Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Psychology or Spiritual Direction? Part 1

I majored in psychology at school, but did not give it serious thought as a career. Psychology as a field was never quite what I wanted it to be. It left too many important areas of life untouched, not as beyond its reach, but as beneath its dignity.

The first broad mistake that bothered me in psychology is the tendency to take a human being and turn him or her into an object for scientific study. The way in which the literature draws parallels between human beings and lab rats tells its own story. Yes, I'm aware that you can take studies about lab rats and leverage that to learn something about human beings, and I think that leveraging this knowledge usefully is a good thing. The objection comes when a researcher looks at another human being and sees only statistics to be measured and responses to be manipulated, and in that way does not see any fundamental difference between a human and a rat.

Yes, I'm aware that there are psychologists and psychiatrists who understand about people being people, and that they are probably in the majority; that's not my point. My point is that there are those in the field who simply don't understand it, that there is no requirement in order to be a member of the field that you must see human beings as human beings. And again, I do not object to studying people -- it's a worthwhile pursuit. But there is a type of study that has only an incidental interest in the humanity of the people being studied; this kind of study is dehumanizing. And it seemed to me that if psychology were to pay off the dividends that it promises for humanity, the least it could do is to make the world more human, not less. While a great many people in the field understand that, there is not exactly a Hippocratic Oath required for people in the field: first of all in the humanities, remember you are dealing with humans.



To be continued ...

5 comments:

Enigman said...

But aren't there ethical codes that restrict what psychologists (along with other researchers) can do? Isn't that what treating people as people amounts to in practice? After all, there are also politicians who regard people as little more than sources of taxes and votes, and getting them to say that people are important is hardly enough. Also, I've a similar complaint about physics, that it seems to forget that it's studying our world (e.g. top physicists seem to think that the Matrix might be true), and about maths (which seems to prefer fictional sets to actual quantities), so maybe there's a wider problem with academia?

Weekend Fisher said...

You can definitely make parallels to other fields. Academia tends to reduce us to statistics. Politicians to votes, as you mentioned. Businessfolks sometimes to dollar signs.

I just have a particular interest in the psychology angle myself, both because that was my field at one time in my life and because it seems especially ironic when a "heal the people" kind of venture falls into that trap.

It's farce on the Monty Python level ...

Enigman said...

I sympathise with you on this, as I seriously considered studying psychology, when younger (having read most of Jung's work, and the more basic stuff, just out of interest), and was also put off by its soulessness. But then, psychology is a science (distinct from psychiatry or psychotherapy etc.) and what I was looking for was in literature and philosophy.

Weekend Fisher said...

I know what you mean. Still, there's room in the field of human growth/human development/human healing for a more human approach. I think the scientific approach itself runs the risk of being dehumanizing. (Skinner, anyone?)

Bryan said...

I'm concerned that there is some overgeneralizing going on in which a frame of thought held by reductionists is being used to characterize an entire discipline. The issues raised in this post have been thoughtfully dealt with in this little book, which I strongly recommend:
Evans, C. Stephen. (1998). Preserving the person: A look at the human sciences. Vancouver, BC, Candada: Regent College Publishing.