Canadian Psychology:
A Review for the Years 1980-1983

Jenna Seguin, Clare Atzema, &
Dan MacAskill
Department of psychology
Simon Fraser university


As psychology entered a new decade which, happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the science, it seemed that it was an especially appropriate time to reflect upon the state of the discipline itself and also upon the issues which it now found necessary to confront. In examining the content of the journal "Canadian Psychology" for the years 1980-1983 it quickly becomes apparent that Canadian psychology was in the crux of an identity crisis. The major concern expressed about where the discipline of Canadian psychology was headed had already been voiced previously in 1965 at the Lake Couchiching Conference. It was here that issues of social and ethical responsibility were already being expressed by some of the younger members. Their objections were pointed at the power of granting agencies, in that they had imposed strict criteria for what was going to be funded, namely, natural/scientific projects. Their reaction to these restrictions was to begin to examine the whole basis upon which Canadian psychology had so promptly become grounded.

In 1980, this healthy criticism was being emphatically stated in numerous forms by various skeptics who had voiced these same concerns some twenty years earlier. During this year the most dominant theme was that of psychologists taking stock of their discipline. The vast majority of the papers presented were concerned with psychologists examining their research and practices, challenging the validity of the laboratory experiment, examining the inadequacies of research methods, and pinpointing theoretical uncertainties. Taken together, these articles show a general assessment and disillusionment with the accomplishments of the discipline. Among the issues presented as problems facing the practice of psychology were attacks on psychological testing, the diminishing distinctiveness of the field from other disciplines, a lack of control of methods, and the ever-present challenges to the efficacy of psychotherapy. It seemed that a great many of these concerns cumulatively contributed to the doubts and uncertainties that were being expressed about the field. These doubts were manifested in articles touching on such concerns as: the accountability of the psychologist when treating clients, the ethical considerations surrounding the power of psychology and its practitioners, legal issues involved with behaviour modification therapy and therapy in general, the legal duty and confidentiality of expected by psychologists, and also the validity of some of the fundamental tenets that the practice of psychology had come to be based upon.

Another recurrent theme in 1980 was that of gender roles and sexism, more specifically concerns surrounding women. Most of the topics presented had practical implications for women living in society at the start of a new decade. Issues examined were along the lines of: sexism and sex roles in letters of recommendation, factors found to be affecting women's participation in psychology in Canada, guidelines for the therapy and counseling of women, and the status of women in the academic world of Canadian psychology.

By examining the themes habitual to psychology at the beginning of the 1980s, it becomes evident that the science was using the start of a new decade as a catalyst for evaluation; examining the discipline's current status in terms of ethics, standards, practices and fundamental beliefs.

In 1981, the focus did begin to shift however. While the dominant motif was still one of psychologists scrutinizing themselves, this year's accounts were much less personal and critical. Instead it was time to reevaluate past research and conclusions, and to provide a synopsis or review of what issues psychology had been focusing on in the past decade of the 1970s.

Out of the 28 articles published in "Canadian Psychology" a little over half were surveys of the broad topics in psychology that had come out of the decade before. Among the subjects, about which summaries had been provided, were feminism and its relation to psychology, human neuro-psychology in Canada, advances in clinical interventions research, past research on infant development, studies on second language acquisition, and a review of reports of visual information processing, plus many others.

Also running through the literature was a heavy emphasis on the practical issues around employment for psychologists. Papers were presented about hiring processes in academic psychology, the experience of the new Ph.D. in the job market, a review of college training research, criteria for rewarding research grants, and manuscript characteristics found to influence reviewers decisions.

Suspicious by their exclusion were such issues as experimental design, in fact not a single experimental procedure was reported in this publication between the years 1980-1981. Also absent were papers presented about statistical or psychometric issues.

In 1981 psychology in Canada appeared to be concerned with systematic and pragmatic concerns. Whether it was in regards to what psychology as a discipline had accomplished or what needed to be accomplished by the individual who wanted to stay current and working in the field as psychology entered a new decade.

As evident in the types of articles presented it this journal, it appeared as if psychology in Canada was going through an identity crisis of sorts between the years 1980-1981. As a science, it looked as though psychology was free from the influence of any one particular "paradigm". Canadian psychologists were, therefore, taking time to regroup and prepare themselves for the challenges that were about to be presented by the new decade ahead. Psychologists had set about examining the discipline and where it had come from in order to determine where it needed to go in an attempt to remain both current and useful. This combination of ethical considerations, practicality and self analysis seemed not only to be a reflection of psychology at the beginning of the 1980s but also of the Canadian personality itself. In a country known for its sensibility, pragmatism, and level-headedness it is, consequently, not surprising to find these same characteristics running through the one science that is dedicated to exploring human behaviour and human nature itself.

In 1982 this level-headed approach to the study of psychology continued. The Scottish "common sense" perspective that Canadian psychologists adopted from Thomas Reid in the late 16th century can still be seen as the major theme presented in "Canadian Psychology" for 1982. Canadian researchers were dealing with the here and now, focusing on the practical application of psychology as well as dealing with the practical problems of a fledgling discipline. In addition to dealing with practical issues and the youth of Canadian psychology, the journal was also asking some very contemporary questions of the discipline, suspicious of the role of contextualism and reductionism in psychology, to name a few.

As was mentioned, articles of a pragmatic nature dominated the year of 1982 for "Canadian Psychology". These articles addressed practical concerns in the area of health care, which will be also prove to be of concern later, in 1983. These articles focused on such topics as how to provide psychological services in a pediatric setting, the expectations of mental health information systems, and the role of a rural mental health worker as a public servant. Another common area of interest for the practical-minded psychologist was the workplace. Several researchers turned their attention to this area in 1982, concerning themselves with such topics as the effect of bonuses on work performance and the consequences of producing well executed work. The rest of the practical issues covered in 1982 tackled a wide variety of topics, which is perhaps not unexpected for a discipline which is still in it's pioneering stage, rather like an adolescent in Marcia's (1967, cited in Muuss, 1988) moratorium stage of identity development, who tries out too many roles before he or she settles on one and subsequently concentrates all his or her attention on that choice. Topics included such things as variables affecting subject's endorsements of psychological testing, how psychologists can use microcomputers to aid them with their work, and how a professional is seen in the area of alcoholism therapy. Also present were articles on how to conduct experimental research and the ensuing statistical analyses, and whether blind reviews really are blind; thus, the practical and methodological focus that was noted in 1980 and 1981 can be seen to continue in 1982.

Additionally, Canadian psychology has shown a "youthful" character as was evident in the early 1980s with the wide range of topics covered and the lack of common threads to stitch them together into a cohesive whole. Social psychology, cognitive psychology, and work psychology are just a sample of the range of topics covered. This is not uncommon for a new discipline, however, which, according to Kuhn, goes first through a stage as a pre-paradigmatic science, when it is focused on random fact gathering in preparation for becoming a normal or, paradigmatic science. The normal science has a unified paradigm or perspective with which to view psychological data. Also congruent with the two previous years, Canadian psychologists were turning their attention inwards, criticizing themselves in an attempt to define their paradigm. For example, one article focuses exclusively on Canadian psychology in relation to American psychology, and the influences American psychology has had on what Canadian psychology is. A similar theme of self-definition can be found in another article on how to conduct ethics training in graduate schools. By including such topics as this into graduate school curriculum content, Canadian psychology is, in essence, declaring ethics to be an important part of itself. Thus a focus on self-definition, a natural consequence of it's youth, was still prevalent in Canadian psychology, in 1982.

Also emerging from 1980 and 1981 was a continued absence of experimental research papers, which may be understood through a comparison to the transition from Erikson's stages of identity fidelity vs. role confusion to the stage of intimacy vs. isolation. Just as an individual cannot hope to successfully resolve the latter stage without an identity (achieved in the former stage) to be intimate with, perhaps neither should Canadian psychology engage in random empirical studies without an underlying paradigm to guide the research. Such a concern was also expressed earlier in 1955 by the MacLeod Report. The report itself suggested that psychology in Canada needed to become a unified science before it could go on to do anything else. The continued lack of experimental research from 1980 and 1981 was also accompanied by a continued concern for women's issues, which was exemplified by a book review on the psychology of power in relation to men and women.

Despite the present analogy of a youth that is made with Canadian psychology, it should be noted that Canadian psychologists were not dealing with "baby" issues. Their concerns were about up-to-date issues that included the role of reductionism, contextualism, and the scientific paradigm in today's discipline of psychology. More specifically, two articles, one on language, literature, and psychology, and one on the merging of psychology and genetics, advocate a non-reductionist perspective; a viewpoint which seems to this author to be currently in vogue. Contextualism was supported by three articles in Canadian psychology in 1982; articles which focused on memory, the consumer in psychotherapy, and the patterns people's beliefs and actions take. Despite their differences in the manifest content, all three articles followed the upswing of the contextualist perspective that had been occurring for the past couple of decades, by advocating a contextual world-view for psychologists. Lastly, and also in vogue with current "political correctness" which dictates that individuals reject dogmatism and inflexibility, several articles proposed a rejection of the scientific paradigm in favor of a more humanist outlook. By embracing the non-rational side of psychology, these articles, as well as those on contextualism and reductionism, belie the youthfulness of Canadian psychology that is otherwise evident in the 'random' research topics covered.

As mentioned in previous years, the 1980s presents a number of critical approaches to the values of psychology in Canada. The first issue of 1983 was concerned only with ethical issues both inside and outside of the profession. To outline, these concerns focused on changes in public attitudes, the economic climate, the diversity of standards and styles of practice in psychology, and the effect of increased involvement with various forms of media. This focus concluded that a greater emphasis be placed on openness between colleges within the profession and that ethical committee boards expand the roles of their members.

In 1983 "Canadian Psychology" addressed fifteen professional articles which will be analyzed here for common themes in subject matter. First, the findings on the professional issues will be discussed. These will be framed under three branches of professional psychology; namely, clinical psychology, educational psychology and the psychology of law.

There appeared to be an equal balance of clinical and educational issues addressed in 1983. The clinical concerns addressed here were: (1) Four articles on psychotherapy (viz. the general affects of personal psychotherapy on the clients marriage; the roles a therapist must, yet is unable to, perform; predicting phobic response to behavioral, cognitive, and physiological therapy as well as obsessive-compulsive disorders: a conceptual analysis.); (2) Two articles on chronic mental illness. (viz. de-institutionalization of the mentally ill; and the reliability of admission rates at psychiatric hospitals); and (3) One article on health care psychology pertaining to recent developments.

Education was addressed in articles ranging from validity and reliability in educational exams (Viz. The Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) and graduate record exams as predictors of graduate success.) and peer group assessment of research proposals in university. In addition, articles were put forth on hiring practices of psychology departments at universities across Canada, organizational infrastructure that promotes child access to daytime treatment programs, and the validity of library classification schemes with respect to the subject of psychology. As well as, one outlying article on the enhancement of memory through hypnosis in the psychology of law.

As was common for the previous years, it seemed that psychology Canada in 1983 was still concerned with matters of practicality as well as the validity of both the specifics and generalities involved in the discipline.

The result of this mass criticism and reflection seen throughout 1980-1983 can be found in the declaration of the need for guidelines and norms that was voiced at the Opinion II Conference in 1984. As well the 1986 code of ethics that was adopted by the Canadian Psychological Association can be seen as the culmination of a great deal of hard work and questioning that was born naturally out of the previous five years.


Muss, R. E. (1988). Theories of adolescence (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.