These People Made a Difference

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

In the past month, two pioneers in the field of psychology have passed on, both of whom made innovative advances in our understanding of human behavior, each in their own unique way. I have been reflecting on their contributions and re-focusing on how their work aligns with and supports the Gordon psychology

Jean Baker Miller

This woman had a major impact on my life and work. In fact, after I developed the Effectiveness Training for Women course and before my book was published, we used her book, Toward a New Psychology of Women (1976), as the text. I still refer back to it when I want to get re-energized. In this ground-breaking book, Miller argued that the psychological development of both women and men has been limited and distorted by sexual inequality and that this prevents both men and women from achieving their full potential. She created a fundamental shift in how women can see themselves and made a case that their “weaknesses” were actually strengths and were necessary for healthy psychological development. She states: “‘If I can bring myself to admit that I can take on the determination and direction of my own life rather than give it over to others, can I exist with safety? With satisfaction? And who will ever love me, or even tolerate me, if I do that?’ Only after questions are confronted, can one begin to ask the even more basic question: what do I really want? And this question too, will not always be answered easily. It often takes strenuous exploration, but usually it turns out that there are deeply felt needs that are not being met at all. Only then can one begin to evaluate these desires and to see the possibility of acting to bring about their attainment.”

Dr. Miller also stressed the importance of relationships with others and how basic they are to the health and well-being of both women and men.

In the Gordon Training programs, people learn the communication skills that are needed to talk and behave in congruence with their feelings, to be honest and not back away, to take responsibility for their own needs, beliefs and choices and to act in accordance with them. They learn to listen to others with empathy and understanding and by doing so, enhance and deepen their relationships and help make it possible for others to get in touch with their untapped or hidden needs. And they learn the skills it takes to prevent and to resolve conflicts so they can have equitable and fulfilling relationships with others.

George Albee

His focus was on the prevention as opposed to the treatment of mental and emotional disorders. He made the case that such problems were not diseases caused by biological factors but instead by violence, poverty, child abuse and social stresses. He further made the case that the medical model which focuses on treatment rather than prevention did not and could not work to cure such problems. In the book, Primary Prevention of Psychopathology, he states: “It is public health dogma that no widespread disease is ever brought under control by the treatment of afflicted individuals. Smallpox was not conquered by treating smallpox patients; neither was treatment of the individual the answer to typhoid fever, polio or measles. Every plague affecting humankind has been controlled when discovery of the cause led to taking effective steps to remove it. The process is primary prevention.” (1977). The treatment of AIDS is a current, catastrophic example.

Dr. Albee believed that far too little attention is paid to prevention. He contended that many disorders could be better dealt with by easing social stresses, particularly on children. In an overview on primary prevention, Albee and Kessler wrote: “Our reading for a year leads us to the conclusion that practically every effort aimed at improved child rearing, increasing effective communication, building inner control and self esteem, reducing stress and pollution…in short, everything aimed at improving the human condition, at making life more fulfilling and meaningful–may be considered to be part of primary prevention of mental or emotional disturbances.” (1977)

Albee’s work bolstered Dr. Gordon’s strong belief that people can change their behavior through training–“training before trouble”. Underlying the skills of the Gordon Model is the idea that people are not “sick” but rather are capable people who are in trouble. Instead of being a “difficult person”, one is “a person in difficulty” who can learn the skills it takes to have satisfying and fulfilling relationships with others. Using these skills can prevent many problems and conflicts from occurring in the first place and resolve them when they do occur. And we now know that once they learn these skills, people have the confidence and the ability to deal with even the most complicated situations whether they are intrapersonal or interpersonal.

I am deeply appreciative to these two pioneering, courageous people for their very significant contributions. They each made a major difference in our knowledge and understanding about issues that are relevant and timely and really matter.