Of course, this is necessary for psychology to try and understand human behavior, but metabletics sees the change in human behavior over time, and explains it, also. To think that time does not change the most elemental of properties that a people interact with is ridiculous to metabletics. The people change because the world around them goes through fundamental changes. Romanyshyn (1989) may put it best when he says "history is a psychological matter and that humanity's psychological life, its hopes and its dreams, its fantasies and fears, its images and inspirations, are shaped as a cultural world" (12).
The prism of history is not flat because different people have walked through different periods of time, and culture changed with that passage. The present developed from the past in some ways, but not because of a growth of knowledge throughout history (Sipiors, 2008). The evolution of ideas has happened because the world has grown as people have progressed. The environment changes in elementary ways as time changes, and this is the primary reason why a concept such as psychotherapy is viewed as cultural in nature. The alternative is to say that psychotherapy has always been around and that psychologists were always dispensing pills and interventions. A brief look at history shows even the casual observer that this is not true. In times past (and even in different cultures which are present now) the concept of psychotherapy was completely foreign. People did not go to someone else to solve their problems, they saw the local shaman, talked it out with their family or they dealt with the issue by sacrificing something acceptable to the current deity that was en vogue and dissatisfied. Psychotherapy came about because people saw the need to solve issues that had previously been considered both highly personal and spiritual.
Thus it is necessary to understand how a historical psychologist would view the change that occurred which determined the creation of psychotherapy. How did van den Berg propose that people understand what had happened historically? If life had changed so fundamentally then it should be impossible for people in the present reality to connect with people from the past and understand psychology from their perspective. "Van den Berg prefers to start his study of a historical incident by transporting himself mentally to that space and that period in which the incident took place. He is careful not to romanticize; he studies his material and rationally sums up his discoveries" (van Spaendonck, 1984). He would consider a time and try to empathize with the people of that time. he would conduct research on the culture that he was studying, read historical writings, study art forms, he would do whatever it took to get into the particular mind of the time. "By living through the historical moment and trying to understand it, historical psychology probes for what lies at the root of things" (Claes).
This understanding the smallest facets of the culture would finally lead to the psychological foundations of the people of that time. "With every basic idea of psychology, the historical psychologist asks himself the question: what way of life and thinking necessitated this idea?" (Claes). Since formal psychology is less than two hundred years old, it may seem difficult to determine what the psychological thought of times prior to that were. This does not present a difficulty for van den Berg. His belief is in the changing structure of the universe over time. "The world and humanity, together and in relation with each other -- through each other we might say -- change in such a way that the very materiality of things and the human body are different in different historical ages" (Romanyshyn, 2008). In viewing psychology from this perspective, van den Berg did not see that neuroses could have been possible prior to the coining of the term. People had not envisioned neurosis yet because it was not a part of their reality.
Van den Berg believed this was true for all elements of a time. Ancient people believed that four elements -- earth, wind, fire, and water -- existed because that is all there was. The people of the time determined what the reality of the time was. With this view of history, it is easy to see why people believed that the world was flat and would imprison and execute those who thought that it was not. In their time, in their culture, the earth was flat. It does not matter what present people see as reality, to that people a flat world was reality. Viewing the world through a historical prism means that the researcher had to take the world at that time from the people of that time's perspective. So, a present day researcher into the artifact of psychotherapy has to understand another facet of the practice, if they are to believe van den Berg. Psychotherapy would not have worked in times previous to the one that invented it. The very chemical composition of the brain was different in times past, so the act of psychotherapy could not have altered the reality of the people who were experiencing mental illness at the time. These people required the treatments that were available because they were what worked for that time period and that culture. Because of the phenomenological concept of experiencing the world that one lives in, this view of psychotherapy actually makes sense. The people of another time and culture would not have reacted the same because they were not capable of accepting the concept of psychotherapy as it is practiced in the modern world.
Of course, it is difficult to quantify this belief because it seems to supposition based on anecdotal evidence. In fact, in the field of psychology van den Berg had many detractors because his theory could not be tested. Some of what van den Berg was saying could be understood from the present scientific method, but much of what he said was too metaphysical for the establishment to agree with. From the beginning "the scientific justification of the approach promised by Van den Berg in his first book, that would enable scholars to undertake systematic metabletical studies, has failed to materialize" (van Spaendonck, 1984). This is the main issue that scientists have had with this approach. Without some way to quantify, prove, what he is saying with some statistical certainty, the theory may sound good, but it is not a way to conduct research.
However, van den Berg counters these thoughts by explaining that to understand present day psychology, and psychotherapy, it is helpful to understand what went before.
Seeing psychotherapy, or any other cultural artifact, through the prism of Van den Berg's theory is difficult. However, the whole goal of the historical psychologist is to make present day psychology a better practice. He is learning "how to apply the principles of phenomenology to psychiatry, e.g., how to see a patient first of all as a human being in a world of relationships whose reality needs to be taken seriously and who needs to be listened to in an unbiased fashion" (Mook, 2008). The study of metabletics increases the tools that a psychologist has in his or her repertoire so they can understand the patient on a deeper level. This applies to all manner of what has come to be accepted psychological practice. but, van den Berg would probably also say that trying to apply methods that worked in a different time period is just as ridiculous as trying to understand past practices with present understanding. The world was just different then.
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