I’m going to cheat a little bit and write about a theorist we didn’t talk about in class. I’m choosing her because she is a great example of how one’s personal life can influence the professional life, I want a chance to talk about her in Gen Psych, and I make the rules so I grant myself an exception.
The theorist I’m going to discuss is Dr. Marsha Linehan. As you can see from Dr. Linehan’s CV on her website, she is a prolific scholar with numerous professional accolades and accomplishments. I’m going to focus on her development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is currently the treatment of choice for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Prior to Dr. Linehan’s efforts, effective treatments for BPD were severely lacking, and many considered the disorder untreatable. Her theory of treatment grew out of her work with clients who had ongoing issues with suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviors. Dr. Linehan practiced Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy CBT, which has strong research support, but she found this population was not responding well to the interventions. To help her clients, Dr. Linehan incorporated other ideas into CBT and packaged them together to form DBT. The primary addition was a focus on acceptance of the present while still seeking to change the future, which may seem contradictory at first, but that’s where dialectics comes into play. Dialectics involves embracing both aspects of seemingly contradictory concepts, and helps people become more flexible in coping with their environment.
That this theory intersects with Dr. Linehan’s personal life was not apparent until she revealed in 2011 that she herself had been diagnosed with BPD. Here is a New York Times story detailing her history and her decision to come out. Struggling through multiple hospitalizations and suicide attempts, Dr. Linehan was only able to turn her life around when she began to accept herself, and she wanted to see if others could use the same strategy to begin the long path to healing. She incorporated other aspects she found personally useful (like Zen philosophy and meditation), and wove together a treatment that has been shown to be effective in 10 randomized controlled trials.
Not every theorist has such a dramatic connection to the topic she or he studies, but Dr. Linehan is a fantastic example of how our lives influence our intellectual inquiries. Psychology Today ran a story in 2008 with other examples of what has been termed “mesearch.”
How will your life influence what you study, your career, and your legacy?