Since September 2000, I have been teaching in the Department of Psychology and in the Human Development and Social Relations (HDSR) program at Earlham College. A clinical psychologist by training, I teach a number of courses related to mental health issues and psychotherapy, including Psychopathology, Community Psychology, and Counseling and Psychotherapy. In addition, as a member of the HDSR faculty I am particularly interested in how all the disciplines of social inquiry - including psychology, sociology, anthropology, politics, and economics - can be used to supplement each other in understanding and addressing real-world social problems and issues.
I was born in Los Angeles, and had the unique experience of growing up in Southern California during the hyperconventional 1950s and the turbulent 1960s. I attended UCLA as an undergraduate, where I maneuvered in the troubled waters of the counter-culture and antiwar movements, quit college, was inducted into military service, and spent a year in Vietnam, where I put out an underground newspaper, survived some dangerous situations, and lost some friends. I returned to the U.S. with a new appreciation of the problems of unbounded nationalism and profligate power, and a wish to contribute to the reduction of human suffering, preferably by working directly with people.
Part of my experience during these years was a period in psychotherapy, which inspired me, among other things, to pursue a career in the mental health field. After obtaining my bachelor's degree, I worked for four years in a variety of inpatient and outpatient mental health settings, gaining a great deal of experience and deciding, ultimately, to seek a graduate education in clinical psychology. I entered the masters program at California State University at Los Angeles, and later the doctoral program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While I was at Michigan I met and joined a group of people who, along with a few others in the United States, were introducing the field of psychology to what is now called qualitative research: the use of unstructured techniques like in-depth interviewing and participant observation to study human life as it is actually lived in real social settings. This research perspective is radically different from the laboratory tradition that dominates the larger field of psychology (quantitative research) because it draws from an entirely different philosophical perspective. As such, it serves not only as a research orientation but also as a foundation from which U.S. Psychology can be, and has been, vigorously critiqued - particularly for its frequent alliances with powerful institutions and its neglect of human values. My doctoral dissertation, an in-depth interview study of the experience of self-esteem and a critique of the assumptions of laboratory psychology, was later published as a book with the title Self-Esteem and Meaning: A Life-Historical Investigation (Jackson, 1984).
After graduating from the University of Michigan, I worked in the mental health field for 18 years. Although I worked with people of all ages, most of my involvement was with hospitalized adolescents in Wyandotte, Michigan. During this period, I also occasionally taught psychology courses at the college level, an experience which I greatly enjoyed. I also continued, when possible, to engage in scholarly research and writing about issues related to qualitative research methods (see Jackson, 1991; 1994). By the late 1990s, disenchanted with the increasing subordination of mental health treatment to public and private sector bureaucracies, I began looking for career alternatives, particularly in teaching. In 2000, my wife Deborah Davis Jackson and I had the exceptional good fortune to be jointly offered teaching positions in anthropology and clinical psychology, respectively, at Earlham College.
At Earlham College, I have been able to introduce a number of delightful students to the fields of psychological diagnosis and assessment, counseling, psychotherapy,and community psychology. In addition, I have had the opportunity to instruct students in the qualitative research methods of in-depth interviewing and ethnography. On a number of occasions this has led to students attending conferences and presenting their own research projects, as in the above photo taken at the Qualitative Research Showcase at Miami University in 2010. Finally, teaching in the HDSR program, and more generally in a college dedicated to Quaker values, has enabled me to promote social critique and advocate for social change (for example, see Jackson, 2011); and I am both proud and grateful to be a member of a department of psychology that played a national leadership role in challenging the legitimacy of torture as a technique of interrogation.