Yaseen Ally – Sexuality and Gender Division

The 1st Pan African Psychology Union, recently held in KwaZulu Natal, hosted a workshop on the role of research in psychology. The various divisions of the Psychological Society of South Africa were represented, with each division sharing how research features and is currently understood and implemented. The centrality of research was made explicit, with innovations various fields being shared. As the Sexuality and Gender Division representative, I spent a considerable amount of time pondering over what to share. It struck me, that when it comes to research, the discipline of psychology has ‘othered’ research and focus is given, specifically, to the experiences of our participants. While this is invaluable in contributing to a deepened understanding of human behaviour and functioning, I chose to highlight at the workshop, an area of research that has been overlooked. I simply posed a question: “who are we, in relation to the research we do?” This seemingly simple question is filled with depth and the discussion that emanated from it, bears testimony.

While acknowledging the importance of research in psychology, psychologists ironically tend to shy away from explicating their lived realities within the context of their research. One of the philosophical challenges that psychology has faced has been its endeavor to be considered a science. Because of this, objective research as conducted in the hard sciences was emphasized. This developed, despite the strong reliance on self-reflection, paramount to success as a mental health professional. The challenge to this is that in the pursuit of objectivity, practitioners lived realities are seconded to that of the experiences and realities of others.  Despite every person having a story to tell, we find that we intensify the focus on ‘othering’ and; the sets of personal events that have resulted in a variety of emotional experiences, triumphs and personal struggles have been overlooked. In fact, we have as practitioners, silenced our own realities and experiences and focus primarily on our clients or participants.

I problematised this at the workshop, given that depth of meaning I feel is lost through this age-old tradition in psychology. What can we learn from our own experiences? More importantly we need to grapple with, what can the discipline of psychology gain through the sharing of these lived realities of its practitioners. In fact, I argued, that psychology cannot be decolonised unless we begin to include the experiences of its practitioners into the science and knowledge we produce. Contextual realities not only refer to the inclusion of the voices of our participants into research, but also, the inclusion of the voices of psychological practitioners who have experiences with race, gender, class, loss, marriage, divorce, therapeutic challenges – the list is endless.

The introduction of this debate at the workshop was well received by the various divisional representatives as well as the audience.

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