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Psychology and the Issues of Objectivity

Psychology should always achieve objectivity in terms of research, either clinical or in the form of literature review. Also in academics and the teaching of Psychology, a professor’s aims in teaching should remain objective, so students can glean a wide realm of information and insight into the discipline. However in the practice of Psychology in working with patients, subjectivity is many times a part of the empathy that is needed to help others feel a connection with their practitioner.

As well, in any social science that engages in the analysis of a situation that involves individuals or groups, objectivity is only a reality when a specific theory is used consistently in all interactions. This is virtually impossible to expect to use the same theory in practice in all situations and instead a blend of theory and personal input is needed. Some barriers to ultimate objectivity include values, beliefs, attitudes, and norms of a given society.

When dealing with a multitude of cultures and subcultures, then it is difficult for a clinician to remain objective if there is not enough evidence and insight into differences in cultures and so a subjective input as to values and attitudes is the only substitute. Many clinicians, no doubt have been educated in cross-cultural studies, however subcultures, such as with those that work in discreet professions or those who subscribe to ideas outside the mainstream, may not be able to aptly explain to a clinician what is and is not a deviation from the norm in terms of values and others social codes.

There are also those in the mainstream that may present with ideas and issues that cannot be verified as real by a clinician and it seems that the common code of professionals is to consider idiosyncrasies as part of an illness. This is subjective to the clinicians thought process as far as what can be considered reality. Reality is always subjective and different from person to person and the shift of realities and paradigms is not an easy task.

Essentially at any time that a person is asked to access a situation with only the knowledge and experience one has, it will become a subjective experience due to the experiential reality of that person. Therefore to ask a clinician to be completely objective would be to ask them to have experienced and seen every culture and every subculture and situation firsthand to understand the reality of the situations of others and the effects these foreign issues have on the client.

Instead it would be more rational to ask a practitioner of Psychology to universally empathize with every client and to attempt to verify discrepancies before making a judgment toward a simple diagnosis. Any discipline then that requires the assessment of others in their presentation and feelings will be ultimately subjective in practice. Understanding the feelings of others and seeing patterns of disjointed thinking and other processes of communication can only be gauged in a subjective manner that involves the measuring of a person to the norms and values of a specific society and culture.

Therefore all social science is based upon presuppositions that are taught both by coursework and life experience and, though some would consider the social sciences then to be “soft” rather than “hard” in terms of objectivity and measurement. However, as stated previously, researchers and professors can indeed use and should strive for objectivity and a more scientific stance.

Practitioners on the other hand, must rely on empathy and the verification of client information to make a most educated, yet subjective analysis with as much information that can be obtained at any given time.


Triandis, H. C. (2002). “Subjective culture” in W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds. ), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. 2002. Accessible Online http://www. wwu. edu/~culture, Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA. Last Accessed 17 May 2010.

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