Faculty Spotlight – Dr. St. John


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Armada, Michigan on a horse farm.  My family moved to Belfast in Northern Ireland for the years I was in middle school and then we moved back to Michigan when I reached high school.  Living in Northern Ireland, I had the chance to travel in Europe and Africa and I began to understand that there is a diversity of people in the world.

What or who influenced you to study psychology?

When I graduated from high school I wanted to be a musician.  I happened to visit a friend who was attending Michigan State and while we were hanging out in his dorm room I picked up a copy of Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis and began reading a chapter on dreams.  I bought it from him on the spot.  I went to Wayne State to study psychology, but the mostly behavioral approach there didn’t appeal to me as much as humanistic existential psychoanalysis.  So when I found out about CHS (Center for Humanistic Studies, now MSP), I walked right over.  At the time, however, CHS did not have a doctoral program.  I knew I wanted to take my study of psychology as far as possible and I knew I wanted to focus on clinical psychology rather than research.  So I did my doctorate at the University of Detroit Mercy.

What are your research interests? What are you most passionate about in your professional life?  

I’m curious to look at the philosophical issues around research – How best to do research?  Is it fair to continue to use a model that was developed for chemistry and physics?  I would like to do research on research.

Professionally, my passion is exploring issues of social justice and supporting positive change.  I am working to create a nonprofit clinic that focuses on social justice and ecological awareness.  We will have an existential humanistic approach that treats a person like a person.  I am also involved with the Humanitarian Alliance, a national organization that works to end gender based violence.

 What appealed to you most about teaching here at MSP?

The humanistic values of MSP have always attracted me.  Humanistic psychology is not a theory, but a set of values.  We teach our students to treat clients as human beings, not just diagnoses.

Please share a moment when you felt proud to be a teacher.

I feel proud when my students are comfortable enough to disagree with me, because it means I’ve created a safe environment for them and for learning.

Name a non-academic book you read recently and enjoyed. 

Over the summer I read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. Ronson is a reporter who tells the story of tracking down a mystery manuscript that he received. He starts to question the very concept of mental illness.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? 

People are usually surprised to learn that I’m a musician – I play electric bass guitar.  I’m also interested in producing music.

What sage advice would you like to share with students? 

My advice to students would be to realize that education is a chance for them to find their voice – to articulate their own psychological theories and explore their philosophical assumptions.  Education is much more of an internal process than we usually consider.  Students should remember to try and develop what’s already inside of them.

David St. John, PhD - psychology associatesDr. David St. John, PhD
Dr. St. John’s primary teaching and research interests focus on social, psychological and ecological justice. This includes an emphasis on multiculturalism, ecopsychology, and dynamic, phenomenological-based psychology. An overarching theme in his work is an avocation of diversity—be it in culture, theory or research method—and inclusion of these diverse perspectives in academia, professional psychology and society-at-large.