A Conceptual Revolution

The creative side of culture change

What’s Critical Psychology? Look It Up!

Experts reveal the biases of the psychology we practice.

Critical psychology is rarely taught in the US. But the new Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology could go a long way in remedying this. The massive (2,400 pages) anthology recently published by Springer Reference is the first reference work in English that looks at psychological topics from a critical perspective, and includes international and indigenous points of view.

In putting together the new Encyclopedia, Professor Thomas Teo (who is on the faculty of Toronto’s York University and internationally respected for his work in the history and philosophy of psychology) invited critical psychologists—from humanists to postmodernists, from Marxists and feminists to post-colonialists—to write the 1,000 entries that appear in the Encyclopedia. I was pleased to be among the contributors, with entries for Social Therapy, The Zone of Emotional Development, Postmodern Marxism, and Performative Psychology. You’ll also find entries for other important critical psychology terms, such as collaboration, alienation, anti-psychiatry, cultural-historical psychology, psy-complex, race, and poverty. Additionally, it’s enlightening to read the critical psychology understandings of the “bread and butter” of mainstream psychology—for example, personality, well-being, deviance, creativity, madness, therapy, mental health, and hundreds more.   

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In the context of the Encyclopedia, critical psychology is an umbrella term for the impressive body of work that uncovers and analyzes the political and cultural underpinnings of mainstream psychological theory and practice, and presents alternatives. 

For critical psychologists, the social sciences in general and psychological concepts, theories, methods and practices in particular are historical, social, cultural, and political phenomena. Ignoring this is misleading and can be dangerous. Critical psychologists look at trends in psychology and psychotherapy with an eye toward how they either support the status quo or empower people. They are concerned with the way our society is psychologized and how Western psychological ideas are exported around the world. They explore non-Western ideas of being human, of mental health, of the self, and much more. 

The book is important in broadening the reach of critical psychology in the academy and beyond. Unfortunately, it’s being published as a reference book at a price that only institutions can afford—which means that it’s likely to remain out of reach of psychology students and practitioners for quite awhile.

Lois Holzman, Ph.D., is the director of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy.

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