It is a pleasure to interview a professional like Saxa Stefani, who undoubtedly deserves our full attention, especially when we talk about people in an era where human interaction and their needs are so latent in a society plagued by an unprecedented crisis, we wanted to talk this time with one of the most versatile social psychologists of today, with an extraordinary curriculum that shows us not only the love for psychology and people, but for the adventure of knowledge, where the interviewee continually continues to grow in continuous learning and professional experience, learning to know the human mind and society in parallel.
Saxa Stefani is a psychologist from the University of Buenos Aires, where he was also a university professor. He did doctoral studies at the University of Barcelona obtaining accreditation as a scientific researcher. He is an expert in social psychology and is currently residing in the United Kingdom, carrying out research tasks and teaching activities.
Hi Saxa, first thank you for this time where we hope to travel together for a world as exciting as that of social psychology.
Hi, thanks to you. It is always a pleasure to talk about Psychology and Social Psychology and bring this exciting world to people.
Seeing your experience and training, the first almost obligatory question would be: What do we understand by social psychology?
Freud said that Psychology is, above all, social psychology. And we are born, we develop and interact in a world that is by social and group definition. No one exists or can be conceived outside of human groups, the first and fundamental, the family, but then school groups, friends, coworkers ... we live in groups all our lives!
The great revolution of social psychology is to have dared to understand and intervene on human behavior in the group dimension, which is the point of confluence of the individual and the social, with the aim of establishing a healthy relationship between people and their environment. .
Let's continue in this area In what fields does Social Psychology work and in what way?
If we thought of science as the different cards in a deck, Social Psychology would be the wild card: there are no areas of interaction where it cannot be inserted: everything we do and produce is mediated by groups, so the consideration of social psychology It is a must!
The interesting thing is that we have been able to create this wonderful discipline to understand the complexity of human behavior, and today nobody disputes that psychology is key if we want to understand ourselves and as a society.
For example, social psychology serves both to understand the care of children and help parents to be better managers, to use it in schools and education in general, to organize work and work environments, and of course, to treat discomfort and promote health. In short, that every human activity that you want to study in depth, whether philosophy, economics, medicine or law, must incorporate the psychological look. Otherwise the analysis will always be incomplete!
Saxa, a practical question Why would you recommend training in Social Psychology?
From what we said before, studying psychology is inevitable.
In addition, the social psychology in which I specialize provides two key aspects:
One, to get to the root of the problem, the depth, because social psychology analyzes the irrational, the effect of the unconscious. We call them emerging. They are emotional and are at the base of behavior. Who does not know this unconscious determination of behavior will be frustrated when trying to understand human behavior. And unfortunately, many approaches do not sufficiently consider this aspect.
Two, multidimensionality. Social psychology states that human activity has an ecological dimension, what does that mean? That the famous discussion of whether it is the individual or the society who determines the behavior is meaningless. In order to explain human phenomena, several dimensions must be incorporated. For example, we cannot understand bullying or bullying without understanding the psychology of the stalker and the harassed - the individual dimension - but also what happens in the families of the stalkers - family group dimension - or the environment of the classmates who legitimize -group of peers-, or the environment in which this situation arises -educational community-. As you can see, we cannot reduce problems to a dimension if we want to solve root problems.
That is why there is so much frustration and failure in trying to solve human problems. After years of experience in many fields of psychology, I have come to the conclusion that social psychology is the most complete way to study human activities and intervene scientifically successfully.
Given your extensive professional experience, in which field of work do you feel most comfortable and why?
I have been fortunate to work professionally in psychology in diverse fields, from clinical psychology to human resources management in companies, from psychiatric care or addictions to educational management. It has not been an easy path, since we are immersed in a demand for hyperspecialization, and this happens in all disciplines. And it is valid, of course, but sometimes that hyperspecialization makes it difficult to see and establish important connections when explaining certain phenomena.
Where do I feel most comfortable? Perhaps the educational field has a special interest for its great transformative capacity and health promotion in psychosocial terms.
If you had not studied Psychology, what other degree would you have liked to do?
Good question! I don't know, maybe some artistic or musical training, because that aspect is very present in my family history. But I think that the impulse to understand and help others would have been triggered anyway!
How were your beginnings in the field of Psychology and what was decisive to transfer this knowledge as a teacher?
I have very much in mind the moment I decided to study psychology. When I was still a teenager, I participated in an urban recovery and sanitation project of a river that crossed the city where I lived. We had to present it in different congresses and we won national and international awards, coming to present the project at the Eco-Río '92 Earth Summit. But what interested me most were not the technical aspects but the human issues that needed to be resolved in the development of the project. There was a situation that had a great impact on me at that time: part of our project proposed relocating inhabitants of the area - in a situation of extreme poverty and sanitary risk - where the project would be located, there would be a residential sector with new homes and access to basic services and comfort Unfortunately, we observed in the interviews held with them that they rejected the idea of being relocated with better conditions.
I realized how complex the human factor was and decided that I would dedicate my life to understanding it.
What differences and similarities do we find between psychology as a discipline between, for example: Spain, Argentina (where our interviewee is from) and the United Kingdom (where he lives and works and develops various professional tasks)
That is another privilege that I treasure and appreciate, the possibility that I have had to know, live and study in such different cultures. That experience has allowed me to have several inputs of psychosocial analysis. I have concluded that human needs are always the same, it is the attempts to respond that differ between cultures, and those differences sometimes seem abysmal!
It is very curious to observe comparatively some communities where certain problems or situations are highly conflictive, while others are solved or well managed, and vice versa.
Beyond the differences in approaches that exist, I am more interested in how the western world has changed its conception of psychology: before, visiting the psychologist was seen as a synonym for a deficit or a disease. Today going to the psychologist is synonymous with making a decision to improve yourself as a person, overcome any conflict. That is a breakthrough!
How is a social psychologist different from a clinical psychologist? We ask you this question because we have read your curriculum and we have been able to observe a time treating psychopathologies, in which you note that you were a little disappointed?
The only thing that should differentiate a clinical psychologist from a social one is the dimension to which it is dedicated. I think that all psychologists should have excellent training in social psychology, and this does not happen in most universities. That is why we decided to dedicate ourselves to alleviate this deficit from our ceideps organization.
With respect to the other subject, it is true! But what disappointed me to some extent are the mental health care systems. His approach and treatment seems fascinating to me, and I also reinvindicated the task of psychologists and therapists in this field!
There should be recognition and quality training opportunities for the entire sector that welcomes and treats, manages and cares for other people, whether they are professionals in a hospital, a residence for the elderly or teachers in a school. The professions that involve the care and management of people are, by far, the ones that cause the most work distress. A total revolution is needed in this field, although there are advances and in some societies they have already made it.
Do you think as a Social Psychology professional the crisis has triggered the number of people and groups in social exclusion and therefore the need for interventions in this regard?
Definitely! Economic crises usually result in psychosocial crises and as such have a direct impact on a large sector of the population, functioning as "triggers" of a discomfort hitherto contained.
If we keep in mind what the degree of health of our society is, and how, eventually, an economic crisis can affect it, we might be better able to manage and prevent social unrest. It must be taken into account that the degree of health will be determined by the satisfaction of basic needs, but also by psychosocial needs of individuals and human groups.
That said, all crises are usually the result or "complaint" of a problem
What work are you currently developing and what projects do you have in mind for the future?
Yes, because we are in constant interaction and interdependence, not only at the group or local level, but increasingly at the global level. Crises represent a complaint as you say, but not everything is negative. That complaint may allow us to actively review what types of responses may work best and improve our adaptive capacity. That is, crises can serve as an opportunity for learning and transformation.
I am currently working on three different projects, one on infidelity in couples, another on educational management and another on the group conditions necessary to produce empathic responses.
We know that you not only evolve by training but you are also an Academic Director of a Research and Training Center in Social Psychology. Can you tell us something about it?
Since 2012 I run an organization dedicated to research, development and training in social psychology -ceideps, based in Barcelona but with students around the world. Our team shares the idea that training is both a great responsibility and a vocation that we enjoy greatly simultaneously. We are currently working to - soon - expand training to Portuguese and English.
What would be the maximum reward for a social psychologist at work and why?
Personally, seeing how people manage to achieve results and their gratitude when they overcome a phobia, satisfactorily go through a duel, overlap with trauma, in short, when they manage to be better and develop their full potential and well-being.
What reference or reference has impacted you most in the field of psychology or what illustrious character has always called your attention to take it as an example?
It would be a long list! Freud, Klein, Erickson, Bion, Pichon-Riviere, Jung ...
On the most personal level, Enrique Saforcada, professor at the University of Buenos Aires. He instilled in me the permanent questioning and the love for social psychology.
What would you say to people who want to study psychology? Should we have a vocation or can we get it?
There are different ways to approach psychology because their fields of application are many. When someone tells me that he would be interested in studying psychology, I ask him: are you willing to question yourself and help others do it? If the answer is yes, go ahead!
Throughout your professional career, what we know is extensive. What particular case as a Social Psychologist has impacted you most by intervening or experiencing?
I tend to remember the cases in which I have not achieved my goal because they have forced me to expand or revise my approach.
I remember the case of a client who came to my office for a trichotillomania disorder, which is the compulsion to tear her hair. He was a young person who was very concerned about his physical appearance - he began to bald. Therapeutically, I planned to address the emotional cause at the base of that behavior, and on the other generate a radical change in its proprioceptive aspect - as it perceived itself. I suggested we start by shaving our heads. There was no second session, he never came back! The symptoms are crutches on which we rely on to manage the discomfort, if we knock them out we fail. Finding the timing of the process is not always easy.
Is it true that social psychologists are hired by large companies for marketing issues and study human behavior or by governments to somehow help in their campaigns in the same way?
Nothing escapes psychosocial analysis. Marketing professionals, for example, need to know what happens in the minds of consumers, it is natural that they employ psychology professionals to be able to generate effective communication with them and understand their needs!
It is very interesting, for example, how the genesis of mass consumerism in the United States achieved spectacular development in the 40s and 50s, thanks to experts in behavioral psychology who advised large companies.
How do you see the current academic level in Spain? Is it comparable to other European levels?
I am not sure that we can talk about general standards, since there are certain universities or departments that work very well, in most European countries. However, it seems that there is agreement that in the area of psychology in Spain has much room for improvement compared to the rest of Europe.
What drives you to keep learning? Because we see a constant evolution, languages, master, doctorate, research projects, etc.
The continuous training is in an attitude that is decided -or not- to assume.
And although it has an individual component, I think we should stimulate it much more, in all areas, not only academically, but also in the workplace, in education, in the professional.
For example, I had never considered speaking French - I already speak 4 languages - but I received positive stimuli, and I said, why not? I'm already studying a fifth language!
To finish and thanking in advance this time for the interview Would you recommend Psychoactive to our visitors?
Of course! It is so positive to encourage curiosity and knowledge. This era that we have to live is extraordinary in that sense. We can access so much information much more easily! I congratulate you on this task of disseminating and bringing psychology contents so interesting to readers!
Finishing this interview and thanking Saxa Stefani for her answers, we said goodbye hoping you liked it. Thanks Saxa, an affectionate hug.
Interview by David Álvarez