Clinical and counseling psychology have, in many ways, become rather superficial over the past several decades. With their emphases on manualized treatment, homework assignments and structured approaches, modern clinical practitioners have lost a good deal of what made their predecessors helpful to many people. And what they lost is a solid, comprehensive understanding of human behavior and what leads humans to change. There just is not much emphasis these days on understanding human behavior from a number of different vantage points when the focus these days is only on getting patients in, doing a certain number of very structured steps and then getting them on their way.
This more superficial approach to counseling and clinical psychology has not only limited the way clinicians practice, in many circumstances, but has also limited the usefulness of clinical research. Much of modern clinical research related to psychological approaches is very limited in its scope. When the focus is on a group of specific types of individuals with only a specific set of symptoms who receive very specific steps of treatment then there just not is much of a likelihood that the research is going to help people who are dealing with much more complicated conditions.
Decades ago, psychological theorists and authors addressed human behavior from a number of different perspectives. There was a focus on not just how the person behaved and what they thought but also on how they felt on conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels. There was also much more of a focus on how individuals found meaning and what they did to create the best versions of themselves. Human beings in therapy or counseling were seen as functioning on many different levels, all of which needed to be considered in treatment approaches. This allowed for a much more complex view of humans and a much more detailed approach to helping people make positive changes.
There also was a focus on understanding human behavior by viewing it in the context of behaviors across different species. It was understood that humans were just one of many animal species and that, by studying behavior across different species to see what those behaviors had in common, there was a way to understand behaviors in a much more complex way. This also allowed for understanding the purpose of behaviors throughout history. When looking at how behaviors fall across different species and across centuries, through the study of evolutionary psychology, there was a way to understand what made certain behaviors lasting and what psychological factors contributed to the maintenance of important behaviors over time.
Studying behaviors across different animal species is the subject area known as “comparative psychology”. And a review of psychologists who have incorporated this field into their study of human psychology is a “who’s who” of famous psychologists in the first seven or so decades of clinical and counseling psychology. Freud discussed apes at length for many of his theories. Pavlov studied the complexities of learning by studying dogs. Seligman also wrote about “learned helplessness” as a primary factor in depression through studying dogs. Lorenz developed attachment theory by studying ducks and geese. And Skinner based his behavioral theories almost entirely on studying nonhuman animals (particularly rats and pigeons) and rarely used humans for his theories. All of these famous psychologists developed theories important to understanding humans based on their studies of nonhuman animal behaviors. Their focus was on studying behaviors across different species and then using that information to help understand what maintains important psychological factors impacting human behaviors.
Dr. Daniel C. Marston and Dr. Terry L. Maple have written a book entitled Comparative Psychology for Clinical Psychologists and Therapists: What Animal Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Psychology. This book is an insightful and essential summary of how clinical and counseling psychologists and therapists can benefit from comparative psychological research conducted over the past several decades. There was quite a drop in the use of comparative psychological research by clinicians in recent decades and Drs. Marston and Maple have sought to rectify that situation. They have established the most important research across animal species over the past several decades and covered it in a way that makes it of direct and practical use to clinical professionals. They have sought to help clinicians develop a much more comprehensive view of human psychology by studying what maintains important behaviors across different animal species.
This is a book about comparative psychology and written for clinical professionals. It is a book made particularly useful as it is written by both a clinical psychologist and a comparative psychologist. Dr. Marston is a clinical psychologist who has been practicing for over 20 years. He is also board-certified in Behavioral & Cognitive Psychology through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). He has his own psychology practice (Marston Psychological Services) where he treats children, teenagers and adults with a variety of psychological conditions. Dr. Maple is the Professor-in- Residence at Jacksonville Zoo, Scholar-in-Residence at the University of North Florida and a Research Professor at Florida Atlantic University. These two authors have taken their professional experiences and combined them in a way to help clinical professionals develop a more comprehensive understanding and approach to helping their clients.
Comparative psychology offers a much more scientific understanding to behaviors than does the study of human behavior. For this reason it is useful to gain as much information as possible from studying animals of different species rather than studying only humans. When researchers study animals they can have more control over all the different variables and environments that impact on behaviors. They can control different variables and also study animal behavior across a number of different environments. They can also study behaviors over longer periods of time and study the behaviors of animals more consistently then is the case with human. Studying human behavior is very limited in terms of how often the person can be studied, under what conditions the person can be studied and what variables can be controlled in studying behaviors. These are not limitations that impact frequently on studying behaviors of nonhuman animals.
Drs. Marston and Maple use their review of comparative psychology research to present scientific findings about behaviors. These are behaviors that have been studied across different species and under a number of different conditions. These are also behaviors that have been studied in ways where more variables can be controlled than would be the case with study humans. Using this information, Drs. Marston and Maple then look at ways that the information gathered from this scientific study of behaviors can be used to further understand how best to help treat psychological conditions faced by humans.
In their book, Drs. Marston and Maple look at a variety of psychological conditions. Their study of depression looks at the evolutionary benefits that can be associated with depressive symptoms. Understanding why depression may have developed over centuries and what sorts of benefit behaviors associated with depression can offer is an important way of understanding why depression is such a prominent difficulty in present time.
Drs. Marston and Maple also look at addiction as a prominent difficulty faced by many human clients. They study addiction related to alcohol, drugs, food and gambling. Each of these addictions have been studied in different ways using different animal species. Those results support that there is similarity in terms of all addiction being associated with impulsive condition. There is often a strong connection, shown in research across different species, between impulsive and addictive behaviors. But each type of addiction also has its own separate factors contributing to its continued impact. This book offers very practical ways of better understanding different types of addictions and also better ways of understanding how to effectively address those addictions.
Drs. Marston and Maple also present a very different way at pursuing effective treatment for autism. They do not necessarily present a different way of treating autism but, instead, present a very different way of viewing autism treatment. Their focus is on whether there actually is a need to help people with autism develop friendships. This is very important given that many approaches to “social skills training”, a major focus of autism treatment, focuses on friendship development.
Research using animals show that friendships are not essential even though different types of human connections can be essential. Reading Drs. Marston and Maples’ chapter on autism makes clear that there often is too much of an emphasis on certain types of social connectedness at the expense of alternative types of social relationships. Reading this chapter on autism gives clinicians a very different way of looking at how to really help individuals who have autism and other types of social difficulties.
Comparative Psychology for Clinical Psychologists and Therapists: What Animal Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Psychology is an important book for all clinical and counseling psychology students and professionals. It is a book that helps students have a better understanding of important research that helps build a solid clinical professional. It is a book that also helps clinical and counseling professionals better understand ways that they can be even stronger clinical professionals and be of even more help to their clients. This is a book that covers a very important research area that clinicians have skipped over for decades and needs to be considered in order to help clinical professionals be much more comprehensive in their treatment approaches.
Dr. Daniel C. Marston is a licensed psychologist and owner of Marston Psychological Services, LLC. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology and was previously Adjunct Professor at Carlow College, Pittsburgh, PA. He is based in Pennsylvania. Dr. Terry L. Maple is a comparative psychologist. He is Scholar-in-Residence in the Departments of Biology and Psychology at the University of North Florida, Research Professor of Biology and Psychology at Florida Atlantic University and Elizabeth Smithgall Watts Professor of Conservation and Behavior Emeritus at the School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also Professor-in-Residence at Jacksonville Zoo. He is based in Florida.
For more information on Drs. Marston & Maple’s new book, please visit: www.jkp.com.