April 7, 2010 These introductory comments have supporting
references throughout the website. For example:
Adam Blatner, M.D.
We live in an era in which
psychology needs to be recognized as being
as relevant as science. (See recent paper on "Psychological-ization") For over
a century pioneers have been
developing a wide range of theories and methods that can be used not
only for treatment of those in the sick role, but also for helping
healthy people to be even more mentally resilient to the stresses of
This website has many papers that speak to this end. As a psychiatrist
with over 35 years of clinical practice, now retired, I have turned my
attention to the challenge of mental hygiene. That term really refers
to prevention, to what people can do for themselves and each other to
promote more vitality and consciousness. I believe that many of the
insights gleaned in psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and related
fields can be presented in ways that ordinary people can understand.
One tool for this is to convert a lot of the jargon of various types of
psychology to a user-friendly language that most people can understand.
I believe that an adaptation of social role theory can do this: Just
talk about the situations in life in terms of the roles one plays, and
how those roles are made up of role components and sub-components; how
roles can be changed, played with, added on, let go of, redefined,
argued about—oh, all sorts of things. Roles are to the business of
conscious living what notes are to the activity of making music—a
really handy tool.
What’s Wrong With “Role” Language?
If role is such a good tool, how come this theory hasn’t been more
widely used? The answer is that the word is too loose for scientific
precision. We play roles at many levels, often at the same time: There
are roles we play inside our minds, like the mischievous little kid
versus the cautioning inner parent; there are roles we play with those
in our family, and roles we play in work groups and organizations.
There are roles in neighborhoods, clubs, and other face-to-face
organizations, and we also play roles in larger collectives where
people don’t know who we are. In a larger sense we play roles in our
culture and even in the ecological situation our planet is in.
Moreover, many roles contain influences from roles at “lower” (more
individual) as well as “higher” (more culture and species) levels! So
it’s hard to pin down, and that’s what science and scholarship tries to
But for practical living, the truth is that we bounce around at many
levels all the time, our minds and identities can’t be pinned down, and
role becomes a very useful tool for figuring out what is needed to help
our relationships, ourselves, and the social, economic, political,
religious, and other systems in which we operate.
Role theory reflects a way of thinking about complex situations as if
they were scenes in a play. The technical term for this is
“dramaturgical metaphor”—as in Shakespeare’s line, “All the world’s a
stage, and all the men and women in it, merely players.” And just as
actors play a role, so do ordinary people, only with us it’s almost all
Of course there are lots of other models of psychology and sociology,
but my point is that role theory (a) combines the best of both fields
and others, too; and (b) is simply the easiest and most practical to
use. The words are familiar, because we all live in a world saturated
by drama, on television, in movies, video games, etc. People play
roles—folks get that. This theory just takes off from there in a
somewhat more systematic fashion.
Basically, the game is to imagine a situation in terms of the various
people and issues involved—the issues being played by an imagined
spokesperson, a visiting consultant, a newspaper editor, etc. Who is in
this picture? Who are some of the people involved playing to, in that
they are imagining an outside audience—their parents, living or dead,
God, the public, children or as yet-unborn grandchildren, etc.—others
who would “find out” what has transpired and judge.
There are a goodly number of other webpages about role theory that add
on to this point. Role
Dynamics: A User Friendly Theory
Finally, I’d like to get this language, this approach, used to teach
ordinary psychology from middle school on. I’d like to see practical
psychology become part of the core curriculum. If you have done any of
this, used role theory this way, let me know. If you have further
questions, well, correspond with me: firstname.lastname@example.org
regarding revision or additions, feel free to email me: email@example.com