reflection 3:many approaches

Compare and contrast three of the four psychological approaches described by Prilleltensky (1997) – Traditional approaches, Postmodern approaches, and Emancipatory communitarian approaches. Limit your analysis to values, assumptions, and practices.  Then, briefly describe your understanding of where psychology now.

Psychology started as a practice for curing clients’ intrapsychic problems.  Implicit to the traditional approach is the viewpoint that one’s psychological problem is defined by deficit-oriented diagnosis and remedied solely by personal adjustment.  Without taking social, cultural, and political background into consideration, the traditional approach promotes “the person to fit an unquestioned social order” (Prilleltensky, 1997, p. 525), and blame the victim if he or she does not.  Moreover, the traditional approach proclaims its value-free intervention in its assumptions by enunciating its scientific research framework and professional expertise and, as a result, the approach has been believed to be the best practice for curing one’s psychological problems and promoting individual advancement and well-being.

Prilleltensky argues against the assumption underlying the traditional approach by stating that the approach focuses exclusively on individual autonomy and enhancement, rather than human diversity, collaboration, and distributive justice, which is where the moral value are being evaluated.  What becomes apparent is that the definition of well-being, or lack thereof, in the traditional approach resides in individuals and, thus, constructed within these individuals without accounting for the socio-cultural roles playing onto the individuals.  As such, this approach has been criticized by the postmodern approach, questioning the values, epistemology, as well as practice of the traditional approach.

The postmodern approach challenged the value of the traditional viewpoint by insisting its lack of context and methodological pluralism (e.g., Trickett, 1996).  More specifically, the postmodern approach maintains that a problem being addressed in the theory and the solution to the problem are not context-free; rather these are heavily dependent upon the social, cultural and scientific discourse.  Accordingly, the postmodern approach seeks its paths for research and practice based the philosophical standpoint of social construction; two of the paths being described by Prilletensky include the affirmative and skeptical. The basic tenets of the affirmative school involves its deconstruction of the established paradigms to uncover the value-laden schemes underlying the paradigms influenced by social, cultural and scientific discourse, whereas those of the skeptical school concerns to do so by without adhering any particular schemes or paradigms.  Grounded in these two schools of thoughts, the postmodern approach has been successful in separating facts from values and promoted individuals to pursue their own identity.  Consequently, the definition of problems and the assumptions determining the good life or society are identified not only from the definitions and assumptions of the large society, but also those of the subsystems (e.g., subculture, community, etc.), which comprise the larger society.

It is Prilleltensky opinion, however, even though the postmodern approach successfully addresses self-determination as well as human diversity, the approach failed to create the framework for equal power distribution (i.e., distribution justice), which is the major focal point of his moral inquiry.  It is the framework for distribution justice that are responsible for mutuality, social obligations, and the removal of oppression, where Prilleltensky views it as being fundamental for good life and good society (i.e., morally correct life and society).  It is this framework that are lacking in the other two approaches (i.e., the traditional and postmodern approach).  In social structure that Prilleltensky sees as ideal, community shares power and, thus, there exist no distinctions between the levels of systems and “sub”system.  In order to realize this ideal, he proposed, what he called, “emancipatory communitarian approach.”

Emanicipatory communitrain approach comprised of the combination of both communitarian philosophies and liberation theories.  Central to this approach is the integration of the concept of individualism and collectivism, with the one’s moral inquiry being functioned as “negotiator” between these two concepts for a society to function properly.  More specifically, Prilleltensky introduced the notion of collectivistic-oriented philosophy in his claims for compensating the heavily individualistic values and norms that Canadian and American society relies on.  Thus, the emancipatory communitarian approach entails the concept of community well-being in addition to individual well-being as well as social obligation in its value, assumption, and practice.  In particular, unlike the traditional approach, the emanicipatory communitarian approach deemphasizes self-determination and highlight mutuality instead, thus maintaining optimal balance between individual and collective well-being.  Moreover, in contrast to the postmodern approach the emanicipatory communitarian approach encourages individuals to pursue their own identities but to do so not at the expense of others, thus enabling to establish good life and society with the absence of oppression and the high degree of social obligation.

Having analyzed the various approaches the question remains, “where is psychology now.”  In my opinion, current psychology is far from Prelliltensky’s ideal.  For psychology has just begun witnessing the issues of human diversity addressed in the literature – the issues that are relevant to the traditional approach.  The research and practice for cultural identity, for example, were only proposed in the last decade from the field of Developmental Psychology (e.g., Phinney, 1991), Counseling Psychology (e.g., Sue, 1989; Helms, 1990; LaFramboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993), Community Psychology (e.g., Birman, 1998; Trickett, Watts, & Birman, 1994), and International Psychology (e.g., Kim & Berry, 1993; Kim, Park, & Park, 2000).  Even though they encourage individuals to pursue their own identities, they have yet to come up with the frame of reference where various types of cultural identity can existed in collaborative manners.  It is important to acknowledge that promoting human diversity is only a step for the emancipatry communitarian approach.  Rather the approach requires an environment where communities can actualize themselves with the view of good society as a whole.

T. Y.



Birman, D. (1998).  Biculturalism and perceived competence of Latino immigrant adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 335-354.

Helms, J. E. (1990) Black and White racial identity: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Greenwood Press.

Kim, U., Park, Y. S., Park, D. (2000).  The challenge of cross-cultural psychology: The role of the indigenous psychologies. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31, 63-75.

Kim, U. & Berry, J. (1993).  Indigenous psychologies: Research and experience in cultural context. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H. L. K., & Gerton, J. (1993).  Psychological impact of biculturalism: Evidence and theory.  Psychological Bulletin, 114, 395-412.

Phinney (1990). Ethnic identity in adolescents and adults: Review of research. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 499-514.

Sue, D. W. (1989).  Ethnic Identity: The impact of two cultures on the psychological development of Asians in America.  In Atkinson, Morten, & Sue (Eds.). Counseling American Minorities.  Dubuque, IA: Brown Publishers.

Trickett, E. (1996).  A future for community psychology: The contexts of diversity and the diversity of contexts.  American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 209-234.

Trickett, E., Watts, R. & Birman, D.  (1994).  Human Diversity: Perspectives on people in context San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.