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Obedience and Resistance to Authority: Developing a Clinical Understanding

6 CE Credits/Hours - Online Course - $50.00

Developed by Sharon Presley, Ph.D.

This course includes materials consisting of:

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Audio File  Introduction to course by Sharon Presley, Ph.D.

General Course Description

This introductory course is based on the works of psychologists Stanley Milgram, Ph.D, author of the classic book, Obedience to Authority; Philip Zimbardo. Ph.D., famed for his Stanford Prison Experiment; and on two articles and two chapters from the forthcoming book, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities, by Sharon Presley, Ph.D. The course covers the basics of why people willingly obey authority, even when it is unjust, as well as techniques for resisting and standing up to authorities when appropriate to do so. The course will cover situational factors that influence obedience, the impact of implicit social roles that induce unthinking obedience and personal characteristics that help some people to resist. Also included are strategies for thinking critically about experts and authorities and standing up to them effectively when appropriate.

The course is comprised of seven articles and one interview. The interview with Sharon Presley, discussing the Milgram experiment, sets the stage for an understanding of the powerful impact of situational factors in inducing willingness to submit to authority and why that can be dangerous. The second, "Reflections on the Stanford Prison Experiment," expands on the role of nonpersonality factors, including the unquestioning acceptance of implicit social roles, and suggests strategies for guarding against potentially dangerous influence of unjust authority. The third, "The Present and Future of Obedience to Destructive Authority," brings the obedience research up-to-date, discussing more recent partial replications. The fourth article, "Not Everyone Obeys: Personal Factors Correlated with Resistance to Unjust Authority," draws attention to the personal characteristics that help people resist unjust authority. The fifth article, "Dr. Z's 20 Hints About Resisting Unwanted Influences On You," provides some strategies for making yourself less vulnerable to influence. The sixth, "The Seduction of the Situation," discusses how to recognize the situational factors in everyday life that make people vulnerable to the influence of authority. The seventh, "From Victim to Warrior: How to Stand Up to Experts and Authorities," gives practical strategies based on research that will help people question experts and stand up to authorities in appropriate and effective ways. The final article provides references and resources.

Audio File  Listen to a trailer of Resistance to Authority audio recording.

Educational Objectives

This course will teach psychotherapists to:

1.    Question the common idea that personality factors are the main determinants of behavior.

2.    Review the impact of situational factors on ordinary behavior.

3.    Apply a situational analysis to inappropriately submissive behavior.

4.    Specify what personal characteristics may have an impact on willingness to resist unjust authority in order to encourage those factors.

5.    Identify ways to help clients deal more effectively with authority figures.

6.    Describe techniques for being appropriately critical of the demands of authority.

7.    Specify techniques that will help clients stand up to inappropriate or unjust authority.

Course Syllabus

The Dangers of Unquestioningly Obeying Authority

  • The dilemma of authority
  • The Milgram Experiment
  • The lesson of the Milgram experiment
  • The essential factor in obedience
  • Situational factors in the Milgram experiment
  • The dangers of obedience

The Present and Future of Obedience to Authority

  • Current real-life incidents
  • Replications of the Milgram experiment
  • Implications

10 Lessons learned from the Stanford Prison Experiment

  • Start with a situational analysis, not dispositional
  • Saliency of novel situations with little guidelines
  • Ambiguity of boundaries
  • Role-playing
  • Immersions in "total situations"
  • Transformation of character
  • Criticism of generalizibility
  • Value of simulated role-playing
  • Advocacy of social change
  • Prisons are demeaning and bad for both prisoners and guards

Personal Factors Correlated with Resistance to Authority

  • Attitude toward authority
  • Moral values
  • Parental upbringing
  • Implications

Resisting Influence

  • Twenty hints for making yourself less vulnerable to influence

Strategies for Thinking Critically about the Demands of Authority

  • Questioning the authority's legitimacy
  • Asking oneself questions
  • Examining one's objections
  • Finding an ally

Being Critical of Authority in Everyday Life

  • Questions to ask about authority
  • Understanding how to separate the situation from the message
  • Avoiding passivity

Techniques for Standing Up to Authorities in Everyday Life

  • Preparing ahead of time
  • Strategies during the meeting
  • Follow-up after the meeting


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