Looking back on my professional life is invigorating, although it had been just plain tiring in real time. There was more than enough of a challenge in the life balancing of work and family roles. Quiet reflection, apparently, had to be postponed. The luxury of “making sense” of choices and experiences awaited a slightly slower pace, one that I can now enjoy.
I became a developmental psychologist, school psychologist, sociologist, licensed private practitioner, faculty member at a medical school, a hospital staff member and consultant, a researcher, guest lecturer, author of articles for professional journals. I think that the greatest joys came from the reflective quality inherent in each of these undertakings. And then there was, and still is, the broader role---the sharing alluded to by psychologist, George Albee. He was a charismatic leader, president of the American Psychological Association, and a bit of a maverick. Albee exhorted contemporary psychologists to “Give Psychology Away”. He told us our most vital mission is to share what we know about human beings in all sorts of situations, at all sorts of ages and stages; to share these with the rest of the world, though not in a didactic or condescending way.
I didn’t exactly know it then, but Albee was encouraging exactly what I had wanted to do and be, when I “grew up.” I wanted to be “Albee’s tireless donor of psychology’s body of knowledge,” including controversial research results and their practical implications, especially as they relate to growth and development in children. The audacity of youth!
But Giving Psychology Away does not mean proselytizing or claiming to have the “true” word about human behavior in every possible circumstance. Genuine humility is essential to the task. Furthermore, a reasonable degree of emotional intelligence is needed to spread the word in a way that “speaks to” each particular listener; for the psychology “give away” is useless unless it is imbued with a sense of what it might mean to the particular recipients.
I was introduced to this challenge early on, in fact, while still a graduate student by writing guest columns about Parenting in the New York Times Magazine. What an experience for a 20 something student who then had no children of her own! What audacity to advise conscientious parents about the process of learning to read, starting school, making friends. I had nothing to lean on but childhood memories and the then current research and textbooks. We did spend a lot of time in guided observing of several pre-school programs. We learned not only how to watch a particular child at play and throughout the school day, but also how to assess his or her feelings, thoughts, motivations and how to predict behavior. It was my first step toward sharing the field of Child Psychology with parents and teachers, eager for answers.