life with reference to their bearing upon a given practical situation, or may be employed to search for or verify such facts by special investigation. He is the Marconi of psychology; the man who works out the application.

For convenience we may divide the field open to the consulting psychologist into four large divisions, namely, (1) mental pathology. (2) education, (3) technical arts, crafts and professions, and (4) eugenics. This classification is not all-inclusive nor are the divisions mutually exclusive, but some such divisions may be helpful in blazing the trail.

The first division embraces all institutions for those who deviate from the normal condition of mind; such as insane asylums, schools for the sensory defective, institutions for moral delinquents, homes for the feeble-minded, epileptic colonies, the provision for the abnormally retarded and mentally defective in the public schools, and special schools, clinics, foundations, laboratories or retreats for the study and treatment of mental deviation. As the physician is at present more in demand for the curing of disease than for preventive measures, so the psychologist's first mission will be to the mentally suffering. The alienist will share his duties with the consulting psychologist; the superintendent of the charitable institutions will be guided by his advice to a large extent in organization and management of institutions; the segregation of mentally defective pupils in the public schools will be under his supervision; and, in the special institutions for the investigation of mental troubles the psychologist will, of course, be the central figure.

The second division embraces the vast field of applied psychology in the organization and administration of the education of normal individuals. This does not refer to the work of the professor of educational psychology, nor to the psychologically trained superintendents, principals or teachers, but to the experts who are available for consultation work only. The consulting psychologist will be found in the research laboratory of educational psychology, in the research laboratory of other educational agencies, in the office of the city board of education (or in the superintendent's office), in the office of the state superintendent of public instruction, and in the national bureau of education. We have recently heard the assertion that the railroads of a certain section of the country could save a million dollars a day by scientific management; but it would be less hazardous to say that the patrons of the public school system of the country could save a million dollars a day by the introduction of psychologically scientific management of instruction. The principle is the same, and the one measure is as tangible as the other; neither has been solved and neither is the task of a day; both are progressive measures. The first thing essential is that the administration shall have faith in the aim and effort of the expert; and second, that the expert shall be willing and able to make good. Both are in sight. If the money now paid to authors of children's first books in reading were paid to a group of experts for a dozen years some fundamental principles of mental economy in learning to read might be worked out so as to be of permanent guiding value to authors and teachers of primary reading. As it is, the psychologist who to-day is the greatest authority on the psychology of reading, and who has done more on the subject than any one before him, has merely nibbled at the subject for spare moments, in the midst of an otherwise busy career. One such man alone devoting himself to the subject for a lifetime with suitable facilities at command could accomplish wonders. Or, take the subject of arithmetic. Would it not be good economy for the national bureau of education to employ a dozen experts for a dozen years with adequate facilities for experiment and consultation to work out some principles which should determine the elemental contents and fundamental methods of a child's first book in arithmetic? The absence of such principles is notorious. As the promoters of the automobile, the flying machine and countless other enterprises are now watching the work of the electrical chemist in his struggle to invent a new battery for the storing of electrical energy, so the eyes of the educational world will be upon the man who goes into his laboratory, surrounded by all the aids his science can furnish, in systematic search for ways of conserving the mental energy of the young in school so that a new order of things educational may become possible. A young man of marked ability having to choose to-day between the plan of devoting his life to the intensive study of one practical psychological problem, on the one hand, or the academic career as a teacher, on the other, may well choose the former as the more promising of permanent contributions to science for the good of mankind. As the well-qualified men appear, positions will be created for them providing for their bread and butter.

The third division embraces a great variety of situations in which the consulting psychologist may be employed in determining courses of action, principles of efficiency, principles of economy, principles of validity, etc. Thus in manufacture, there is constant waste of human energy for want of knowledge of underlying mental laws which might be applied for the improvement of the type of mental activity involved; e. g., for shortening or simplifying movements, for facilitating perception and discrimination, for enhancing appreciation, and for increasing the effective output of energy. The lawyer has abundant opportunity for seeking expert information in regard to the laws of human nature. In medicine the present movement in psycho-analysis is an illustration of the opportunity for detailing a trained psychologist to work out the case by technical methods which require much specialized skill. Advertising which now employs very high-grade writers and illustrators appeals to psychology for fundamental principles in regard to the work of attention, feeling, satisfaction, convincing argument, etc.

The fourth field really belongs to a future generation, for, although we are seeing it full of promise, eugenics, the welfare of mankind, is to us as yet quite unfathomed. The improvement of the race, direction in the choice and preparation for a vocation, social adjustment, the scientific reduction of crime, and the increase in the sources of human happiness—these are all possible, but distant goals of applied science.

To illustrate more specifically the work of the consulting psychologist in one type of situation, we may take the first field of the four just outlined, namely, mental pathology, bearing in mind that the functions may vary greatly with differences in men, institutions, times, etc.

The consulting psychologist in institutions for mental ills has two fundamental types of function; one that of advice, and the other that of research. Both are necessary for encouragement and growth of the man himself and for the good of the institution. In the capacity of adviser, he may be expected to place at the disposal of his superior officers the latest gleaned and verified facts and theories on the issue in hand and to lend such aid in their adaptation and introduction into the routine of the institution as circumstances may permit; and in the capacity of investigator he may direct, or personally conduct, research for the solution of pending problems. Thrown into tabular form his duties and privileges of advice and research might be listed as follows:

I. Advisory.

1. Testing, classifying and sorting cases on admission.
2. Planning and utilizing the case history.
3. Systematic observation and experimenting on the progress of each case.
4. Adapting treatment, training and adjustment.
5. Technical instruction to the staff.
6. Education of the public (information in regard to preventive measures).

II. Research.

1. Original experiments on the value of new types of treatment, training and adjustment.
2. Intensive study of individual cases.
3. Search for needed psychological facts by scientific experiments. Thus, on the advisory side, he aids the superintendent, the staff and the public by making known and adapting applied psychological principles; and, on the side of research, he tests results of procedure in scientific terms, is ever alert for the discovery of instructive cases which may come under his observation, and directs psychological research for immediate practical purposes.

Perhaps the nature and scope of the work of the consulting psychologist in this illustration from mental pathology may be further specified by pointing out some limitations in a negative way.

The consulting psychologist is not a general administrative officer. There is, perhaps, no better training for a superintendency or other executive work in this type of institution than psychology; but, as in business, if the stenographer becomes president, he gets another stenographer; so here, if the consulting psychologist goes into executive work, let him get another consulting psychologist; for, even if the superintendent be the best trained for expert work, his duties are of a general administrative sort and he can not afford to devote himself to the details of technical work. And if the psychologist is to be successful in the long run, it is desirable that his ideas shall pass muster in the superintendent's office before they are put into operation in the routine of the institution. The temptation to undertake executive duties and to infringe upon the rights of the executive is a natural stumbling block, for it is human nature to reach out for power especially when there seems to be a crying need for its exercise. The consulting psychologist has come about as a result of the differentiation of function and he will find himself permanently only as he recognizes that he is a specialist and limits himself to the work of advice and research within a narrowly limited field, respects the dignity of his calling, and covets no other.

The consulting psychologist will not dissipate his energies in general psychology. While a broad training in theoretical and experimental psychology is the best asset with which to start the career, his success as an expert will depend largely upon his willingness to steer clear of pure science problems and his determination to devote his ingenuity and best energies to the adaptation and application of facts already known. There is a constant temptation to evade tasks of achieving something practical for the pleasure of browsing in the green pastures of all knowledge. Like Edison he must stick to his beakers and batteries even at the expense of public ridicule.

The consulting psychologist does not yield unduly to pressure for results. One of his chief duties is to forestall the precipitous rush into extensive application of what may be at best but a specious principle. He will dare to say, "I don't know," even if it should take him years to search for the seemingly trifling fact. While we but little dream of the possibilities in command of applied psychology, there is in the present atmosphere entirely too sanguine a feeling in regard to what it can do on short notice. Instead of being hazardous at guessing, the consulting psychologist must have courage to demand that he have the privilege of making patient search before he prescribes. Thus he has to pass through the narrows with the danger of dissipating his energies in aimless search for truth for truth's sake, on the one hand, and, on the other, the danger of hasty and ill-advised rush into practise.

The consulting psychologist is not a reformer. People think that he holds the magic wand and can transform situations suddenly. If inexperienced, he is likely to enter upon a program of reconstruction, for all seems wrong; but, as soon as responsibility is placed upon him for the consistent readjustment of one particular little feature, he will tone down, haul in his flying colors, and investigate the ground on which he stands. He may even go so far as to feel that whatever is is best under the circumstances. Here is where his mellowness of experience, knowledge of men and evolution of institutions, and his practical sagacity will be tested. If he is shrewd he will progress slowly and by such steps that both he himself and his superiors may acquire confidence in his work. At the same time he will miss no opportunity of making himself useful in a tentative and provisional way.

He is not a practising physician. While a medical education is most desirable he must have a really different point of view from that of the practising physician. In the first place, he observes and recognizes the mental half of man in a way in which the institutional physician does not; and herein lies his mission. His place is to supplement the work of the physician.

He does not surrender his scientific freedom. With all these restrictions he must demand one great privilege, the freedom of a man of science. Unless he is given time for patient and deliberate search, freedom from necessity to rush into print, exemption from excessive routine duties, reasonable physical equipment and assistance, he can not grow into that scholarly attitude which is necessary for effective work and results on a large scale.

What then shall be his training? Applied psychology is more difficult than pure psychology, if such there be. The consulting psychologist must, therefore, like all consulting experts, come with high qualifications. In the first place he should have the laboratory training in psychology which would correspond to that required for the doctorate in order to get thoroughly impregnated with the spirit of research, but this graduate work could profitably be planned with reference to the field he is to enter. Then he must have knowledge of, and training in, that phase of work which he is to pursue, such as education, medicine, sociology, etc. And in addition to this academic training he must go through a process of apprenticeship in the field before he is qualified for the most responsible work. But he will be a university product in the best sense, and the universities must rise to the recognition of this opportunity for usefulness.

Just one concrete illustration of what a consulting psychologist is doing now in the way of scientific adjustment in an institution. In the New Jersey Training School for Feeble-minded, at Vineland, Dr. Goddard, in most hearty cooperation with Superintendent Johnstone, has carefully graded the children by the Binet method; i. e., he has determined the age of mental development and capacity, as opposed to the physical age. The children are then kept under systematic observation by the staff and record is made for the purpose of establishing norms indicative of what the children of each mental age are capable of doing. Each individual is then assigned daily lessons and duties according to the norm for his mental age. The work has not yet been carried far enough to fix final norms, but the very introduction of the principle of seeking such adaptation has had a most wonderful effect on the institution. Thus, a boy who has had eighteen birthdays and is of normal size enters the institution as a helpless dependent; he is tested under the direction of the psychologist and is found to be mentally of the calibre of an eight-year-old and is therefore classified with the group of that age. The norm shows that a lad of eighteen but mentally developed only to the age of eight, and with slight, if any, prospects for further development, can not read, nor write nor figure serviceably, but he can feed himself, make his bed, fold his napkin, keep himself clean, help a crippled brother, lead a horse, carry water, pitch hay, hoe the garden, toss a ball, do small errands, etc. (the items specified are fictitious). He cares little for play, but is an automaton, glad and effective in repeating the same simple tasks. His program for each day is therefore mapped out according to the norm showing the upper limit of what he can do. The result is that he is busy all day, industrious and useful and therefore happy and good. The secret of it all is that he has found his level and is allowed to live on it. His ambition is realized and he is proud and grateful for what he can do. He is an illustration of scientific adjustment. Compare this boy with his equal in the ordinary institution for the feeble-minded where he is detained as an inmate out of adjustment, irritated by the things he can not do. Adjustment transforms an institution of detention into a house of happiness and usefulness; and, instead of being expensive, it makes the institution more nearly self-supporting, for every individual is assigned to the place of his greatest efficiency.

In conclusion, let me sum up this all too brief appeal. Applied psychology can not always live by the crumbs that fall from the professor's table, nor can it get its full vitality from the non-psychological professions. It must be fostered by the specialist who devotes himself to it for its own sake. It must recognize itself, its own peculiar technique, its vastly varied fields, its diversities, its stupendous difficulties, its essential limitations, and withal its promise and worth.