Toward the Development of a Superordinate Epistemology for Clinical Psychology: A Critique and a Proposal

Dissertation, University of Colorado at Boulder (1989)
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This dissertation addresses the problem of how to evaluate and compare the theories that inform diverse approaches to psychotherapy. It is argued that the field needs a superordinate epistemology to provide legitimacy for its theories and for the clinical work that these theories guide. Such a superordinate epistemology would occupy a higher level of analysis than the theories it is used to evaluate. ;Using a constructivist framework, it is argued that much of the epistemological confusion currently characterizing clinical psychology can be traced to a traditional failure to distinguish among levels of analysis when evaluating clinical psychology theories. It is demonstrated that evaluations of such theories often conflate theory and epistemology. ;The received view of a natural science epistemology and hermeneutics provide the usual terms in which epistemology is debated. These are found inadequate to fill the necessary role of superordinate epistemology. The received view is criticized, in part, for "bracketing" the domain of meaning, and hermeneutics is criticized, in part, for "bracketing" the domain of extra-linguistic reality. For these reasons, it is shown that neither of these approaches can be considered to be superordinate to clinical theories. ;Next, some preliminary theoretical groundwork for the development of a constructivist superordinate epistemology for clinical psychology is offered. The domain of clinical psychology is defined as the conjunction of the domains of meaning and reality. A constructivist reformulation of the role of empirical research and observational knowledge is outlined. A reconceptualization of clinical theories as narratives and "expert languages" is suggested as well. ;It is argued that theoretical propositions first should be evaluated according to whether they conform to observational knowledge about the unintentional constraints on human intentionality. Then theories should be evaluated according to the coherence of their accounts of the transactions between the domains of meaning and reality. The hermeneutic circle is suggested as a methodology for choosing among different interpretations in a given therapeutic encounter. ;Finally, some directions for future work are suggested
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