Abstract David Keller

From ‘no effects’ to ‘side effects’. Exploring the discourse on psychotherapy’s effectiveness in the age of psychopharmacology

In the course of the 20th century, psychotherapy has become a major field of application, being offered by several mental health professions – in particular clinical psychology and, to varying degrees, psychiatry. With the development of distinct ‘schools’ of psychotherapy and the increasing dissemination of psychotherapeutic interventions in both inpatient and outpatient settings in the second half of the 20th century, debates on its outcome have become a prominent and recurring feature of the mental health discourse. Since Eysenck’s famous study from 1950, which concluded that psychotherapy had no effect at all, a large number of investigations being armed with sophisticated methodologies and advanced statistical techniques, have argued for the efficacy and effectiveness of psychotherapy.

What is observable, though, is a growing debate on its potential ‘side effects’. Beginning in the early 2000s, a number of theoretical papers, empirical studies, and scales have emerged to address a topic deemed “crucial, but largely ignored“.

In my presentation, I want to explore this recent debate, its arguments and implicit assumptions, and place it in the larger struggle of the psychological sciences to prove that its interventions do ‘work’ – especially in times, when psychotropic medication seems as a quick and cost-effective fix to mental ailments.


Abstract Banafsche Sayyad

Neuroscientific investigations on “sex/”gender” differences in the brain have a long and partially problematic history and have therefore repeatedly been the subject of feminist critique. Critical feminist analyses aim to illustrate that scientific argumentations in some cases canreinforce and legitimize traditional gender roles and hierarchies – examples of which are observed clearly in brain theories from the 19.th orearly 20.th century, when looked from a contemporary perspective. But what about current neuroscientific research? This is the question I would like to address in my talk by putting the relatively new and flourishing field of functional neuroimaging (fMRI) research under my magnifying glass.
Since the establishment of that field in the 1990s, there has been an abundance of publications on “sex/gender” differences in brain activityI’m interested in which sexual/gender-related assumptions and paradigms underlie these studies. To explore this question and to trace the constructions of “sex”/”gender” in the neurosciencesI analyzed 35 original research manuscripts containing fMRI studies addressing the neural correlates of “sex”/”gender”-modulated psychological processes such as emotion recognition, memory or spatial orientation etc. In my talk I will discuss the extent to which current neuroscientific fMRI studies still frequently reinforce gender stereotypes and are often based on biologically deterministic concepts of “sex”/”gender”.

Abstract Alexandra Rutherford

Feminism, gender, and cultures of critique in psychology:

Historical and theoretical considerations


The relationship between feminism and psychology has taken various forms. Previously, I have structured this relationship in terms of a tripartite framework: feminism and/in/as psychology (Rutherford & Pettit, 2015). “Feminism and psychology” refers to the relationship between a political/cultural movement and a scientific discipline, and highlights the efforts of participants in each to problematize, or distance from, the other. “Feminism in psychology” refers to the critiques of psychology from within, foregrounding the interventions of self-identified feminists in psychology and their attempts to alter its methods, epistemologies, theories, and practices. Finally, “feminism as psychology/psychology as feminism” explores the conceptual and cultural linkages and elisions between the two, or the ways in which feminism has become psychologized, and psychology has absorbed feminist critique into its “business as usual.” I explore and substantiate this framework using historical and contemporary examples. I then examine how the different forms of this relationship have affected psychologists’ engagement with gender, unpacking the constitutive relations among the psychological, the social, and the subjective. How has psychology – and at times, even feminist psychology – participated in reifying and reinforcing traditional gendered subjectivities, rather disrupting them? When have disruptive moments occurred, in what contexts, and to what effects? I include some recent developments, such as the institutionalization of gender-based analysis into research funding and policy-making in Canada, to demonstrate the (productive) influence of feminist critique on “mainstream” practice at the methodological, and perhaps even epistemological, level. Finally, as an initial attempt at exploring how the multi- or trans-disciplinary project of the psychological humanities might theorize gender in new ways, I consider the connections among feminist psychology, feminist philosophy, and feminist history that might drive a broader understanding of gender than has been possible using psychology alone.



Alexandra Rutherford is a historian of psychology at York University in Toronto. She studies  the history of feminist-scholar activism in psychology and its relationship to society. She is the founder and director of the Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History and Digital Archive Project (http://www.feministvoices.com/), which documents and promotes the contributions of women and feminism in psychology. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association, and won the 2012 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology for her co-edited volume Handbook of International Feminisms: Perspectives on Psychology, Women, Culture, and Rights (New York: Springer).

Abstract Martin Wieser

The “surgeon’s knife” – cultures of justification and critique in the history of psychology 

This presentation analyzes the role and function of psychological knowledge and practice in two distinct places in German history:

Between 1933 and 1945, psychological knowledge played an important role during the rise of National Socialism and World War II, as it was extensively used to categorize thousands of soldiers and forced laborers to put “the right man at the right place” in the war machinery. Although the “Wehrmachtspsychologie” was mostly disbanded in 1942, it helped academic psychology to free itself from the dominance of academic philosophy and claim its own chairs, diplomas and curricula from 1941 onwards. After the end of World War 2, psychologists developed several lines of argumentation to defend their actions during the war: while some plainly admitted that they were happy they avoided fighting at the front, others celebrated the success of applied psychology as a lasting achievement of the discipline and claimed that the German Wehrmacht was in fact a “hideout” for political dissidents. Critical voices were also raised, such as Franziska Baumgarten’s appeal from 1949, who argued that psychologists have repeatedly failed to meet their humanistic obligations in times of war. However, almost forty years went by until German psychologists were ready to critically evaluate the involvement of their discipline in Nazi war crimes.

Secondly, the role of “operative psychology” in Eastern Germany from 1965 to 1990 is highlighted. At the Juridical High School in Potsdam, psychologists introduced psychological theories, concepts and methods to upcoming Stasi agents and taught them how to use psychological knowledge for interrogation and surveillance, how to acquire “unofficial informers” how to “disintegrate” oppositional individual and groups. After the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and the occupation of the Stasi headquarters, new strategies of justification and critique emerged: a social psychologist who worked at the chair for operative psychology argued that he was trying to teach “clean” scientific methods to agents who would otherwise base their assessments on “stereotypes” and “prejudices”. His former academic teachers at the state university argued that they were merely teaching “humanistic” clinical-psychological methods and so could not be held responsible for how their students would use this knowledge – although they admitted that they knew which students were sent by the Stasi. The only major historical analysis of “operative psychology” by Holger Richter mainly focuses on proving that this branch of psychology was in fact merely “ideological” and therefore “unscientific”, thereby suggesting that “operative psychology” was in fact not “real psychology”.

Both episodes reveal an ongoing struggle between different rhetorical strategies, wherein ethical, pragmatic, methodological and epistemological arguments are often mixed up to attack and justify psychologist’s actions within totalitarian systems. By focusing on these “culture of justification”, this presentation underlines the necessity for critical historiographers to focus on the ways in which academic psychologists in past and present defended their doings in oppressive dictatorships.


Abstract Lotta Fiedel

Critique of psychotherapy – psychotherapy as critique? 

Asking for critical perspectives in psychology often leads – as in the mentioned examples in the announcement of this workshop – to different critiques of psychology. And yet the question can be turned around in order to ask whether psychology, psycho-analysis or more generally the analysis of psychic phenomena, could also be a form of critique. This idea isn’t new, though. For several decades now, social-psychological and psychoanalytical approaches have been adopted in order to analyse the psyche as a hinge between power relationships and subjects, advocated for example by critical theorists like Erich Fromm, feminist psychoanalysts like Jessica Benjamin or in political psychology. In this perspective, a critique of social relationships is bound to the analysis of psychic structures and processes as they are considered to be mutually constitutive. Following this line of thought, I will seek to think psychotherapy as a form of critique. This approach raises several questions that I want to address in my talk: What are the theoretical „experimental conditions“ under which the question can be asked? With that said, which forms of critique can be thought in the framework of psychotherapy and how does their relation to critiques of psychotherapy look like? What are the implications of these reflections for the concepts of psychotherapy and critique and how can they be assessed?

In my talk I will therefore focus on the theoretical conditions of this experiment (1), ask for the resulting opportunities of thinking psychotherapy as critique (2) and finally consider the results of such an experiment (3). Doing so I would like to put up for discussion whether adding psychology as critique could complement the suggested systematisation of cultures of critique in psychology.


Abstract Susanne Schmidt

Why Women Don’t Have a Midlife Crisis: Female Research Subjects as Counterexamples in the 1980s

This talk sheds light on a case where a study of women was used to falsify a generalization based only on men, and then the counterexample was rejected as insufficiently generalizable. I look at feminist research on middle age and the life course, published in the early 1980s, which challenged the newly-introduced notion of a normative midlife crisis. By demonstrating that few women experienced a major crisis at middle age, feminist psychologists (and some sociologists) refuted the notion that this was a universal developmental stage.

Instead, they suggested, proponents of the midlife crisis described a pathology, chronicling some men’s inability to cope with social change. In their usage and re-evaluation of female research subjects as counterexamples to falsify existing theory, these studies––the best known of which is probably Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1982)––were representative of American feminist scholarship in the 1980s, and they were broadly influential within academia and beyond. However, the work of Gilligan and others was read primarily as research on women and gender differences; implications about male middle age and developmental theory more generally were ignored.

Feminist ideas about the life course were accepted with restrictions, essentially turning from concepts of human development into theories about women only. I argue here that successful feminist science was read first and foremost with regard to differences, not commonalities between women and men. With the information on women accepted, but the claim to falsification disregarded, the midlife crisis consolidated into a men’s problem, in contrast to women’s supposedly stable life course.

This talk first looks at the change in social scientific research on women and middle age in the 1980s: there was more scholarship, and optimistic images dominated. I then move to “Lifeprints,” a study of women around forty, in which psychologists Grace Baruch and Rosalind Barnett and journalist Caryl Rivers refuted the midlife crisis and proposed an alternative model of human development. The third section looks at Carol Gilligan, by far the most visible critic of the midlife crisis, although In a Different Voice is hardly remembered for this. One aim of the talk is to situate this classic of psychology in historical context and draw attention to the fact that Gilligan’s was at key points an argument against the male midlife crisis. I also suggest that she sought to revise existing theories of identity, development and ethics––rather than propose alternative concepts for women, as it then came to be understood.

I suggest––in section four––that the feminist criticism of Gilligan’s supposed focus emerged in response to the reception of In a Different Voice more than as a direct result of Gilligan’s work. Widely circulating––In a Different Voice was probably the bestselling book ever published by Harvard University Press, and the most-cited work of feminist theory, before it was eclipsed by Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990)––Gilligan’s work as well as Baruch’s, Barnett’s and Rivers’s Lifeprints study were read as research on women and gender differences. This limited their impact on the concept of the midlife crisis, which consolidated into an exclusively male phenomenon.


Abstract Anna Sieben

Thoughts on the psychologisation of everyday life on the example of attachment parenting in Germany and Turkey

The psychological concept of attachment is getting around a lot. About 70 years after the foundation of attachment theory by John Bowlby the notion of attachment is still moving around to different places changing ideas of what it means to be a good parent. One path along which attachment as a concept moves is the parenting philosophy of attachment parenting which was founded in the US by William and Martha Sears. This presentation traces attachment parenting to Germany and Turkey by analysing blogs, website contents and guidebooks. In both countries attachment is embedded in various cultural spaces and is appropriated in very different ideological, political and philosophical projects – from left-wing anti-authoritarian parenting styles to conservative, Christian or Islamic, religious frameworks.

Based on this exemplary analysis I will asks more generally how psychologisations of everyday life can be studied and conceptualized. I develop a notion of psychologisation which does not imply an unidirectional influence of psychological knowledge on folk psychology but rather looks at complex relationships between lay and professional knowledge. This perspective aims at taking the knowledge production of “folk psychologists” seriously who adapt psychological knowledge creatively. The concept of psychologisation is mainly used in the literature as a critical concept per se by linking it to neoliberalism or individualism. In this presentation I depart from this culture of critique and argue for a more empirically based and nuanced view on psychologisation. Psychologisation, from my perspective, can be a liberating project. From which standpoint can I decide whether it is emancipatory or not?