BBC Radio 4 program Mind Changers, a series hosted by Claudia Hammond in which she explores “the development of the science of psychology during the 20th century,” has just returned with new episodes. Now available online are episodes on the work of Joseph Wolpe (right) and Julian Rotter. Wolpe most famously developed and perfected the technique of systematic desensitization for the treatment of phobias, while Rotter developed the I-E scale to measure locus of control, or the degree to which individuals believe they have control over events in their lives.
You can find the full audio catalogue of previous Mind Changers episodes online here and AHP’s previous posts on the series here. Titles and descriptions of the Wolpe and Rotter episodes follow below.
When the South African psychiatrist, Joseph Wolpe, took up his post at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1965, he brought with him the treatment he’d developed for patients with phobias. Systematic Desensitization involved a lengthy process of relaxation and gradual exposure to the object of the phobia. It was known as Behaviour Therapy, with its concentration on learning a different response to a stimulus. It paid no attention to the patient’s childhood or underlying psychological experiences and was thus a radical departure from the Freudian, psychoanalytic approach that was the established method of psychiatry in the US at the time. He brought about a sea change, which sees him regularly listed as one of the top twenty most influential psychologists of the 20th century.
Claudia Hammond visits Philadelphia to meet two of Joseph Wolpe’s former colleagues, Michael Ascher and Allan Cristol to hear about the man and his work. At Temple University Medical School Professor William Dubin shows her Wolpe’s portrait and discusses his legacy, while Dr Richard Heimberg, Director of the Adult Anxiety Clinic at Temple, reveals how Wolpe’s form of therapy still influences what he does today.
In the UK, Elaine Caiger gets over her paralyzing fear of spiders at a course run by Anxiety UK which distils Wolpe’s lengthy process into a matter of hours. And Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, reflects on his worldwide impact.
When, as a Psychology student, Claudia Hammond read about Locus of Control in Julian Rotter’s Social Learning Theory she assumed its author, like most great Mind Changers, was no longer alive. Twenty years later she met him in his home near the University of Connecticut. He was happy to reflect on his career.
In 1966 Rotter published his famous IE scale. This measured whether the subject had an Internal Locus of Control – believing that they could affect the course of their life, that their choices would have an impact on what happened to them – or an External Locus of Control, in which case their life was guided by luck or fate and they themselves had little power to change things. The test has been developed in many ways since then, but it is still widely used today and the notion of Locus of Control has been particularly influential in healthcare. Claudia visits Guy’s Hospital in London to hear from health psychologists Dr Nicky Thomas and Professor John Weinman about how it affects their work with patients.
Julian Rotter himself was one of the first clinical psychologists ever to be trained in the US and was to be extremely influential in training those who followed. He was proponent of the scientist-practitioner model and he worked hard to ensure that clinical psychology became a research-based discipline. He was largely responsible for bringing personality theory into the clinical arena.
Claudia also meets his wife, Doffie – a former graduate student of Rotter’s, his friends and former colleagues at UCONN: Professors Charles Lowe, Marianne Barton and Jerome Smith. And hears from Margie Lachman of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Laboratory at Brandeis University, how Locus of Control can change with age.