What gets in the way of our understanding other people?
So asks psychologist Brian Levitt in this challenging and deeply reflective book. Levitt writes with honesty and humility about the profession in which he has worked for 25 years and the people he has worked with. He questions the assumptions that prevent us from seeing people more fully for who they are; the belief systems that underpin all that we do; the devices and methods psychologists routinely use; the influence of the systems within which they work, and the impacts of power and fear. He speaks to newly qualified and more seasoned practitioners alike with his call to look beyond theory and control and see the full complexity of the people who face them in their work.
From the author -
“This book is many things. It carries my understanding of the field I love and that I have lived, worked and played in for the better part of 25 years. It is a personal reflection of how I understand my work with other people as a psychologist. It is a steady stream of questions that may lead to seeing the people we work with more fully for who they are. It holds my thoughts about the belief systems that underpin all that we do. It holds my experiences and reflections with respect to our devices and methods, from personality theory to diagnosis and the dominant tools of psychological testing and interviewing. It is increasingly personal, eventually leading the reader through my thoughts on what it means to us as human beings to work within and be affected by systems, and the impact of power and our fears. It is an alternative to textbooks on clinical psychology. It is a work of critical psychology, asking questions about the bases of our field and what we do. It is a book that holds my ideas and thoughts for young practitioners seeking an alternative source of supervision and study, and it is a book for more seasoned practitioners who may be thinking about what they are really doing after all these years of working with other people.”
Part 1 – Science is dead
3. Paradigms lost
Part 2 – Beyond theory and control
4. The cult of personality theory
5. Diagnosis disorder
6. Personality by numbers
7. The delusion of a shared language
Part 3 – The impersonal is political
8. Welcome to the machine
9. It’s about the power
10. Fear itself
Conclusion: egoless practice
In his recent book Questioning Psychology, Dr. Brian Levitt takes the reader on a personal and intellectual journey through the field of clinical psychology and mental health practices. His fundamental question asks what gets in the way of our understanding other people? His response to this question examines myriad barriers to understanding including the pathologizing of suffering and distress; reductionist diagnostic practices used in assessing persons; and failure to educate practitioners to question all orthodoxies... Levitt’s debt to his intellectual elders including Carl R. Rogers, Garry Prouty, Barbara Temaner Brodley, Thomas Szasz, Jung and Freud is evident in his defense of subjectivity as an essential aspect of understanding, and the difficult task of self-examination and self-understanding... Levitt brings to this work a deep interest in Jewish history and traditions, an appreciation of diverse cultures and literatures, the evolution of science from Newton to Einstein and the profound turning point of learning that the acts of observations are affected by the observer... Levitt has the breadth and depth of training as both a scientist and an active clinician to mount a strong, persuasive critique of clinical psychology and social work. Levitt urges practitioners of all stripes to question all ideologies, including our own person-centered and humanistic framework... The scope of this book is extraordinary. The wisdom Levitt shares is peerless. I recommend it to any reader willing to ask the big questions and face the uncertainty and ambiguity of human life.
Reviewed by Marjorie C. Witty, Ph.D., Chicago, IL. The Person Centered Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1-2, 2020
This is a book for all those who want to learn more about what it means to truly help another person. There is much wisdom in it. It says many of the things that many of us think but don’t say in light of the dominant narratives in psychology. It presents an empathic but important critique of the aspects of psychology that get in the way of persons truly connecting with and responding and listening to other people. These include scientific research, theories, diagnostic categories, words and people’s preconceptions. While valuing the contributions of science, Levitt critically examines its limitations, as well as the limitations of any belief system that is held to too rigidly and blinds us to the reality of a genuine meeting with other people. This book articulates the soul of the helping relationship: authentic empathy, openness, and the prizing of the uniqueness of each individual.
Arthur C Bohart, Professor Emeritus, California State University, Dominguez Hills
This is the first time I have felt moved to write praise for a book published by PCCS Books. Wherever in the world psychological helping is practised as a profession, this book spells wonderful trouble. A pebble in the pond or spanner in the works, it asks very important questions that are mainly bypassed or forgotten elsewhere. It is a joy to read. Brian Levitt writes accessibly, beautifully, with wisdom and in the best possible way, personally. The profession of counselling and psychotherapy desperately needs this book. It should required reading for all students and practitioners. It is the book I have always wanted to write. Thankfully, Brian Levitt has written it better than I ever could, and I am better for having read it. There are lessons for us all here.
Pete Sanders, author, retired counsellor, trainer and clinical supervisor