One of the problems of being a student of psychology is they learn everything in modules and pass examinations in separate areas of the subject. These can lead to disjointed understanding – a failure to connect the dots. This paper is an attempt to marry the insights of Social Psychology and Counselling practice. Can counsellors learn some wider insights from social research? I will explore an example of classical research and try to see how it can benefit the counsellor in practice.
Most psychology students even after graduation cannot always see the connection between one area of psychological knowledge and another – even well known psychologists manage to come up with “new” ideas which clearly are not – but where their subconscious has dragged two facts together to make a correlation that show a new idea – not that one may cause the other. For example Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is used by many counsellors, psychiatrists and medical counsellors yet few understand that its principals lie squarely with Freudian thinking.
Counsellors are not always educated in psychology and many learn their knowledge in short courses designed by colleges and universities to one standard or another. What ever way you look at it their knowledge is often full of gaps. This is mainly because of the tendency to train in only one school of thought, i. e. CBT, psychodynamics, psychotherapy and other areas – but limited often to a particular theory or school of thought. This leads to the same situation as our learned friends re-inventing the wheel. Many counsellors on my own seminars 香港心理輔導 are surprised when you present something novel and then tell them who actually came up with the notion – then they all sigh – oooohhh! I would like here to present some samples using social psychological research and how we can marry the knowledge to help us become better counsellors and even better researchers of our own practice.
Social Psychology – an idea!
What is Social Psychology anyway – it is the scientific study of how people think about, are influenced and relate to one another in a social world (Myers 2005). It investigates three areas of our being, one is our social thinking, how we see ourselves in the world, the second how we are influenced by society, its culture and traditions, within and without groups and third by our social relations, in prejudice, aggression, attraction also altruism towards other people and from them to ourselves. This then is the social world we live in. Most psychology is based on what the individual is doing, learning, thinking and feeling, but we are not alone in this world – we are part of a family, a community, a city, a country, a culture and all this creates a reality for our daily lives.
Counselling – a way!
Of course the purpose of counselling has always been focused on the individual (except Transactional Analysis – the only therapy based on relationships directly). This mean that in counselling sessions it is the individual’s problems being addressed and dealt with in a therapeutic environment, leading to a resolution for the client, but not for the world he has to deal with when he leaves the comfort of the therapists office.
Social Psychology – thinking outside the box!
We all create our own reality – no two people will agree on a shared view even when witnessing the same event. This is because we come to every event with preconceptions about the world – we often call this common sense. However common sense is often untested and can be interpretated many ways. Paul Lazersfeld (1949) asked some subjects to view some common sense statements and asked if the subjects agreed with the notions stated.
- Better-educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than did less-educated soldiers. (Intellectuals were less prepared for battle than stresses than street-smart-people. )
- Southern soldiers coped better with the hot South Sea Island climate than did Northern soldiers. (Southerners were accustomed to hot weather).
- White privates were more eager for promotion than were Black privates. (Years of oppression take a toll on achievement motivation).
- Southern Blacks preferred Southern to Northern officers (because Southern officers were more experienced and skilled in interacting with Blacks). (Myers 2005)
Many of Lazersfelds’ subjects stated that the above statements were obvious and found no difficulty in agreeing with them. As you might have guessed the reality was actually the opposite in every case. Lazersfeld in fact reported that the less educated soldiers suffered more, there was no real difference in climate adjustment, Blacks were more eager for promotion etcetera. In everyday life we experience listening to others people’s common sense and never really question it – this is often because they are stated as hindsight (after the event has happened). We take the attitude of “see I told you that is what it would be like” but before the event this is not so easy. In today’s society we like to find scapegoats for political mistakes, industrial accidents, car crashes – someone has to be blamed – they should have known. It is easy after the facts are known to attribute blame to someone – who at the time probably were no wiser that anyone else. In the 9/11 disaster, the security forces had intelligence that could have stopped the terrorists but it was amongst the millions of other bits of useless information. After 9/11 people were surprised this information was ignored.