Amazing Thailand Psychology
(From the President’s Desk)
Last February 11 to 13, a small group of Filipino psychologists formed the Philippine delegation to the 2nd Congress of the ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies (ARUPS) in Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. The Filipino participants who came from Metro Manila and Davao City did us all proud as they presented very well received oral presentations of their recent research papers. Congratulations!
During this meeting, I had the distinct honor of assuming the Presidency of ARUPS (having been elected President-Elect in 2006), and in this capacity I also hope to undertake my responsibilities in ways that will make Philippine psychologists proud.
But the most memorable aspect of this Thailand conference is our exposure to Buddhist psychology which is a growing field of study in Thailand, led by new ARUPS President-Elect, Dr. Soree Pokaeo of Chulalongkorn University. During the conference, various paper presenters spoke about the basic principles and theoretical propositions of Buddhist psychology, and how these relate to different aspects of psychological study.
I will not attempt to write about this complex topic, but what I noted was that the Thai psychologists who were studying Buddhist psychology were elaborating on a very new paradigm for doing psychology. The tenets of Buddhist psychology have profound implications on how psychologists define human functioning, the goals and processes of human development, the nature and aspects of well-being, the nature of psychological distress, and even therapeutic interventions for psychological problems. Some papers presented have gone as far as developing reliable measures for important constructs in Buddhist psychology.
During the conference, one fellow Filipino participant wondered why we Filipino psychologists have not developed a Catholic psychology. The wondering was warranted as we know that Buddhism is a religion. However, Buddhism is not just a religion in Thailand. Instead it pervades every aspect of Thai society and culture. We could say that Buddhism is a way of life for many Thai people, even those who do not claim to be Buddhist. During one of my dinners with Thai psychology professors, they explained that Buddhism in Thailand actually incorporates many indigenous non-Buddhist beliefs and practices as well. It seems to me that Buddhist psychology is not a psychology of the Buddhist religion, but an indigenous psychology of the Thai people.
In this regard, I know that Philippine psychologists have already made progress in developing an indigenous psychology, led by the late Dr. Virgilio Enriquez. I still recall how, as an undergraduate student, I found many of Dr. Enriquez’ ideas very original, thought-provoking, and exciting. It is the same feeling that I had while listening to the Thai Buddhist psychologists.
I expressed my great admiration for the work of Buddhist psychologists to Dr. Soree Pokaeo, which he sincerely appreciated. He was quick to tell me that my appreciation was so significant because they (the Buddhist psychologists of Thailand) often felt alone in the work, as most Thai psychologists did not appreciate it. I wonder whether there is a similar lack of appreciation for indigenous psychology of Filipinos in the Philippines.
I truly believe that in the Philippines, indigenous psychological approaches to the study of human behavior represent important lines of work that will make psychology more relevant to the more Filipino people. The work that is being done by our colleagues in the Pambansang Samahan sa Sikolohiyang Pilipino and some psychology departments can provide evidence for this.
But the work does not begin with identifying and defining concepts and principles. Indigenous psychological work requires precise and tough-minded scholarship, the utilization of varied empirical methodological tactics, and sustained scholarship on the part of committed researchers. I hope that more PAP members share this belief and commit themselves to developing a Philippine psychology that is truly relevant to the lives of Filipino people.
Allan B. I. Bernardo