Research

In my autobiographical work Between dreaming and recognition seeking (2012), I have sketched some destablizing events in my life and investigated their meaning via the lens of Dialogical Self Theory.

Mission statement

 

 

The research program “Valuation Theory, self-confrontation and dialogical self” has two main purposes, one scientific, the other practical. The scientific aim is to give an original theoretical and methodological contribution at the frontiers of the academic psychology of the self. The practical aim is to stimulate the cooperation between scientists and practitioners by developing methods for self-investigation which are, at the same time, theory-based and applicable in a variety of practical settings. The two aims as formulated above, are realized by a distinction between three levels: theory, method, and practice. On the theoretical level, the program has produced a motivational theory of the self, valuation theory. This theory provides a conceptual framework for the study of the self as an organized process of valuation and, in a more recent stage of theory-development, in terms of multivoicedness and dialogicality. On the methodological level, a procedure for self-investigation, called the self-confrontation method, has been developed for investigating the content and organization of the self with proper attention for its motivational base.

The program aims at a further development of the self-confrontation method in such a way that the multivoiced and dialogical nature of the human mind can be investigated with refined and extended methodological tools. On the practical level the self-confrontation method has been applied in three fields: mental health, education, and personnel management.

The purpose is to device new versions of the self-confrontation method and other methods in such a way that the guiding theoretical framework (valuation theory and its dialogical elaborations) can be applied in a broad variety of practical settings.

 

Historical Outline

 

In their present form theory, method, and practice are the results of three phases that are summarized below The first phase started with Hermans’ (1967) dissertation Motivatie en Prestatie [Motivation and Achievement]. This dissertation provided the basis of two psychological tests for measurement of the achievement motive and fear of failure, the Prestatie Motivatie Test [Achievement Motivation Test] for adults (Hermans, 1968, 1970; Hermans, Petermann, & Zielinsky, 1978), and the Prestatie Motivatie Test voor kinderen [Achievement Motivation Test for children] (Hermans, 1971, 1976, 1983; Hermans, Ter Laak, & Maes, 1972), abbreviated as PMT and PMT-k respectively. The application of the PMT is mainly in the fields of work and education; the PMT-k mainly in education.

Dissatisfaction with these tests (for reasons see Hermans, Fiddelaers, De Groot, & Nauta, 1990), and with the theoretical and methodological basis of psychological tests in general, gave the impetus to the initial development of valuation theory and the construction of a self-confrontation method (Hermans, 1974), which marked the beginning of the second phase. In the self-confrontation method the subject plays an active role as “self-investigator” and participates as “co-investigator” in psychological research (for arguments see Hermans & Bonarius, 1991; Hermans, 1992a). As a self-theory, valuation theory is developed for the study of individual experiences, their ordering into a narratively structured meaning system and their development over time (Hermans,1987a,b; 1988; Hermans & Van Gilst, 1991; Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1995).

The third phase was introduced by the article “The dialogical self: Beyond individualism and rationalism” in the American Psychologist (Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992). The main idea, prepared by a diversity of applications of the self-confrontation method in a diversity of samples and settings, is that the self is composed of a multitude of I positions. That is, the I can fluctuate among various, often opposed positions, and is able to tell, in terms of valuations, different stories about self and world from different positions (for the term “position” see also Harré & Van Langenhove, 1991) An important implication of this theoretical view is that it enables to investigate the contrasts and contradictions of the mind and its implications to the process of change (for empirical and practical implications see Hermans, Rijks, & Kempen, 1993, and Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1995).

 

Overview of results

Scientific Aim (note that this text was written in 2004. It is presented here as historical info).

After the original publication of the achievement motivation and fear of failure tests (PMT and PMT-k) in Dutch and English in the sixties and seventies, the tests are translated and applied in (probably) more than 20 countries (estimation on the basis of correspondence and citations over the years). In the Netherlands the PMT and PMT-k belong, according to a counting in 1990 by a test screening committee of the Dutch Psychological Association, to the top 20 of the most frequently used tests in a group of more than 200 tests registered by the COTAN (a committee of the Dutch Psychological Association).

Valuation theory, the dialogical self, and the self-confrontation method have contributed to a variety of psychological subdisciplines: personality psychology(Barresi & Juckes, 1997; Hermans, 1987a, 1988, 1991; Hermans & Bonarius, 1991; Hermans & Oles, 1996; Lamiell, 1991; Thorne, 1995; McAdams, 1998, in press),developmental psychology (Hermans, 1992b, 1997a; Oles, 1995; Olthof & Brugman, 1994; Sandfort, 1984; Tappan, 1992; Valsiner, 1997), social psychologyandsociology (Hermans & Kempen, 1993; Hermans & Oles, 1994), clinical psychology (Hermans, 1993a, Hermans, 1998a,b,c, in press), psychotherapy(Dimaggio, Serio, & Ruggeri, 1996; Hermans, 1989; Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1992, 1995), counseling (Hermans, Fiddelaers, De Groot, & Nauta, 1987, 1990; Poulie, 1991), cultural psychology (Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon, 1992; Hermans & Kempen, 1993, 1995), the psychology of religion (Hermans, 1996a; Hermans & Van Loon, 1991; Rioux & Barresi, 1997), personal construct psychology (Hermans, 2002a; Neimeyer, Hagans, & Anderson, 1998; Takens, 1994; Tschudi, 1994) and Jungian psychoanalysis (Hermans, 1993b).

Editors of psychological journals and internationally recognized psychologists have given their written comments on the work of our research program. K. Gergen, associate editor of the American Psychologist responded to a recently accepted article: “You must know that I have an enormous regard for your work. In fact, The Dialogical Self plays a significant role in two of my courses here at Swarthmore, and I have recommended it to colleagues around the world.” Th. Sarbin, who has written the foreword for Hermans and Kempen’s book The dialogical self: Meaning as movement (San Diego: Academic Press, 1993) considers their book “at the very cutting edge of the human sciences” (July 6, 1992) and J. Shotter (1996) in his review of the same book concluded that: “. . .in the new imaginal space beginning to be charted in the second cognitive revolution, I have no doubt that this book merits a prominent dialogical position in that space.”

In a review of the book Self-Narratives J. Valsiner, editor of Culture & Psychology, remarked: “Aside from the wealth of practical examples of how one can study personal valuation structures, the reader will gain a general insight into how one can construct novel traditions of psychological research that unite theoretical and empirical sides of that process, with care for the phenomena, and rigor in the derivation of the data. The book is a refreshing voice among sometimes all-too-general discussions that nowadays are subsumed under the labels of ‘cultural’, ‘socio-cultural’ or ‘social constructionist’ approaches in psychology.” In a recent review of literature on biographical approaches, Barresi & Juckes (1997) placed our work in a historical context: James, Freud, Murray, Erikson, Tomkins, McAdams, and Hermans & Kempen. In a review of narrative approaches of the past decades, McAdams (1998, in press) considers his own theory and Hermans’ theory as “the most extensively articulated theoretical approaches during this time.”

In a discussion of recent trends in constructivist psychology, Neimeyer, editor of the Journal of Constructivist Psychology, and his co-workers Hagans and Anderson (1998) take the self-confrontation method as the center piece of their discussion: “The particular method that will be illustrated, the self-confrontation method, reflects themes that occupy positions of prominence in various constructivist traditions. For that reason it can be viewed as a microcosmos of this expanding field, a tool that enables integration among otherwise disparate traditions.”

In a lead review in Contemporary Psychology, Neimeyer and Hagans (1997) discuss our book Self-Narratives and conclude: “. . . relatively few works promise to make a distinctive and enduring contribution to the therapeutic landscape. Hermans and Hermans-Jansen’s Self-narratives: The construction of meaning in psychotherapy is one such work. Self-Narratives provides a theoretically grounded, systematically derived, and empirically oriented approach to assessing human meaning, features that have arguably remained unrivaled in an approach since the unveiling of George Kelly’s personal construct psychology more than 40 years ago. . . Not only for the distinctiveness of its contributions, but also for the likely generativity of its method, Self-Narratives promises to make an enduring contribution to the rapidly developing field of constructivism and psychotherapy” (p. 597).

In 1997 an agreement has been signed between Guilford Press and a Polish Publisher to translate Self-Narratives into Polish. A polish version of the self-confrontation method was earlier published by the Polish Psychological Association(1992) after adaptation of the method by dr. P. Oles and after a series of articles by Oles in Polish journals. Self-Narratives is translated into Polish, under the title Autonarracje: tworzenie znaczen w psychoterapii, translated by Dr. Piotr Oles, and published by Pracownia Testow Psychologicznych Polskiego Towarzystwa Psychologicznego, Warsaw, 2000. Recent textbooks in personality and social psychology are beginning to refer to our work (e.g., Cloninger, 1996; Feshbach, Weiner, & Bohart, 1996; Hergenhahn, 1994; Moghaddam, 1998; Phares & Chaplin, 1997; Winter, 1995). McAdams (1994; 2001) presents the dialogical self  and valuation theory as a main developments in narrative psychology.

Practical Aim.

In order to realize the practical aim of the program, a foundation has been established (in 1992) which has developed a post-higher education curriculum in valuation theory and the self-confrontation method. An increasing number of psychologists and HBO graduates (college level) follow a two-year training program in order to qualify themselves in the application of valuation theory, the dialogical self, and the self-confrontation method in their own setting. The first year is introductory and the second year is a specialization in one of three fields (mental health, education, or personnel management). Successful accomplishment of both the theoretical part (exams are based on the book Self-Narratives) and the practical part (professional applications, group sessions, supervision, and intervision) leads to an international certificate. In 1996 certificated individuals have taken the initiative to establish an Association of SCM-Consultants which gives its members (150 in 2003) the opportunity to discuss their professional experiences and plans and to organize lectures and additional training.

There is a close relationship between the research program and the Foundation. Some of the students who have finished their dissertation within the program, are teachers in the training program of the foundation. Experienced practitioners with theoretical interest are also invited to contribute to the training program as teachers. In this way the foundation brings together academicians and practitioners in order to collaborate on the basis of a scientist-practitioner cooperation (see Belar & Perry, 1992). Every two years the research program organizes a symposium at the University of Nijmegen, in which new theoretical and methodological developments in theory, method, and practice are presented and discussed. The number of participants is typically between 100 and 150. Along with the program director, there is always an invited speaker from another theoretical orientation to give a keynote address in order to realize cross-fertilization between different groups of researchers in the social sciences. The participants of the training program and the certificated people are invited to join the symposium. Teachers of the foundation and other social scientists present workshops and sessions.

Certificated people and other professionals working with the self-confrontation method in practical settings, often write about their experiences in professional journals in their own area of specialization. Some examples are Auer (1994), Hoekstra and Smeets (1992), Lamers (1993), Luken (1995), Proot (1998), Reynaert and Spijkerman (1995), Van de Loo (1992, 1995), Van Loon (1993, 1996), Van Loon, Poulie, and Bos (1995), Van der Hilst, 1991a,b), Verhoeven (1993), Visser (1998), Witlox (1998), and Hoegen (2003).

 

The theory and method and parts of the training program are beginning to be incorporated into the curricula of other institutions, for example: the Seminar for Orthopedagogy of the Hogeschool Utrecht, the Academie voor Mens en Arbeid(Academia for Human and Work), and the Reclassering (Probation System) of theMinistry of Justice.

 

Societal & Technological Impact

 

Both the original work on achievement motivation and the more recent work on valuation and dialogue have been presented for a larger audience. A widely read work is Hermans, Bergen, and Eijssen’s book Van Faalangst tot Verantwoordelijkheid [From fear of failure to personal responsibility] The first publication was in 1975 and the 9th (revised) edition was in 1991 with a new title: Motivatie op School [Motivation at school]. A readable book on valuation theory and self-confrontation is Hermans’Het Verdeelde Gemoed [The duality of the self], first published in 1986 with a 9th print in 2007 (co-authored by E. Hermans-Jansen). The program leader was also co-editing a Handboek Leerlingbegeleiding [Manual for Pupil Counseling], which includes several professional applications of valuation theory and the self-confrontation method.

The societal impact is further indicated by the training programs of the Valuation Theory and Self-Confrontation Method Foundation and the Self-Controntation Method Partnership and by other institutions who have adopted the theory and the method in their curricula, as described above

 

Further Indications of Quality and Reputation

 

  • The program director is member of the editorial board of 7 journals: Culture and Psychology, Theory and Psychology, Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Revista de Psicopatología Y Psicología Clínica, Polish Psychological Bulletin, European Journal of School Psychology, Human Systems, and Significant.

  • The program director was “first international associate” of the Society for Personology (USA).

  • He was full member of the Kurt Lewin Institute. 

  • Over the past 20 years valuation theory and the self-confrontation method have played a central role in 30 dissertations defended at the University of Nijmegen or other universities and educational initiatives 

  • Together with Stephen Toulmin and Catherine Bateson, Hermans presented an invited address to the Queen of the Netherlands and representatives of sciences, arts, and politics on the subject of “Change of Values” (Royal Palace, Amsterdam, October, 1993; published in Van Spengler, 1994).

  • The program director had the third position in the top 40 of Dutch writers of psychological publications in the period 1992-1994, based on number of publications, journal impact, and author position (Van Knippenberg & Luytelaar, 1995).

  • The results of the research program have been presented in many international conferences and symposia. In 1997, for example, the director of the program was invited to give contributions to 6 conferences: Symposium “Dialogical models for the explanation of developmental processes,” funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Leipzig, Germany, March 7-9, 1997); plenary panel of the 28th Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR; Geilo, Norway, June 25-29, 1997); 12th International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology: keynote address and a preconference workshop (Seattle, USA, July 8-12, 1997; APA convention, symposium on personal meaning and symposium on autobiographical narratives (Chicago, August 15-16, 1997); Symposium “Psychological Development from a Personalistic Perspective” (Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA, October 2-4, 1997); Symposium on self and identity. Discussion of the dialogical self and other recent trends in the psychology of the self which challenge mainstream theories (LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Australia, December 12-16, 1997).