Psychology needs a licensing exam that includes the Arts and Humanities

The ultimate licensing exam
The ultimate licensing exam

“The spiritual side, the poetic side, the giving and forgiving side, the generous and loving side, are humankind’s finest features.  Hebb defined psychology many years ago as not being poetry.  Although Hebb was my scientific hero, I demur from defining psychology without poetry.” – Frank Farley, American Psychological Association President, 1994.

In 1994, Saybrook faculty members Rollo May and Tom Greening, distressed at the way in which young psychology students were increasingly unaware of the arts and humanities, developed an “alternative” licensing exam that – they suggested – all psychology students should be required to pass before receiving permission to practice. 

“The arts and humanities provide both insight into the human condition and a means of ennobling it – and what else is psychology for?” Greening asked.  (For more on the relationship between art and psychology, see “The Poet and the Psychologist“).  People find meaning, solace, healing, and insight into their own condition through art:  the history of art is, in many ways, human psychology’s greatest hits.  To try to understand people without some grounding in it could be construed as malpractice. 

How up are you on the great works of art and culture?  Take the exam yourself to find out!  The answers, after all, are even more rewarding than the questions.


1.  William James was:

A)  Jesse James’ law-abiding brother.
B)  A New England novelist.
C)  An explorer of altered states of consciousness.
D)  Author of “Leaves of Grass.”

 2.  “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” is about:

A)  A sailor and a bird.
B)  Global navigation in the days before radar and radio.
C)  Odysseus’s encounter with the Sirens.
D)  Magellan’s trip around Cape Horn.

 3.  “War and Peace” is about:

A)  The events that led to World War I.
B)  How the allies won World War II.
C)  The Russian revolution and the founding of the USSR.
D)  The struggle to create meaning and love in a time of chaos.

 4.  “A Tale of Two Cities” is about:

A)  A London orphan who immigrates to New York.
B)  Contrasting life in Washington and London during the American Revolution.
C)  The history of Buda and Pest and how they became one great city.
D)  Self-sacrifice in the service of others.


5.  “Crime and Punishment” is about:

A)  The need to confess and atone for one’s sins.
B)  The prison reform movement.
C)  An analysis of the insanity defense in criminal cases.
D)  The psychology of a sociopathic criminal.


 6.  “Metamorphosis” is about:

A)  The human potential movement in California.
B)  A man who became a bug.
C)  Cases of successful sex-change operations.
D)  How Chrysler Corporation went from near bankruptcy to success.


7.  “The Passion of the Western Mind” is about:

A)  The intellectual history of the West.
B)  How West Coast consciousness was formed by the pioneers, gold rush, and expansion of railroads.
C)  A guide for Japanese businessmen doing business in the US.
D)  Krishnamurti’s critique of Western materialism.


8.  “Madame Bovary” is about:

A)  A lovable, literate head of a call girl agency.
B)  A case treated by Freud and Charcot.
C)  A sinister character in the French revolution.
D)  A French doctor’s wife.

9.  “Notes from the Underground” is about:

A)  A subway conductor’s observations of human nature.
B)  The confessions of a nerd.
C)  The story of a tragically failed miners’ strike.
D)  Student radicals during the Vietnam War.


10.  “The Future of the Body” is:

A)  A book about the transformation of consciousness.
B)  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography.
C)  A scientific review of the potential of cloning.
D)  A book about the evolution of styles of centerfold models.


11.  “The Courage to Create” is:

A)  Tillich’s book about Christian existentialism.
B)  Van Gogh’s autobiography.
C)  A self-help book for people with writer’s block.
D)  Rollo May’s book on creativity.


12.  “The Death of Ivan Ilych” is about:

A)  Stalin’s forced labor camps.
B)  The murder of the Czar’s spiritual adviser.
C)  A bureaucrat who dies of cancer.
D)  Love and death during the Russian revolution.


13.  Thoreau went to jail because:

A)  His conscience made him break the law.
B)  He fought a duel with Emerson.
C)  He was convicted of tax evasion.
D)  He was caught spying for the British.


14.  Hamlet was indecisive because:

A)  He was in love with his mother.
B)  He felt guilty for killing his father.
C)  He depended on foolish advice from Polonius.
D.  He was too aware of his choices and their consequences.


15.  Esalen Institute is:

A)  A cluster of hot tubs, hippies and organic vegetable gardens.
B)  A center devoted to the teachings and culture of the Esalen Indians.
C)  A growth center founded by Fritz Perls.
D)  A place where Paul Tillich once taught.


16.  “Love and Will” is:

A)  Nietzsche’s treatise on the death of God.
B)  Rollo May’s book about the role of love and will in psychology and culture.
C)  Schopenauer’s book about the role of love and will in history.
D)  Sartre’s novel about existentialists in post-war Paris.


17.  “Macbeth” is about:

A)  Scotland’s struggle to become free of English domination.
B)  A tribute to his tragically killed wife by the founder of MacDonalds.
C)  Macbeth’s dominance and destruction of his idealistic wife.
D)  The consequences of misguided ambition.


18.  Siddhartha was:

A)  The name of the ferryman on the river Styx.
B)  An Indian guru who built a meditation center in Oregon.
C)  Gandhi’s mentor.
D)  A man who traveled in search of enlightenment.


19.  Faust was:

A)  Hitler’s idol.
B)  A seeker who made a pact with the Devil.
C)  Schiller’s tragic hero in a play by that name.
D)  The subject of a Verdi opera.


20.  “The Trial” is about:

A)  Herr K.
B)  Alger Hiss.
C)  The Scopes Trial.
D)  The Nuremberg Trial.


21.  In “Oedipus at Colonus”

A)  Oedipus repents his sins.
B)  Oedipus tears out his eyes.
C)  Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother.
D  Oedipus is blind but wise.


22.  The green light in “The Great Gatsby” symbolized:

A)  The permissiveness of the idle rich.
B)  Emeralds and great wealth.
C)  A signal that the coast is clear for Gatsby to visit Daisy.
D)  The goal to which Gatsby has dedicated his life.


23.  “The Sun Also Rises” is about:

A)  Bull-fighting as a metaphor for existential struggle.
B)  An affirmation of American optimism in the face of European pessimism.
C)  The emerging threat of Japan before World War II.
D)  A lost generation’s search for love and meaning.


24.  “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is about:

A)  Doomed love and courage during a war.
B)  The moral responsibility of individuals in society.
C)  An Italian village and how it replaced its lost church bell.
D)  An American soldier-writer caught up in the Hungarian revolution.


25.  “Tender is the Night” is about:

A)  Gay life in San Francisco.
B)  How couples can renew their love and sex life.
C)  A psychiatrist and his mentally disturbed wife.
D)  A decadent New Orleans romance.


26.  “Doll’s House” is about:

A)  A schizophrenic girl’s retreat from life.
B)  An oppressed wife who leaves her husband.
C)  The story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood.
D)  A pampered Boston matron’s recovery from alcoholism.


27.  “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is about:

A)  The hazardous settlement of Siberia.
B)  The drug culture of Manhattan.
C)  The life of Stevie Wonder.
D)  An Irish family grappling with its dysfunctionality.


28.  “The Iceman Cometh” is about:

A)  Men stuck in an Irish bar.
B)  The discovery and study of a human body preserved in a glacier.
C)  Jewish life in Brooklyn around 1900.
D)  The culture of drug dealers. 

29.  Oedipus killed his father:

A)  In a power struggle over governing Thebes.
B)  So he could marry his mother.
C)  Over a traffic accident.
D)  Because his father abused his mother.


30.  “King Lear” is about:

A)  An ambitious prince who murders his way into becoming king.
B)  A jealous king who murderers his wife because he believes false rumors about her.
C)  A father’s love for his daughters and their love for him.
D)  A king who goes mad and learns from a fool.


31.  Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is about:

A)  The shallowness of the Madison Avenue advertising world.
B)  The demise of an over-intellectual encyclopedia salesman.
C)  An aging salesman alienated from his wife and sons.
D)  An arms merchant destroyed by international intrigue.


32.  “The Stranger” is about:

A)  Two strangers who meet by chance and agree to murder each other’s spouse.
B)  The predicament of Jews in an anti-semitic society.
C)  A bored clerk who kills an Arab.
D)  A wandering man who finds love and commitment in a small French town. 


33.  The drug “soma” in Huxley’s “Brave New World”

A)  Helped people have psychedelic, transpersonal experiences.
B)  Had effects like today’s tranquilizers.
C)  Functioned like a steroid to enhance physical power.
D)  Was an aphrodisiac used to enhance sexual pleasure.


34.  The term “pilgrim soul” refers to:

A)  A person with a strict superego.
B)  A member of a conservative Protestant group.
C)  A person on a spiritual journey.
D)  A person with old-fashioned American values. 


35.  Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” is about:

A)  The value of boundaries.
B)  Rejuvenation through physical work in nature.
C)  Musings on separation and connection.
D)  A hired man who comes “home” to die.


36.  T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” is about:

A)  Beethoven’s late string quartets as metaphors for life.
B)  Events in London seen from four perspectives.
C)  Anomie and angst in modern life.
D)  Redemption through love in spite of alienation.


37.  John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is about:

A)  A Christian evangelist who goes bad.
B)  Dust Bowl migrants seeking a better life.
C)  A farm workers’ strike that turns violent.
D)  Vengeance in a company-owned town.


38.  Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is about

A)  An invisible alien who affects human events.
B)  A schizophrenic who believes he is invisible.
C)  The underclass.
D)  The experience of being black.


39.  Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” is about:

A)  A parody of Forest Lawn Mortuary.
B)  Soldiers in World War II.
C)  Life and death as portrayed in Hollywood movies.
D)  A convicted murderer’s last days.


40.  Katherine Ann Porter’s “Ship of Fools” is about:

A)  The true story of Columbus’s voyages.
B)  The true story of the Mayflower voyage.
C)  A voyage to Germany in the late 1930’s.
D)  The practice of setting insane people adrift on boats. 


41.  Picasso’s “Guernica” is a portrayal of:

A)  Spanish village life.
B)  Bombing of civilians.
C)  Bull fighting.
D)  Harlequins.


42.  Sisyphus was:

A)  A mythical Greek warrior.
B)  A bisexual poet.
C)  A man doomed to labor fruitlessly.
D)  The god who gave man fire.


43.  “Rashomon” was about:

A)  The relativity of perception.
B)  Samurai warlords’ power struggles.
C)  The opening of Japan  to the West.
D)  Ritualized courage and dedication.


44.  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was written as:

A)  A tribute to Frederick the Great.
B)  A celebration of the tragic hero.
C)  An ode to joy.
D)  A requiem for Nietzsche. 


45.  Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is:

A)  A narcissistic paean.
B)  A celebration of life.
C)  An affirmation of homosexuality.
D)  An autobiographical poem. 


46.  T.S. Eliot in “The Cocktail Party” described psychiatrists as:

A)  High priests of the modern world.
B)  Master creators of illusions to live by.
C)  Archeologists of the soul.
D)  Advocates of sexual freedom.


47.  John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” tells the story of:

A)  The Air Force plane and crew who dropped the atomic bomb.
B)  The decision-making that led to the use of the atomic bomb.
C)  Two lovers in post-war Hiroshima.
D)  Survivors of the atomic bombing.


48.  “Moby Dick” portrays:

A)  The trials and courage of New England whalers.
B)  Captain Ahab’s obsession.
C)  Captain Queeg’s obsession.
D)  A young sailor’s coming of age at sea.


49.  The character Billy Budd:

A)  Became a man through an encounter with evil.
B)  Was too innocent to cope with shipboard life.
C)  Proved he could master his fear of whaling.
D)  Triumphed over the sadistic captain.


50.  Huck Finn

A)  Taught Tom Sawyer how to play hooky.
B)  Rafted his way to freedom.
C)  Learned from Jim how to rebel.
D)  In the end reconciled with his father. 


5l.  Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”

A)  Exposed ghetto life in Lower East Side New York.
B)  Exposed conditions in the Chicago stockyards.
C)  Exposed the depredations of the big railroads.
D)  Exposed Wall Street manipulations.


52.  Sinclair Lewis’s “Main Street”

A)  Glorified small town mid-west American life.
B)  Was to popular literature what Norman Rockwell was to popular art.
C)  Portrayed the hypocrisy beneath boosterism.
D)  Satirized snobbishness in Boston.


53.  Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy”

A)  Portrayed the self-serving career of a Hollywood tycoon.
B)  Showed the downfall of an overly ambitious young man.
C)  Told the story of immigrants seeking dignity in America.
D)  Portrayed pioneers settling rich farmlands under harsh conditions.


54.  “Death in Venice” is about:

A)  An obsessive love of beauty that led to death.
B)  An illicit homosexual affair.
C)  A jealous Moor’s murder of his innocent wife.
D)  Tuberculosis as a metaphor for spiritual emptiness.


55.  Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is about:

A)  Lost love.
B)  His doomed struggle against alcoholism. 
C)  His revenge against a rival in love.
D)  His encounter with a seagull as an omen.


56.  The wizard in “The Wizard of Oz”

A)  Sweeps Dorothy out of Kansas in a tornado.
B)  Is a charlatan.
C)  Bestows courage on the Cowardly Lion.
D)  Returns Dorothy to Kansas as a wiser girl. 


57.  “Catch 22” is about:

A)  Absurdity and irony in war.
B)  The way some clever soldiers avoided combat.
C)  What is now known as PTSD.
E)  A hustler who is committed to a mental hospital and can’t get out.

58.  “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is about:

A)  A psychiatrist who is crazier than his patients. 
B)  An Indian who ends up lobotomized.
C)  A group of patients who escape to Canada.
D)  A sadistic psychiatric nurse. 


59.  “Waiting for Godot” is about:

A)  A bizarre group stranded at a bus stop.
B)  A geriatric ward with patients waiting to die.
C)  Two characters waiting for God.
D)  Despair and faith in Auschwitz. 


60.  Nasrudin was:

A)  A Persian poet.
B)  A Persian king.
C)  A clever fool.
D)  A wise prophet.


61.  ‘The Little Prince:”

A)  Presents Machiavelli’s amoral approach to governing.
B)  Is a critical biography of Napoleon.
C)  Portrays a naive prince who grew into a wise king.
D)  A ruler of a planet who believed in love. 


62.  Elie Wiesel has written about:

A)  The Holocaust.
B)  The capture of Joseph Mengele.
C)  Israel’s struggle for survival.
D)  Nazi doctors and their experiments.


63.  Viktor Frankl wrote about:

A)  Rational-emotive therapy.
B)  Jewish myths and stories as sources of psychological insights.
C)  Judaeo-Christian roots of existentialism.
D)  Death camps and survival.


64.  “Schindler’s List” is about:

A)  How the Nazis rounded up Jews to be sent to death camps.
B)  A German industrialist who saved Jews.
C)  The man who implemented “The Final Solution.”
D)  A Holocaust survivor’s story of how he endured. 


65.  “Magic Mountain” is about:

A)  A cultural critique of Disneyland.
B)  Climbers’ spiritual experiences on Mt. Everest.
C)  Shangri La.
D)  Quest for meaning in a Swiss Alps sanitarium.


66.  Icarus:

A)  Was determined to find the goose that laid the golden egg.
B)  Knew the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx.
C)  Told Oedipus the truth about his past.
D)  Flew too close to the sun.