Brian R. Vandenberg, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Missouri-St.
SUNY at Buffalo: B.A., Nuclear Engineering, 1970
SUNY at Buffalo: M.A., Social Sciences, 1973
University of Rochester: Ph.D., Psychology, 1978
UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute: Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Fellow, American Psychological Association
Charter Fellow, Midwest Psychological Association
Religious beliefs and delusions, existential questions, hypnosis, and developmental psychopathology beckon my attention. They do so because they expose the limitations and problems with basic assumptions that buttress theory and research. Let me tell you, briefly, how.
Do authentic religious experiences differ from delusions? This question cuts deep, challenging the medically based assumptions of the DSM that psychological disorders are illness-like entities with specific behavioral symptoms. Most religious beliefs would fall within the DSM definition of delusion, yet most religious believers are not delusional. The DSM solves this problem by exempting beliefs associated with established religions. But in doing so, delusions, which are symptoms of debilitating mental disorders, are transformed, rendered normal, because they are situated within a culturally accepted framework of social practice. They are not, thus, context free symptoms, but symptoms only if they fall outside the circumference of accepted sociocultural contexts of meaning. Not only does this pose a philosophical quandary about the nature of mental illness, it also prompts practical questions for clinical practice: What constitutes an established religion? Are beliefs associated with less mainstream religions more likely to be assessed as pathological? Does professional training influence diagnostic judgments? Are the same beliefs more likely to be assessed as pathological if they are not explicitly associated with an established religion?
Consider another issue. Existential questions about our death, the meaning of our life, the mystery and wonderment of finding ourselves here, now, alive, in this moment, are eschewed by most psychological theories. But how, then, can we have an encompassing psychology of human life if these most fundamental issues are excluded? How might we incorporate such a perspective into psychological theory and practice? Points where these issues become visible and researchable include how we change and cope, and what meaning and significance we find when we are faced with existential experiences of suffering, loss, grief, and abuse. Or when, in more prosaic situations, we are reminded of our finitude, limitations and mortality.
Hypnosis is another anomalous befuddlement. Hypnosis, which involves a brief conversation with a relative stranger, can result in feats usually considered impossible: parts of our body are anesthetized, wounds heal faster, we undergo audio, visual and proprioceptive disorientations, lose our sense of volition, and forget vivid, recent experiences. Hypnosis offers fertile ground for reexamining assumptions about psychological functioning, the power of human communication, the mind-brain link, what constitutes a legitimate psychological entity, and how we might understand the process of development. And development, itself, and a developmental psychopathology perspective in particular, offers yet another anomaly-exposing framework for reconsidering assumptions about the etiology, ontology, classification, and treatment of psychological disorders. My research explores tributaries, both theoretical and empirical, that spring from these anomalies that perplex, enlighten and inform.
As faculty, we are entrusted with the educational wellbeing of students, and I take this most seriously. I have had the privilege of working with outstanding Ph.D. students, whose insights, questions, and commitments have given rise to collaborative ventures examining a variety of topics and issues. It is also my good fortune to work with a faculty devoted to training our students to think critically, write well, and forge their own independent pathand I welcome students who seek joint anomaly-hunting adventures.
Selected Publications from a Total of Over 70:
Vandenberg, B. (1991). Is epistemology enough? American Psychologist, 46, 1278-1286.
Vandenberg, B. (1993). Existentialism and development. American Psychologist, 48, 296-297.
Vandenberg, B. (1993). Developmental psychology, God and the good. Theory and Psychology, 3, 191-206.
Vandenberg, B. (1995). Ripples of Newtonian mechanics: Science, theology and the emergence of the idea of development. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 16, 21-34.
Hansen, D.E., Vandenberg, B., & Patterson, M.L. (1995). The effects of religious orientation on spontaneous and nonspontaneous helping behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 19, 101-104.
Westervelt, K., & Vandenberg, B. (1997). Parental divorce and intimate relationships of young adults. Psychological Reports, 80, 923-926.
Vandenberg, B. (1998). Hypnosis and human development: Interpersonal influence of intrapsychic processes. Child Development, 69, 262-267.
**Vandenberg, B. (1998). Infant communication and the development of hypnotic responsivity. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 46, 4, 334-350.
Vandenberg, B. (1999). Levinas and the ethical context of human development. Human Development, 42, 31-44.
Sanderson, S., Vandenberg, B., & Paese, P. (1999). Authentic religious experience or insanity? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 607-616.
Kamm, S., & Vandenberg, B. (2001). Grief communication, grief reactions and marital satisfaction in bereaved parents. Death Studies, 25, 569-582.
Vandenberg, B. (2002). Hypnotic responsivity from a developmental perspective: Insights from young children. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 50, 229-247.
Vandenberg, B., & OConnor, S. (2005). Developmental psychology and the death of God. In B.D. Slife, J.S. Reber, & F.C. Richardson (Eds.), Developing critical thinking in psychology (pp. 189-206). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Anderson, M.J., Marwit, S.J., Vandenberg, B., & Chibnall, J.T. (2005), Psychological
and religious coping strategies of mothers bereaved by the sudden death of a child. Death Studies, 29(9), 811-826.
OConnor, S., & Vandenberg, B. ( 2005). Psychosis or faith? Clinicians assessment of religious beliefs. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 610-616.
Vandenberg, B. (2005). Hypnosis and sociogenetic influences in human development. NewIdeas in Psychology, 23, 33-48.
Springman, R., & Vandenberg, B. (2009). The effects of test-strategy coaching on measures of competency to stand trial. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 9, 179-198.
Vandenberg, B. (2010). Evidence, ontology and psychological science: The lesson of hypnosis. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology,30, 51-65.
OConnor, S., & Vandenberg. B. (2010). Differentiating psychosis and faith: The Role of social norms and religious fundamentalism. Mental Health, Religion & Culture,13, 171-186.
Gribbins, T. & Vandenberg, B. (In Press) Religious fundamentalism, the need for cognitive closure, and helping. International Journal of the Psychology of Religion.
**Awarded the Ernest & Josephine Hilgard Award for Best Theoretical Paper on Hypnosis.
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