Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Navigating a way through

Psychology is a large and varied discipline and as a result holds many longstanding questions and areas of research. My particular home is in counseling psychology, and my perspective comes out of that discipline. Counseling psychology is grounded in a focus on normative development, counseling process and supervision, and an emphasis on multiculturalism.

Counseling psychologists are particularly interested in normative human development, which refers to how we grow and change over time. One issue that arises from this topic is that of prevention. For example, how do we prevent clinical depression? Or, what can we do to encourage resilience in adolescents? There is some agreement within the field that preventing a problem results in better long-term outcomes than treating it after it has already occurred. However, the question remains, how do we prevent mental health problems in the first place? My Reformed faith tradition has taught me to view people holistically, and therefore when thinking about prevention I seek to engage individuals on several levels: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. To me prevention work can only be effective if it deals with all of these aspects of a person. Additionally, my faith reminds me that pain and suffering are not in complete opposition to health. There are times when enduing life’s trials can bring about great insight and personal development. I therefore seek to balance the benefits of preventing harm while also acknowledging the growth that can come from pain.

Further, on the topic of the counseling process, a question that arises is that of how change happens. What creates, motivates and ultimately spurs for us a new way of operating in the world? Scholars and clinicians have been trying to answer this question for some time with either a common-factors or critical-factors approach. Ultimately, however, it appears that psychologists have a variety of explanations for “why and how” change happens. As a person shaped by the Reformed tradition I use the framework of God’s sovereignty to explore this question. I have often wondered throughout my clinical work, what is the “right” thing to do? However, when I reflect on clients I’ve worked with there is unquestionably a sense of mystery to whether the treatment is effective. Sometimes clients make incredible progress, and in other instances treatment seems to have no effect. Even while I pursue academic answers to this mystery, I often remind myself that there is more “to the story” than I can see with my own eyes. For example, sometimes the process of therapy is a means of sustaining personal growth and development, but at other times it may not be the mode of change most useful. My faith encourages me to seek answers but also allows me to accept the unknown, as God is in all things and above all things and may often work in ways I do not understand.

As a counseling psychologist one of the most captivating issues in my profession is that of multiculturalism, especially questions regarding race and racism. For example, why does this divisive way of thinking, believing and acting continue to exist and morph into different iterations throughout history? How is it that in this country Whiteness continues to operate as a powerful privilege? I have personally spent many years wrestling with such questions, and I continue to realize that it is more important to be on the journey than to find a definitive answer. This journey involves what I see as the kingdom work of seeking reconciliation and changing the social order around the issues of race that still so often divide us. Even though such politically sensitive issues are difficult and messy, my faith and desire to understand humanity compels me to be a part of God’s pull and encourage others to be a part as well.

With that introduction to Psychology Renewed, I now invite you to join the conversation. How do you situate yourself in terms of worldview and professional identity? What helps you to navigate that path?

Dr Kara E Wolff, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Trinity Christian College