Wednesday, May 27, 2009
the psychology of human relationships
Therapy should be like a poker game. In other words, the result is what counts....... You either win or you lose..... You've got to know what is happening in each hand...... A lot of the game depends on getting to know the other guys and what they are doing. Big words are hiding the reality of what is going on between people.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
This book discusses women issues, which I think can also be applied to men, i.e., issues for human beings.
This book has the taste of christianity and clinical psychology.
These are the issues discussed: emotional dependency, codependence, boundary, assertive, know yourself, adult child, fear, psychological stronghold, misconception, isolation, feeling et.al.,
Thursday, May 14, 2009
A personality disorder is identified by a pervasive pattern of experience and behavior that is abnormal with respect to any of the following two: thinking, mood, personal relations, and the control of impulses.
The character of a person is shown through his or her personality - by the way an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. When the behavior is inflexible, maladaptive, and antisocial, then that individual is diagnosed with a personality disorder.
Most personality disorders begin as problems in personal development and character which peak during adolescence and then are defined as personality disorders.
Personality disorders are not illnesses in a strict sense as they do not disrupt emotional, intellectual, or perceptual functioning. However, those with personality disorders suffer a life that is not positive, proactive, or fulfilling. Not surprisingly, personality disorders are also associated with failures to reach potential.
The DSM-IV: Diagnositc and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) defines a personality disorder as an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual's culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.
Currently, there are 10 distinct personality disorders identified in the DSM-IV:
Antisocial Personality Disorder: Lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the local culture, marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths.
Avoidant Personality Disorder: Marked social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and extremely sensitive to criticism.
Borderline Personality Disorder: Lack of one's own identity, with rapid changes in mood, intense unstable interpersonal relationships, marked impulsively, instability in affect and in self image.
Dependent Personality Disorder: Extreme need of other people, to a point where the person is unable to make any decisions or take an independent stand on his or her own. Fear of separation and submissive behavior. Marked lack of decisiveness and self-confidence.
Histrionic Personality Disorder: Exaggerated and often inappropriate displays of emotional reactions, approaching theatricality, in everyday behavior. Sudden and rapidly shifting emotion expressions.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Behavior or a fantasy of grandiosity, a lack of empathy, a need to be admired by others, an inability to see the viewpoints of others, and hypersensitive to the opinions of others.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Characterized by perfectionism and inflexibility; preoccupation with uncontrollable patterns of thought and action.
Paranoid Personality Disorder: Marked distrust of others, including the belief, without reason, that others are exploiting, harming, or trying to deceive him or her; lack of trust; belief of others' betrayal; belief in hidden meanings; unforgiving and grudge holding.
Schizoid Personality Disorder: Primarily characterized by a very limited range of emotion, both in expression of and experiencing; indifferent to social relationships.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Peculiarities of thinking, odd beliefs, and eccentricities of appearance, behavior, interpersonal style, and thought (e.g., belief in psychic phenomena and having magical powers).
According to Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, individuals with personality disorders have many things in common:
- Self-centeredness that manifests itself through a me-first, self-preoccupied attitude Lack of individual accountability that results in a victim mentality and blaming others, society and the universe for their problems
- Lack of perspective-taking and empathy
- Manipulative and exploitative behavior
- Unhappiness, suffering from depression and other mood and anxiety disorders
- Vulnerability to other mental disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive tendencies and panic attacks
- Distorted or superficial understanding of self and others' perceptions, being unable to see his or her objectionable, unacceptable, disagreeable, or self-destructive behaviors or the issues that may have contributed to the personality disorder
- Socially maladaptive, changing the rules of the game, introducing new variables, or otherwise influencing the external world to conform to their own needs
- No hallucinations, delusions or thought disorders (except for the brief psychotic episodes of Borderline Personality Disorder)
Vaknin does not propose a unified theory of psychopathology as there is still much to learn about the workings of the world and our place in it. Each personality disorder shows its own unique manifestations through a story or narrative, but we do not have enough information or verifying capability to determine whether they spring from a common psychodynamic source.
It is important to note that some people diagnosed with borderline, antisocial, schizoid, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders may be suffering from an underlying biological disturbance (anatomical, electrical, or neurochemical). A strong genetic link has been found in antisocial and borderline personality disorders.
Treatment of Personality Disorders
Dr. David B. Adams of Atlanta Medical Psychology says that therapists have the most difficulties with those suffering from personality disorders. They are difficult to please, block effective communication, avoid development of a trusting relationship, [and] cannot be relied upon for accurate history regarding problems or how problems arose (The Psychological Letter, February 2000).
According to the Surgeon General, mental disorders are treatable. An armamentarium of efficacious treatments is available to ameliorate symptoms... Most treatments fall under two general categories, psychosocial and pharmacological. Moreover, the combination of the two—known as multimodal therapy—can sometimes be even more effective than each individually.
By reading the DSM-IV's definition of personality disorders, it seems that these conditions are not treatable. However, when individuals choose to be in control of their lives and are committed to changing their lives, healing is possible. Therapy and medications can help, but it is the individual's decision to take accountability for his or her own life that makes the difference.
To heal, individuals must first have the desire to change in order to break through that enduring pattern of a personality disorder. Individuals need to want to gain insight into and face their inner experience and behavior. (These issues may concern severe or repeated trauma during childhood, such as abuse.)
This involves changing their thinking - about themselves, their relationships, and the world. This also involves changing their behavior, for that which is not acted upon is not learned.
Then, with a support system (e.g., therapy, self-help groups, friends, family, medication), they can free themselves from their imprisoned life.
- fear of losing yourself ---- fear something (pain, hurt) already exist in myself that will cause the same pain
- task oriented vs relationship skilled--- try to improve the latter
- level 1: misunderstanding
- level 2: repetition
- level 3: connection
- level 4: deepening--- deeper understanding that the person himself/herself is not aware of , e.g., fear of lost control
- Don't be surprised
- Don't minimize it. Validate it. confess what really happens, not hiding
- Plug in to the right people who have more reality than us
- Learn the lesson
- Swing the bat again
The importance of the "humility process" and its outcome for leaders
- unplugging---- A says something, B says whatever and goes away
Friday, May 08, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
We came to feel isolated, uneasy with other people... especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people pleasers, even though we lost our identities in the process. Personal criticism is perceived as a threat. We either become addicts ourselves or marry them or both. Failing that we find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick need for abandonment.
We live life from the standpoint of victims. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and prefer to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We somehow get guilt feelings if we stand up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we become REACTORS rather than ACTORS, letting others take the initiative.
We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment... who will do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we keep choosing insecure relationships because they match our childhood relationship with dysfunctional parents. Thus, addiction can be seen as a family disease and we can see ourselves as "Co-dependents", those who take on the characteristics of the diseases without necessarily ever using chemicals or behaviour to mood alter.
We learned to stuff our feelings down in childhood and keep them buried as adults through that conditioning. In consequence, we confuse love and pity and tend to love those we can rescue and ... even more self defeating ... we become addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upsets to workable relationships.
Being Smug, Superior or Arrogant
Questioning or Interrogating
Grinning, Smiling, or “Laughing Off” feelings
Preaching/Lecturing, e.g. saying “You” (what you need to do, etc.), instead of “I”
Quibbling, “Yes, but...”
- I have a right to all those good times that I have longed for all these years and didn’t get.
- I have a right to joy in this life, right here, right now — not just a momentary rush of euphoria but something more substantive.
- I have a right to relax and have fun in a nonalcoholic and nondestructive way.
- I have a right to actively pursue people, places, and situations that will help me in achieving a good life.
- I have the right to say no whenever I feel something is not safe or I am not ready.
- I have a right to not participate in either the active or passive “crazy-making” behavior of parents, of siblings, and of others.
- I have a right to take calculated risks and to experiment with new strategies.
- I have a right to change my tune, my strategy, and my funny equations.
- I have a right to “mess up”; to make mistakes, to “blow it”, to disappoint myself, and to fall short of the mark.
- I have a right to leave the company of people who deliberately or inadvertently put me down, lay a guilt trip on me, manipulate or humiliate me, including my alcoholic parent, my nonalcoholic parent, or any other member of my family.
- I have a right to put an end to conversations with people who make me feel put down and humiliated.
- I have a right to all my feelings.
- I have a right to trust my feelings, my judgment, my hunches, my intuition.
- I have a right to develop myself as a whole person emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically, and psychologically.
- I have a right to express all my feelings in a nondestructive way and at a safe time and place.
- I have a right to as much time as I need to experiment with this new information and these new ideas and to initiate changes in my life.
- I have a right to sort out the bill of goods my parents sold me — to take the acceptable and dump the unacceptable.
- I have a right to a mentally healthy, sane way of existence, though it will deviate in part, or all, from my parents' prescribed philosophy of life.
- I have a right to carve out my place in this world.
- I have a right to follow any of the above rights, to live my life the way I want to, and not wait until my alcoholic parent gets well, gets happy, seeks help, or admits there is a problem.
My Feelings Are Worth My “Attention”
Today I have a choice in how to deal with my feelings. My emotions are visitors that stay forever unless I talk them out or work them out. Otherwise, I will inevitably act them out. When I suppress my feelings, they often show up in the form of phobias, compulsions or physical ailments.
Through the day, I will pay attention to how my body responds to feelings. If my throat is tight, perhaps I am angry. If my chest is heavy, perhaps I am sad. My body can give me much information if I don't disconnect from my physiological responses. If I have alienated myself from my emotions, today is the day I will welcome them and allow them to pass.
I realize now that my feelings are interrelated; when I can deny my sadness or pain, I can just as easily deny my joy and pleasure. When I unconsciously act out repressed emotions, I become out of touch with my own life. Today I will remember that from my feelings blossoms vulnerability, sensitivity, and healing.
Guidelines For Expressing Feelings:
Expressing feelings begins with “I...” keeping the focus on me.
Formula: “I feel ____ (adjective follows: happy, sad, embarrassed, elated, etc.) about...”
Feelings are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad, they just are.
Saying, “I feel THAT...,” is NOT expressing a feeling.
If I can substitute “I think” for “I feel,” then I am expressing a thought.
angry enraged loved exhausted happy sorry generous heavenly sympathetic grief stricken afraid bewildered refreshed clumsy immature supernatural used stupid dull understanding inspired discouraged humble frigid abused pensive blah romantic taut foolish low edgy giddy unglued elated pooped groovy privileged distant submissive quiet cooperative uncertain seductive safe panicky confident merry rejected paralyzed stretched affectionate proud enthusiastic burdened tearful confused important bored sexual dishonest sweaty excited spineless belligerent defiant tickled-to-death bugged magnanimous ugly heroic virile wimpy hopeless deferential bothered trapped miserable apprehensive satisfied seething blocked thankful compassionate at ease
irritated frustrated loving lively joyful sorrowful grateful humiliated relaxed comfortable scared frisky repressed awkward infantile hot glad bright explosive forgiving adequate encouraged cool warm sunshiny powerless bubbly carefree grumpy comforted icky zingy timid disorganized airy jealous frightened warm-hearted close dependent evasive contemptuous aggressive repulsive fearful grief-stricken tolerant confused energetic shut-out bushed empathetic alarmed trusting weepy resentful respected impatient frustrated silly honest dead-eyed breathless terrified bellicose disgusted depressed dutiful funny peeved dreamy exuberant ebullient tense vacant mixed-up conflicted dismayed worried content furious puzzled relieved down-in-the-dumps
annoyed anxious tired vigorous sad greedy thankful compassionate at ease uneasy confused relieved hopeful aware unnatural torrid dumb brilliant considerate forgiven inadequate courageous cold uncomfortable ecstatic powerful tender floating jolly high cuddly playful uptight lost disappointed delighted smiley quivery dominant talkative embarrassed assertive self-assured open guilty calm rejuvenated starry-eyed immobilized whiny strong lonely threatened beaten hurt envious helpless played-out caring two-faced nauseated itchy gutless insecure determined surprised sharp stagnated hilarious hesitant committed wishy-washy horrified independent appealing disturbed petrified disappointed overjoyed bitter mad pissedhopeful uneasy aware
- Admitting that you are powerless to change your compulsive and addictive behaviours (co-dependency, alcoholism, drug or substance abuse, dysfunctional behaviour patterns) without some help.
- Committing yourself to learning to identify the unresolved issues you learned from your family or origin.
- Learning to recognize your family patterns as they occur in your present relationship.
- Learning to feel and express completely the repressed and/or denied feelings from your childhood.
- Developing a new understanding of what really happened to you as a child.
- Developing new feelings connected to what happened to you as a child.
- Learning to take responsibility for your new thoughts and feelings. This means taking charge of your life and no longer expecting someone else to do it.
- Developing a new picture of your family of origin and your role in that family without feelings of hurt or condemnations.
- Feeling compassion for your parents and for yourself as imperfect human beings.
- Accepting your parents and yourself just the way that you and they are.
- Forgiving your parents and yourself. This means to “give back” to them what is rightfully theirs and give back to yourself what is rightfully yours.
- Restoring the wholeness of your mind, body and spirit through the connection with your true self.
There is no frame of reference for what it is like to be in a normal household. You also have no frame of reference for what is O.K. to say and feel. In a more typical situation, one does not have to walk on eggs all the time. Because you did, you became confused. Many things from the past contributed to your having to guess at what normal is.
2. ADULT CHILDREN HAVE DIFFICULTY IN FOLLOWING A PROJECT THROUGH FROM BEGINNING TO END
In a functional family, the child has this behaviour and attitude to model. The child observes the process and the child may even ask questions along the way. The learning may be more indirect than direct, but it is present. Since your experience was so vastly different, it should be no surprise that you have a problem with following a project through from beginning to end.
3. ADULT CHILDREN LIE WHEN IT WOULD BE JUST AS EASY TO TELL THE TRUTH
Lying is basic to the family system affected by alcohol. It masquerades in part as an overt denial of unpleasant realities, cover ups, broken promises and inconsistencies. Lying as the norm in your house became part of what you knew and what could be useful to you. At times, it made life much more comfortable. If you lied about getting your work done, you could get away with being lazy for a while. It seemed to make life simpler for everybody.
4. ADULT CHILDREN JUDGE THEMSELVES WITHOUT MERCY
Your judgement of others is not nearly as harsh as your judgement of yourself, although it is hard for you to see other people’s behaviour in terms of a continuum either. Black and white, good or bad, are typically the way you look at things. You know what it feels like to be bad, and how those feeling make you behave. And then if you are good there is always the risk that it won't last. So either way you set yourself up.
5. ADULT CHILDREN HAVE DIFFICULTY HAVING FUN
6. ADULT CHILDREN TAKE THEMSELVES VERY SERIOUSLY
These two characteristics are closely linked. You didn’t hear your parents laughing and joking and fooling around. Life was a very serious, angry business. The tone in your house put a damper on your fun. Eventually, you just went along with everybody else. Having fun just was not fun. The spontaneous child within was quashed.
7. ADULT CHILDREN HAVE DIFFICULTY WITH INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS
The feelings of being insecure or having difficulty in trusting, and of questions about whether or not you are going to get hurt are not exclusive to adult children. These are problems most people have. It is simply a matter of degree, your being a child of an alcoholic caused the ordinary difficulties to become more severe.
8. ADULT CHILDREN OVER-REACT TO CHANGES OVER WHICH THEY HAVE NO CONTROL
The young child of an alcoholic was not in control. The alcoholics’s life was inflicted on him/her, as was his/her environment. In order to survive when growing up, he/she needed to turn that around. He/she needed to begin taking charge of his/her environment. This became important and remains so. The child of the alcoholic learns to trust him/herself more than anyone else when it is impossible to rely on someone else’s judgement.
9. ADULT CHILDREN CONSTANTLY SEEK APPROVAL AND AFFIRMATION
The message you got as a child was very confused. It was not unconditional love. The definitions were not clear and the messages were mixed. “Yes, no, I love you, go away.” So you grew up with some confusion about yourself. The affirmations you did not get on a day-to-day basis as a child, you interpret as negative.
10. ADULT CHILDREN FEEL THAT THEY ARE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PEOPLE
Feeling different is something you have had with you since childhood, and even if the circumstance does not warrant it, the feeling prevails. Other children have had the opportunity to be children. You did not. You were very much concerned with what was going on at home. You could never be completely comfortable playing with other children. You could not be fully there. Your concerns about your home problems clouded everything else in your life.
11. ADULT CHILDREN ARE EITHER SUPER RESPONSIBLE OR SUPER IRRESPONSIBLE
Either you take it all on or you give it all up. There is no middle ground. You tried to please your parents, doing more and more, or you reached the point where you recognized it did not matter, so you did nothing.
12. ADULT CHILDREN ARE EXTREMELY LOYAL, EVEN IN THE FACE OF EVIDENCE THAT THE LOYALTY IS UNDESERVED
The alcoholic home appears to be a very loyal place. Family members hang in long after reasons dictate that they should leave. The so-called “loyalty” is more the result of fear and insecurity than anything else, nevertheless, the behaviour that is modeled is one where no one walks away just because the going gets rough. This sense enables the adult child to remain in involvements that are better dissolved.
13. ADULT CHILDREN ARE IMPULSIVE
They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviours or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Friday, May 01, 2009
Projection may also happen to obliterate attributes of other people with which we are uncomfortable. We assume that they are like us, and in doing so we allow ourselves to ignore those attributes they have with which we are uncomfortable.
Neurotic projection is perceiving others as operating in ways one unconsciously finds objectionable in yourself.
Complementary projection is assuming that others do, think and feel in the same way as you.
Complimentary projection is assuming that others can do things as well as you.
Projection also appears where we see our own traits in other people, as in the false consensus effect. Thus we see our friends as being more like us than they really are.
I do not like another person. But I have a value that says I should like everyone. So I project onto them that they do not like me. This allows me to avoid them and also to handle my own feelings of dislike.
An unfaithful husband suspects his wife of infidelity.
A woman who is attracted to a fellow worker accuses the person of sexual advances.
Projecting thoughts or emotions onto others allows the person to consider them and how dysfunctional they are, but without feeling the attendant discomfort of knowing that these thoughts and emotions are their own. We can thus criticize the other person, distancing ourselves from our own dysfunction.
One explanation is that the ego perceives dysfunction from 'somewhere' and then seeks to locate that somewhere. The super ego warns of punishment if that somewhere is internal, so the ego places it in a more acceptable external place - often in convenient other people.
Projection turns neurotic or moral anxiety into reality anxiety, which is easier to deal with.
Projection is a common attribute of paranoia, where people project dislike of themselves onto others such that they believe that most other people dislike them.
Projection helps justify unacceptable behavior, for example where a person claims that they are sticking up for themselves amongst a group of aggressive other people.
Empathy, where a person experiences the perceived emotions of others, may be considered as a 'reverse' form of projection, where a person projects other people onto themselves. Identification may also be a form of reverse projection.
Projection is one of Freud's original defense mechanisms.
To work authentically with other people, avoid projecting your woes onto them. When you see others in a negative light, think: are you projecting? Also understand that when others criticizing you, they may well be criticizing a projection of themselves.
When others are using projection, you can hold up a mirror to show them what they are doing. As usual, this may well be met with other forms of resistance.
In psychology, psychological projection (or projection bias) is a defense mechanism where a person's personal attributes, unacceptable or unwanted thoughts, and/or emotions are ascribed onto another person or people. According to Wade, Tavris (2000) projection occurs when a person's own unacceptable or threatening feelings are repressed and then attributed to someone else.
An example of this behavior might be blaming another for one's own failure. The mind may avoid the discomfort of consciously admitting personal faults by keeping those feelings unconscious, and redirect their libidinal satisfaction by attaching, or "projecting," those same faults onto another.
Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted unconscious impulses or desires without letting the conscious mind recognize them.
The theory was developed by Sigmund Freud and further refined by his daughter Anna Freud; for this reason, it is sometimes referred to as "Freudian Projection"
According to Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one "projects" one's own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree.
To understand the process, consider a person in a couple who has thoughts of infidelity. Instead of dealing with these undesirable thoughts consciously, he or she subconsciously projects these feelings onto the other person, and begins to think that the other has thoughts of infidelity and may be having an affair. In this sense, projection is related to denial, arguably the only defense mechanism that is more primitive than projection. Projection, like all defense mechanisms, provides a function whereby a person can protect their conscious mind from a feeling that would otherwise be repulsive.
Compartmentalization, splitting and projection are ways that the ego continues to pretend that it is completely in control at all times, when in reality human experience is one of shifting beingness, instinctual or territorial reactiveness and emotional motives, for which the "I" is not always complicit. Further, common in deep trauma, individuals will be unable to access truthful memories, intentions and experiences, even about their own nature, wherein projection is just one tool.
Peter Gay describes it as "the operation of expelling feelings or wishes the individual finds wholly unacceptable—too shameful, too obscene, too dangerous—by attributing them to another."
The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach based his theory of religion in large part upon the idea of projection, i.e., the idea that an anthropomorphic deity is the outward projection of man's anxieties and desires.
Psychological projection is the subject of Robert Bly's book A Little Book on the Human Shadow. The "Shadow"—a term used in Jungian psychology to describe a variety of psychological projection—refers to the projected material . Marie-Louise Von Franz extended the view of projection to cover phenomena in Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths: "... wherever known reality stops, where we touch the unknown, there we project an archetypal image".
Psychological projection is one of the medical explanations of bewitchment that attempts to diagnose the behavior of the afflicted children at Salem in 1692. The historian John Demos asserts that the symptoms of bewitchment experienced by the afflicted girls in Salem during the witchcraft crisis were because the girls were undergoing psychological projection. Demos argues the girls had convulsive fits caused by repressed aggression and were able to project this aggression without blame because of the speculation of witchcraft and bewitchment.
When addressing psychological trauma the defense mechanism is sometimes counter-projection, including an obsession to continue and remain in a recurring trauma-causing situation and the compulsive obsession with the perceived perpetrator of the trauma or its projection.
Jung writes that "All projections provoke counter-projection when the object is unconscious of the quality projected upon it by the subject."
The concept was anticipated by Friedrich Nietzsche:
"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."
"Projection is the opposite defense mechanism to identification. We project our own unpleasant feelings onto someone else and blame them for having thoughts that we really have."
"A defense mechanism in which the individual attributes to other people impulses and traits that he himself has but cannot accept. It is especially likely to occur when the person lacks insight into his own impulses and traits."
"Attributing one's own undesirable traits to other people or agencies."
"The individual perceives in others the motive he denies having himself. Thus the cheat is sure that everyone else is dishonest."
"People attribute their own undesirable traits onto others."
"An individual who possesses malicious characteristics, but who is unwilling to perceive himself as an antagonist, convinces himself that his opponent feels and would act the same way."
In psychopathology, projection is an especially commonly used defense mechanism in people with certain personality disorders:
Paranoid personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Antisocial personality disorder
That finding is among the most striking in a major study of Ph.D. completion and attrition rates being released today by the Council of Graduate Schools. The finding on attrition is significant because one of the major reasons for the study and one of the top concerns in graduate schools is that so many students never finish -- leaving some fields facing shortages of doctorates and leaving many students who drop out feeling like they wasted years of their lives.
The data on Ph.D. attrition rates are part of a larger analysis of 10 years of statistics on who starts and finishes Ph.D. programs. Much of the summary data on completion rates was released in July and confirmed what is no secret to English Ph.D. students: It takes much longer for a humanities Ph.D. to finish up, on average, than for those in any other broad area.
Even after 10 years, a majority of humanities Ph.D. students have not finished their degrees, while nearly two-thirds of those in engineering have done so. After seven years, a majority of engineering and life sciences students have wrapped up, while that's not the case for even 30 percent in the humanities. (The social sciences are in the middle, and there are also gaps within the sciences, social sciences and humanities, with psychology outperforming sociology, for example.)
While the numbers on overall rates have been refined, the general trends are unchanged. But the more detailed report being issued today does provide some hope for those who have been concerned about attrition rates among doctoral students. The study analyzed three cohorts of doctoral students -- those who started in 1992, 1995 and 1998 -- and tracked attrition rates through 1995, 1998 and 2001, respectively. (As with other data in the study, information was collected from 30 universities.)
While not enough time has passed to see what proportion of the students in the latter cohorts eventually finished, there are equal time periods to study attrition in the first few years of a program. The data show large changes in the attrition rates in mathematics and physical sciences, and the social sciences, and smaller changes everywhere except the humanities, where the decrease in rates is 0.3 percent.
For the earliest cohorts, the humanities doctoral students had lower attrition rates, but there is some debate about whether that is the pull of programs or the more lucrative job opportunities that exist for people in engineering or the sciences who have a few years of graduate education, but no doctoral degree.
Robert Sowell, vice president for programs and operations at the Council of Graduate Schools, said that he was encouraged by those shifts (except for the humanities), but that the study thus far did not offer explanations for why the changes would vary so much by discipline. During the periods of the three cohorts, however, he said many graduate schools started to devote more attention to preventing attrition and that he hoped the data show the success of those efforts. He also said that he could not identify from the available data why humanities attrition rates would show so little change during periods that the other groups improved.
He said that the current data did not have demographic breakdowns -- and that would be the focus of the next data analysis.
The idea behind the entire project, he stressed, was to get data that could be used at the campus level to improve completion rates. "To improve completion rates, we've got to know where we are," he said.
High attrition from Ph.D. programs is sucking away time, talent, and money and breaking some hearts, too
On the first day of graduate school, everyone is still a success. All of the students gunning for Ph.D.'s have lived an academic life of achievement: honor roll, summa cum laude, certificates, scholarships, and parents who praise their intellectual prowess. Yet as many as half of those bright students -- many of whom have never tasted failure -- will drop out before they can claim their prize.In some humanities programs, only one of every three entering students goes on to earn a doctorate. No comprehensive national statistics are available, but studies suggest that the attrition rate for Ph.D. programs is 40 percent to 50 percent.That has been the way graduate school has worked for years. It's about separating the wheat from the chaff, some professors will argue. Others may spout additional clichés about cream rising and sink-or-swim environments. The good students get through, they say. Nearly everyone involved, from graduate deans to professors, acknowledges that Ph.D. programs will never have the completion rates of shorter, more clearly defined programs like law and business schools. Some dropouts are to be expected, since getting a Ph.D. can often take six or seven years, and some of that attrition is healthy, administrators and professors say.But given the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into graduate study by institutions and the federal government, not to mention the years of the students' lives, should we accept a system in which half of the students don't make it? "If actual attrition is really around 50 percent, then this is a scandal," says Michael S. Teitelbaum, a program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "It's a serious waste of resources and a terrible waste of time and energy on the part of students."Some researchers have tracked attrition for years. Their studies don't suggest a rise or a fall in the dropout rate. What is changing is university administrators' willingness to do something about the problem.At the recent annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, in San Francisco, one of the most talked-about sessions focused on attrition. Lewis Siegel, chairman of the council and dean of the Graduate School at Duke University, calls it "the central issue in doctoral education in the United States today." Debra Stewart, the council's president, calls it a "wedge issue." Start dealing with why people are leaving graduate school, she says, and you'll fix a whole bunch of problems.The timing seems right as well. Ms. Stewart says that the council has been overwhelmed by requests for its new booklet examining the research that has been done on the issue. Just after the meeting, the council announced that Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical company, was donating $2-million for 10 pilot projects to study and develop ways to stem attrition.Why It MattersLots of people can't cut it in graduate school, runs the common wisdom. That's the nature of the beast. In his presentation at the San Francisco meeting, Peter Diffley, an associate dean of the Graduate School at the University of Notre Dame, posed the essential question: "Why care? Doesn't it just cull the bottom part of class? Won't solving the attrition problem just worsen the placement problem?"After studying 10 years of data in four representative departments at Notre Dame, Mr. Diffley found that those simple explanations don't hold water. His research suggests that there is little to no academic difference between the people who complete their degrees and those who drop out -- at least as measured by their Graduate Record Examination scores and undergraduate grades. So, ultimately, the high attrition is a waste of time and talent.He also calculated that Notre Dame would save $1-million a year in stipends alone if attrition went down by 10 percent, because programs would not over-enroll students to compensate for attrition. "We don't mind spending if there's a product at the end," he says. Graduate-school administrators also argue that decreasing the number of doctoral dropouts is the fastest way to graduate more American and minority Ph.D.'s. Many of the deans at the San Francisco meeting were worried about what they called a shrinking "domestic talent pool." In the past five years, the number of Americans earning doctorates has fallen by more than 8 percent. Meanwhile, the number of foreign students on temporary visas earning doctorates has risen by more than 5 percent.The most important reason to care about attrition, most researchers agree, is the effect it has on students' lives. "This is tremendously painful," says Barbara E. Lovitts, who left two doctoral programs before finishing a third one, in sociology, at the University of Maryland at College Park in 1996. Now a research scientist at Maryland, she is the author of Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of Departure From Doctoral Study (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001). She saw several people who had not completed their degrees cry during interviews about their grad-school experiences and the effect it had on their lives -- no matter what their reasons for leaving. "There is a tremendous opportunity cost," Ms. Lovitts says. "These are people who have never failed before in their lives. They were summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa. And for the first time in their lives they've experienced failure. It takes people a lot of years to get over it."What We Do KnowEven though no comprehensive national studies have been done on attrition from Ph.D. programs, researchers still know a lot about the problem. Many institution-specific studies in recent decades bear out the same trends: Women drop out at a higher rate than men. Minority students leave at a higher rate than white students do. Americans drop out more often than international students. And students leave humanities and social-science programs at a higher rate than those in the sciences.Researchers and deans concerned about attrition say the first step in reducing it is to gather and publish data on the issue. Admittedly, those would be slippery statistics. How do you decide who counts as a doctoral student? What about students who entered Ph.D. programs but left with master's degrees? And when do you count them as gone? What if they just took a leave for a year and expect to return?Chris M. Golde, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching who is one of the nation's foremost researchers on graduate-school attrition, tells departments "not to get hung up on the technical part." Just come up with a definition that can be easily explained, and a way to gather the data. Then keep putting those data in front of people and ask them to confront the problem.Many departments, deans agree, don't realize the size of the problem until they see the statistics.Prospective students often have to hunt around to find information about completion rates or attrition. If they knew that a program had a low completion rate, perhaps that would change their decision to apply. But at some graduate schools, such information simply isn't available.Institutions that make it easily accessible are in the minority. At the University of California at San Diego, a comprehensive table of completion statistics is included in the graduate school's annual report, easily found on the Web. Duke University's Graduate School includes links to a wealth of admissions, enrollment, and completion data for prospective students on its Web site. There you can learn very specific information about individual departments -- for instance, that the Ph.D. program in literature bucks the national trend. Of the 27 students who started from 1992 through 1995, 17 earned their degrees, and only 6 have withdrawn.The Selection FactorWhile some students certainly leave Ph.D. programs because they can't do the work, deans say the problem is not usually students' struggling to measure up. A larger portion of the dropout total can be attributed to grad schools' having made bad admissions selections. That doesn't mean the students aren't bright enough. Deans and researchers talk, instead, about that hard-to-define "bad fit."Even students who make it through the rigorous selection process to win National Science Foundation graduate-research fellowships finish their Ph.D.'s at a rate of only about 75 percent. That's just a bit higher than other doctoral students in the sciences.At Duke, Mr. Siegel, the dean, has taken to asking department chairmen what proportion of their conversations with prospective graduate students is "about informing students rather than selling your program." At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Richard Wheeler, dean of the Graduate College, says avoiding bad matches is tough in a highly competitive environment. "The higher you crank up the screws on recruiting, the more likely you are to bring in students that don't fit with your program," he says.Ms. Golde, of the Carnegie foundation, suggests looking at how science departments, which have higher completion rates than humanities departments, generally select students. "One reason the sciences have lower attrition rates is that you are admitted to be in the Joe Schmoe lab," she says. You and Professor Schmoe "have spent some time getting to know each other and vet each other." That's quite different, she says, from a student who plans to study international labor economics but, after doing years of course work, realizes that there is no one in the department for him to work with. "Why did you admit me?" the student asks. "Why did you come?" the department counters."It's like a bad dating situation," says Ms. Golde. "No one is taking responsibility for the match. Instead everyone needs to take responsibility for the match."The Money FactorYou don't need a Ph.D. to figure out that struggling to rub two dimes together for the seven years it takes to get a doctorate makes getting the degree harder. Money does matter. But maybe not in predictable ways. Holding a research assistantship improves a student's chances of completion. Teaching assistantships help too, although to a lesser degree.Maryland's Ms. Lovitts, who studied attrition at two research universities, says money alone isn't enough. Students on fellowships, for instance, do not complete their degrees at a higher-than-average rate.Assistantships really help, she says, because they increase the likelihood that graduate students will interact with other graduate students and with faculty members. "You have to come up on campus and engage in the professional task of the department," she says. "You have to interact with faculty. You get to interact with undergraduates. You're far more likely to get a desk with other graduate students, which puts you in contact with the graduate-student subculture."Ms. Golde emphasizes that this is another way that the sciences are structured differently from the humanities. In a science department, students are in the lab from the start, working next to undergraduates, researchers, and professors. In English, on the other hand, the first couple of years of graduate school are taken up mostly with classes. "It's just like being a supercharged English undergraduate," she says. "It's not anything like being an English professor."About 10 years ago, Washington University in St. Louis made a policy shift that administrators credit with substantially raising completion rates. The size of the graduate school was changed to match the number of assistantships that departments could support. That meant a reduction in overall enrollment, but also that every student was now assured of a fellowship or teaching assistantship for six years. The move has cut attrition, says Robert E. Thach, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The average completion rate is now 70 percent, and he hopes to keep pushing it higher. In some disciplines the change has been sharp. A decade ago, the completion rate was 34 percent in the humanities. Now it's 68 percent.Attrition "destroys people's confidence in themselves when they perceive themselves as failures, when the problem should be laid at other doors," says Mr. Thach. "We don't want to be in the business of disappointing people."No ProspectsFor Ms. Lovitts, tackling the problem of attrition means that everyone involved -- from deans to department chairs to faculty advisers -- must take more responsibility for what happens to their graduate students. "My personal feeling is that when a university admits a graduate student to a program, they have an implicit contract to get them through," she says. "But a lot fall down on that score."Yet the pot of gold at the end of the Ph.D. rainbow may not be there for every candidate. For many of them, despite their love of the subject and their dreams of reveling in the life of the mind, the most logical decision may be to leave.After a year in a Ph.D. program in history at City University of New York, Nicole Kalian left to take a job as a publicist with a book publisher. Hers was the sort of early attrition that almost everyone agrees is the best kind."I didn't see any prospects for when I graduated," says Ms. Kalian, who was shocked to read an article about new Ph.D.'s who couldn't find jobs as adjuncts on enough campuses to earn at least $25,000 a year. "It was frightening, and I could never really shake that thought from my head."