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Particulars and Universals in Clinical and Developmental Psychology

reviewed by Gretchen Reevy - October 12, 2017

coverTitle: Particulars and Universals in Clinical and Developmental Psychology
Author(s): Meike Watzlawik, Alina Kriebel, Jaan Valsiner (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681233592, Pages: 308, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Meike Watzlawik, Alina Kriebel, and Jaan Valsiner’s edited volume, Particulars and Universals in Clinical and Developmental Psychology, part of the Perspectives on Human Development series, honors Roger Bibace, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Clark University and psychoanalytically-trained clinical psychologist. Dr. Bibace has had (and continues to have) a distinguished career, involving extensive and varied clinical practice, teaching and mentoring, and a productive research program. The chapters in this volume, written primarily by colleagues and former students of Bibace, with some written by Bibace himself, reveal the deep respect and affection that many colleagues and students have for Bibace. The primary theme of the book is the necessity that psychologists and other academics and professionals focus on universal principles about human psychology while at the same time maintaining awareness of an individual’s extraordinarily unique psychology; this is Bibace’s philosophy. Keeping the focus on both the general and the specific (or, as stated in the title, “universals” and “particulars”), is challenging. This challenge faces the clinical practitioner, the researcher, and the teacher.

The book is organized into five sections. Section One includes three chapters which discuss psychological theory. The four chapters of Section Two are concerned with “universals and particulars” in people’s uses of defense mechanisms or in their understanding of illness. Section III, in its four chapters, explores ethical issues in work as a physician or clinical psychologist treating patients, or as a researcher, most often addressing the issue of informed consent. The four chapters of Section IV discuss the researcher-participant relationship. Each chapter conveys Bibace’s viewpoint that the research enterprise is most respectful, ethical, and valid if the research participants are allowed greater input at each stage of research; this is called Bibace’s partnership model. Section V includes a brief biography of Bibace, writings about Bibace by students and colleagues, and brief biographies of all authors of the book’s chapters.

I found special value in some of the chapters in Section IV, “The Partner in Research: A Closer Look at the Researcher-Participant Relationship” and Section III, “The Philosopher: What is the Right Thing to Do?” The chapters in Section IV explore Bibace’s long-standing idea, present in many of his writings outside of this volume, that research is better enriched if participants, and possibly also the audience for the research (experts and non-experts alike) have the opportunity for greater involvement in the entire research process, from planning the research all the way to reporting on it. Chapter Twelve, “An Introduction to Partnership in Research: Changing the Researcher-Participant Relationship,” by Bibace et al., is a good introduction to this idea, with the authors beginning by arguing that in a number of social science fields, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with how research participants are viewed and treated. Early evidence of this dissatisfaction presented itself when the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 1994) proclaimed that those who participate in research should be referred to as “participants” rather than as “subjects.” The authors make several specific suggestions about how research could change, for instance, that researchers make datasets available to readers, and that research could begin with questions generated by participants. In Chapter Thirteen, “How Interests and Values Evolve (Sometimes Unpredictably): A Developmental Teleology of Research Encounters,” by Kharlamov, Kaszowska, and Bibace, the authors examine a thought-provoking topic. They contend that “research is an interaction that involves emergence and maintenance of the relationship between the researcher and the participant (p. 218).” They argue against over-regulation by IRBs, which treat research as if it is static, whereas research is in fact, dynamic. Further, they claim, over-regulation leads to the “myth of control,” a doctrine which denies both change and relationships between people. The way in which researchers typically implement informed consent presumes a “myth of control.” As the authors state, “The literal application of the principle of informed consent involves the idea that it is possible to foresee and proactively control anything and everything in the research setting (p. 229).”

Section III includes chapters that stimulate deep-thinking about ethical issues. Chapter Eight, “Ethical and Legal Issues in Family Practice,” by Bibace, et al., presents a dilemma encountered by the family physician, in particular, the issue of “whose agent” the family physician really is---the children in the family, the parents, or one parent but not the other, or…? Situations may arise in which acting in the best interest of one family member may interfere with acting in the best interest of another family member. Although the discussion centers on the family physician, it is relevant to the typical audience of this book, mental health practitioners. Chapter Nine, “Universal Principles? What is the Right Thing to Do and Why? The Influence of Culturally Imprinted Moral Values on Medical Students’ and Physicians’ Decision-Making,” by Kriebel and Stockigt, describes an empirical study comparing German and American college students and physicians in regard to how they report that they would address two medical issues (one involving a high school student who is pregnant and one involving a cancer patient who is declining treatment). The results illustrate both commonalities and differences between Germans and Americans in their moral reasoning and attitudes. This chapter could be used in classes across several disciplines such as psychology, medicine, cultural studies, and philosophy, or could be helpful to professionals as a “refresher” for thinking about moral reasoning. Chapter Eleven: “When the Voices of Caring and Research are Misconstrued as the Voice of Curing,” by Bamberg and Budwig, also describes a study, in this case one designed to illustrate different “voices” of a professional (e.g., the “voice” of the health care worker and the “voice” of the researcher) and how these different contexts affect interpersonal interactions with clients, and also the clients’ understandings of what is occurring in the interactions.

Chapters from this volume can be used in several ways. Much of the volume is relevant for already established professional researchers/clinicians and for students who will become both researchers and clinicians. Also, particular chapters are suited for particular types of courses. Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, described above, are stimulating for people who will engage in research with human subjects, as the researcher may ask themselves the question, “To what extent should participants be engaged in the research process?” Chapter 8, also described earlier, is relevant for mental or physical health care providers who work with couples or as family practitioners. Chapter Three, “World Hypotheses and Their Impact on Everyday Life,” by Laird, presents an interesting study in which the participants are measured in regard to how they may be categorized into Pepper’s four world hypotheses. This chapter may be relevant in several disciplines including philosophy, psychology, and other social sciences. Chapter Seven, “An Interpersonal Theory of Psychological Defense Mechanisms” by Rosenbaum,” is beneficial for students of psychoanalysis, or for any case where psychological defenses are studied, because it presents a systems approach to defense mechanisms, which are typically viewed as being intra-psychic. Several chapters (Five, Nine, Fourteen, and Fifteen) explicitly address cross-cultural issues.

Although many chapters provide food for thought and are suitable for courses in particular disciplines, or are suitable for academics, I have some criticisms of the book. The main concern is that in general, the book is poorly organized. I read through more than half of the book before I encountered a meaningful description of Bibace’s partnership model, yet references to it occur in Chapter One and other early chapters. If I had had a deeper understanding of Bibace’s positions and theories I would have had a much better understanding of some of the earlier chapters. The first chapter in the book, “Relating to Dr. Werner” by Bibace is particularly poorly placed. Given that the book is intended to honor Bibace, the first chapter should include his biography along with background information about his main theoretical and research contributions. Additionally, Chapter One, wherever it would appear in the book, would need to be rewritten in order to “fit” better in this volume. In general, unfortunately, none of the chapters in Section I seems an adequate “fit” for the volume as they are written. The same is true for all chapters in Section II (Four through Seven), although I believe that these chapters would “fit” if more context had been provided earlier in the book.

In sum, a number of chapters in this volume are interesting and thought-provoking. Furthermore, many can be used in classes in one or more disciplines. However, for those who are unfamiliar with Bibace’s work, this book is not a good one to read from start to finish because of problems with organization, inadequate introduction to the general themes of the book, some chapters that need moderately extensive revision in order to “fit,” and a small number of chapters that may not adequately fit with the themes, even if they were revised.


American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 12, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22190, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 7:32:18 PM

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About the Author
  • Gretchen Reevy
    California State University, East Bay
    E-mail Author
    GRETCHEN REEVY, Ph.D., has taught in the Department of Psychology at California State University, East Bay since 1994, specializing in personality, stress and coping, psychological assessment, history of psychology, and research courses.
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