The Conversation Spain
What is and how is a psychobiography done
Beethoven sculptures, by artist Ottmar Hoerl, on the Münsterplatz in Bonn, Germany. Shutterstock / nitpicker “I’m not evil, I really am not evil. Although wildly growing emotions can betray my heart, my heart is good. ” This is what Beethoven wrote, and this is what my inner voice told me when he encouraged me to study this genius of music in depth. That there must be much beyond that unfriendly or angry profile that the images represented. My curiosity invited me to dive deep: in his emotions, fears, values, desires, needs, relationships, behaviors … I was not looking for a simple description, a what or who he was. I was interested in how, why and why. How did I travel this path? Through what we call psychobiography. According to an expert in the field such as McAdams (1988), it could be defined as the efficient use of psychological theory, especially personality theory, to turn the life of a subject into a coherent and illuminating story. Understanding the person in depth is the goal of psychobiography. It does not seek to generalize or identify common aspects, but rather to approach the particular subject. It usually places the focus on the mental resources of the individual, their personality characteristics and emotional life, as well as their production, in case of studying the figure of an artist. So yes, it was exactly the way I needed to work! Freud was the first to use what we know today as psychobiography, although its true origins date back to the works of Plutarch (between AD 45 and 125), who turned his attention to politicians and historians. Although it has suffered ups and downs throughout the 20th century, this method has not stopped developing and seeking new paths. Today, in the 21st century, there has been a clear increase in academic publications on psychobiography. Todd Schultz published the Handbook of psychobiography, a highly recommended compilation of explanatory chapters. George W. Bush and the Redemptive dream: A psychological portrait, Lucy in the mind of Lennon and Creative works of Paulo Coelho: a psychobiography from a Positive Psychology Perspective are just a few examples of psychobiographies from the last 10 years. Empathy is the key To carry out a good psychobiography, the researcher has to develop an empathic relationship with his subject, a relationship that helps him in listening. However, this is not to say that a psychobiography is not relatively objective as well. Of course: we must always be attentive to adapt to the particular individual we chose and not pretend that he fits into our phases or stages. In general, the steps to follow to carry out a psychobiography would be the following. We would start with an information gathering phase. This includes choosing the subject of study, an individual that we neither idolize nor demonize, identifying the primary and secondary sources, as well as studying their historical-cultural-social context. In my Beethovenian research I had many sources, among which I would highlight his diary, his letters and the conversation notebooks during the years when I could barely hear what they were saying to him and he asked to be written down. Once we have the essentials, the most complex moment arrives, in my opinion. It consists, on the one hand, in allowing the information itself to reveal significant data, sometimes aided by salience criteria. Try to function with a blank mind, without judgment or preconceptions. On the other hand, we can generate questions that direct us to the contents to try to find answers. What did you seek and need from others? How important were their illnesses? What perception did he have of himself and his history? These are some of the paths of inquiry that emerged in my extensive reading on Beethoven. Another overwhelming moment arrives. It is time to sort and classify all the data that we are obtaining. Time to develop coding strategies. These strategies are decided based on what we are collecting, as well as based on the chosen theory or the specific questions that we had asked ourselves. Traits, attachment style, and narrative identity are examples of some of the categories I created. Later on we prepare to decide how to present or display everything obtained, whether in tables, in chronologies … creativity is always well valued. And, finally, it is about writing the psychobiography as such, concluding and trying to give a coherent and integrating closure to the results. It is important here to provide a correct narrative and understandability to the speech. “In the search for affirmation of genius, the main images incorporated throughout its development are found: the family understood in terms of responsibility, obligation and authority, the artist as independent, but at the service of humanity, and man as a cult and moral with the aim of improvement ”. We cannot forget at this stage to review and take stock of the process that we have carried out. It is essential to check that we have responded to the questions and that the work has been rigorous. Embarking on a psychobiography requires a high curiosity for the personal knowledge of individuals, great flexibility to adapt and an openness to discover ourselves along the way. Because of the latter, no psychobiographer is spared.This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original. Abigail Jareño Gómez does not receive a salary, nor does she work as a consultant, nor does she own shares, nor does she receive financing from any company or organization that may benefit from this article, and she has declared that she lacks relevant links beyond the academic position cited.