Gerald C. Davison, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California is the 2020 recipient of the Clinical Science Visionary Award from SSCP. Among Dr. Davison’s many outstanding contributions to the field over the past 50+ years, a few highlights:
1. Dr. Davison was an early advocate of the view that researchers should prioritize understanding principles of change rather than overemphasizing the study of comparative efficacy of multiple-component treatment packages. This focus began with the 1968 publication of his dissertation and has been advocated by him in many other publications since,
2. Dr. Davison has long been associated with behavior therapy, ultimately receiving ABCT’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, but he remains open-minded about the value of empirically-grounded contributions from systems of psychotherapy outside the CBT framework, conceptualizing behavior therapy not as a set of pre-determined principles and methods but as a broad scientific approach to the study of psychopathology and intervention. His highly-cited collaborative book with Marvin Goldfried, Clinical behavior therapy (1976), highlighted this issue for generations of CBT practitioners and scholars.
3. Dr. Davison’s empirical work has had important implications for the cognitive trend in behavior therapy. His own influential early research with Valins in the late 1960s on internal attributions for improvement as a favorable predictor of maintenance of change provided a compelling example of the need to include cognitive variables in the evolution of behavior therapy into what came to be called cognitive behavior therapy. His 1970 research with Geer and Gatchel demonstrated that the perception of having control over one’s pain, even if the control was not real, allowed individuals to tolerate greater discomfort. Perceived control has become a central concept in clinical, social, and health psychology. In addition, his extensive program of research on cognitive assessment, beginning in the early 1980s, using his “articulated thoughts in simulated situations” think-aloud paradigm, has had transdiagnostic influence on cognitive conceptualizations and has provided an alternative, situation-specific way to assess cognition and affect that supplements traditional retrospective and generalized methods like interviews and questionnaires.
4. Dr. Davison has extended his impact through his tireless commitment to the education of the clinical scientists of the future. He started with John Neale in 1974 an extremely successful undergraduate abnormal psychology textbook, more than a dozen editions of which, in both English and many other languages, have conveyed to many thousands of students around the world not only the substance of theory and research on psychopathology and treatment but also a full appreciation for the philosophical and methodological factors shaping the search for new knowledge. These efforts, along with his own award-winning teaching and mentoring as well as numerous important papers about the Boulder model of graduate training and the pressing need to bring a scientific perspective to bear on continuing education for clinical psychologists, earned Dr. Davison in 1997 the ABCT award for Distinguished Contributions by an Individual for Education/Training Activities.
5. Dr. Davison has focused attention on the crucial ethical dimension of therapy research and practice independent of our more typical consideration of therapy efficacy. His 1974 presidential address to the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy, inspired by Dr. Charles Silverstein and later published along with invited commentaries in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, argued that therapists should no longer offer “conversion” programs aimed at helping gay and lesbian people become heterosexual. Decades later, the world (initially of organized psychology and psychiatry but more recently many states and countries) caught up to Dr. Davison’s thinking on this issue, but he was hardly in the majority at the time. His courageous leadership has since been widely recognized, including with his receipt in 2010 of the Evelyn Hooker Award for Distinguished Contribution by an Ally from APA Division 44, Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. The recognition for his work on LGBT issues continues, and a soon-to-be released documentary entitled “Conversion” provides an account of Dr. Davison’s contribution to changing societal attitudes to sexual minorities and highlights more generally the constructive nature of clinical assessment and the inherent role of ethics in how we conceptualize psychological problems and their treatment.
For more information about Dr. Davison’s career and contributions to clinical science, please see his chapter:
Personal Perspectives on the Development of Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. In O’Donohue, W., & Masuda, A. (Eds.) (in press). Behavior Therapy: First, Second, and Third Waves. New York: Springer.