Descriptive psychology attempts to create a new science of psychology that is completely divorced from the history of the field. First developed by Peter G. Ossorio in the early 1960s, descriptive psychology demands precise and careful thinking and speaking about people and their behaviors, languages, communities, and the world. The goals of descriptive psychology are more accurate descriptions and improved understanding of all of these aspects of reality, in order to deal more effectively with reality. In addition to accurate descriptions, descriptive psychology is concerned with the conceptual structure of and methods for obtaining precise, in-depth descriptions of people and behavior. Thus, descriptive psychology is aimed at providing psychological science with the conceptual framework that is a necessary prerequisite for psychological theorizing, research, and applications.
A relatively small group of practitioners form the membership of the Society for Descriptive Psychology, founded in 1990. Although the field is far removed from mainstream psychology, it has found applications in a variety of fields.
Descriptive psychology seeks to rectify problems that are inherent in the field of psychology as currently practiced. According to descriptive psychologists:
Descriptive psychology is based on the following principles:
According to Dr. Robert Brill on the Society for Descriptive Psychology webpage, descriptive psychology is concerned with providing an “accurate and complete description of persons, their actions, and the world in which they live.” This is contrasted with nondescriptive or conventional psychology, which develops theories to explain psychological phenomena or attributes and their underlying causes, without developing accurate descriptions of the phenomena. Descriptive psychology attempts to emulate other fields of science, in which experimental results are based on comprehensive descriptions of natural phenomena. Descriptive psychologists argue that psychology and other social sciences have attempted to imitate and adopt the procedures of the physical sciences. However, unlike physical and natural scientists, psychologists do not necessarily agree on their subject of study or the central concepts of psychology. For example, physicists might disagree about a theory, but they agree on the basic concepts of physics, which are well-defined and can be articulated with precision. Therefore, physicists are in a position to conduct controlled experiments and interpret the results. In contrast, psychology has no precise definitions of personhood and behavior and their interrelationships; nor is there agreement among psychologists of what constitutes behavior. Thus, the four central concepts of descriptive psychology are:
Dr. Peter G. Ossorio (1926–2007), the originator of descriptive psychology, taught psychology and was a clinical supervisor and graduate advisor at the University of Colorado at Boulder for over 30 years. He also conducted research through his various businesses that included the Linguistic Research Institute, Ellery Systems, and Global Commerce Systems.
In 1966, Ossorio published his monograph Per-sons, in which he presented his concepts of personhood and behavior and argued that behavioral science required methods for accurately and precisely describing persons and their behavior. His subsequent Outline of Behavior Description presented his system of reality concepts. Some of Ossorio's publications also deal with fundamental philosophical concepts.
Because descriptive psychology encompasses far more than psychology, many members of its “community” are not psychologists. In addition to psychological theory and research methodology, descriptive psychology has been applied in the fields of clinical and social psychology, psychotherapy, and psychopathology, artificial intelligence, software engineering and computer science, astronomy, education, business management, law, theology, and spirituality. Descriptive psychology has also been utilized within organizations and communities. For example:
Ossario, Peter G. Seminar on Clinical Topics. Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press, 2013.
Ossorio, Peter G. Seminar on Positive Health and Transcendental Theories. Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press, 2014.
Neuenschwander, Erwin. “Qualitas and Quantitas: Two Ways of Thinking in Science.” Quality and Quantity 47, no. 5 (August 2013): 2597–2615.
Bergner, Ray, et al. “What is Descriptive Psychology?” Society for Descriptive Psychology. http://www.sdp.org/sdp/what.html (accessed July 9, 2015).
“What is Descriptive Psychology?” Descriptive Psychology Press. http://www.descriptivepsychologypress.com/Whatis.html (accessed July 9, 2015).