The Growth of Canadian Psychology in Retrospect

Jennifer Provencal, Sharon Koop, & Vicki Sharma
Department of Psychology
Simon Fraser University

During the years of 1966 - 1970 (inclusive) as seen through the publications of the Canadian Psychologist several transitions and trends in Canadian psychological theory, testing and application emerge. These general trends and emphases will be briefly chronicled here with comments on the Canadian zeitgeist that contributed to their emergence.

In the latter half of the 1960's two diametrically opposed views on the functionality and research emphasis of Canadian psychology were evident. Reminiscent of the 1950's and early '60's the Behaviorist paradigm was still very powerful and influential. Their desire to measure, test, and analyze all observable behaviour lit a fire underneath Psychometrists around the country. However, along side of these strict natural scientist's concerns emerged a growing concern for more practical, applied human science uses of psychology. During this half decade, there was an emphasis on a reorientation of psychological services to directly aid the populace, as professionals strived to use psychological knowledge to attack some of society's problems. The still prevailing Behaviorist views gave birth to applications such as Operant Therapy and Behavior Modification in hopes to aid and prevent criminality, violence, addictions, poverty, and other perils afflicting society.

The breadth of a more Humanistic (applied) psychology was not limited to society's dissidents but to the disordered and dysfunctional as well. With the expansion of Psychometry in the previous decade, it became evident that a significant portion of the population, especially retarded and learning disabled children, could benefit from current psychological therapies. Either in response or as a result, The Canadian House of Commons passed a nation wide health care (Medicare) plan in 1966, emphasizing the concern within the psychological community that equivalent care be given to the mentally and emotionally disturbed as is given to those with a physical illness. With perhaps a political / financial motive there was an emphasis on destigmatizing mental illness through education of the masses and a reintegration of those with 'mild' disorders and retardation back into society and out of the government funded, segregated institutions.

The growth of Behavior therapies, Personality modifications and the emergence of behavior learning theories as an acceptable, legitimate approach to understanding and modifying deviant, disordered, and maladaptive behavior, emphasized the Canadian Psychological community's desire to be practical and influential in the shaping of Canadian society.

As the 1970's neared, another shift of research emphasis and practical application began. The focus on the structure, function and practicality of psychology in Canadian institutions ranged from elementary schools to universities and hospitals, and on to industry. The latter part of the 1960's saw a monumental increase in the interaction between psychology professionals and the education system. This increase could be seen as a response to the emergence and gaining popularity of learning and cognitive theories as they sought to explain areas of human experience and learning not adequately explained through behaviorism. The number of counselors and special education teachers in schools flourished. Psychologists welcomed the opportunity to research and give direction and leadership the to the educational system. The concern for human experience outside of the laboratory, in dynamic interaction with the world, not merely as mechanistic operants marked this era of Canadian Psychology as a human /applied science endeavoring to aid, direct, and shape this country's social support and education services for the benefit of successive generations.

With this emergence came the growing need for qualified, trained professionals and paraprofessionals. Appeals for funding to train graduates and post-graduates in specialties and research development were plentiful. New, applied fields of research were at a steady rate of emergence. Educational, industrial, organizational, corporate, correctional and many other institutions sought to have their own psychological professional on staff. The field of Applied Psychology grew at a dizzying rate. Synonymous with the growth of applied psychology, advances in medicine and technology brought forth a renewed interest in psychobiology and neuropsychology.

Perhaps as a result of the burgeoning field, in 1970 concern again began to grow for the identity and unity of Psychology as a scientific and or applied discipline. Cross-cultural comparisons of everything ranging from research topics, facilities, finances, training programs, scientific and applied applications and productivity all sought to identify the Canadian Psychological identity. In 1970 an analysis of contemporary psychology revealed three distinct areas of study. The study of behavior, neurophysiology and phenomenal experience subdivided the field between the behaviorists, the neuropsychologists and the cognitive psychologists. Although today in 1996 we have far more than three divisions of the field, it is important to remember what has brought us this far.

When one endeavors to summarize a temporal block of Canadian psychological research it becomes evident that the growth and evolution of psychological theory and practice is anything but a smooth, gradual accumulation of knowledge, learning, and expertise. Rather it can be at times more akin to a winding mountain road on which one may travel for miles in what seems like the desired direction only to find that the next curve leads another way. However, one must not forget that while traversing these curves the driver continues to hone his or her skills and learn more about the nature of the road, better preparing him or herself for the next curve ahead.