Tag Archives: Theory

Practical Application of Theory

What are some ways that a development theory could be useful to you in the field of work you are interested in?  What about your personal life?  What do you want a theory to tell you?  What specific problems should/could a theory help you solve?

The adoption of one or more developmental theories could have significant implications on implementation of real world therapy practices.  Our theoretical worldview has the potential to bias our views of developmental change and the antecedents that drive that change.  Will the therapist sitting across from you attribute your current situation to biological antecedents?  Is nature responsible for (insert any psychological condition here)?  Or, instead, will your therapist choose to focus on the environmental and societal factors that have influenced your personal developmental trajectory?  Before any of us engage a therapist, or any of us engage in the practice of therapy, we should consider the theoretical underpinnings that form the foundation of our helping professionals’ worldview.  Obviously there’s a good reason why individual therapists choose the theories they do… conscious consumers should not be afraid to ask for the reason.

When change occurs in my personal life, I usually attribute it to entropy.  The illusion of being able to control my environment is tempting to say the least, but I believe self realization comes as a result of accepting that you have little or no control over the sequence and timing of developmental change.  For me, clinical counseling represents a vehicle by which individuals learn to control reactions to a constantly changing chaotic world.  My goal for all of my clients, and for myself, is to be able to embrace change and employ it as a springboard to drive structural, functional, and behavioral growth.  To me, it’s almost irrelevant as to whether it is “governed by nature (i.e., genetics, maturation or biological structures) or nurture (i.e., child rearing methods, cultural values, planned learning experiences, unplanned life events).” (Bergen, 2008, p. 3)  Regardless of the governance, the reality is that we have the opportunity to change tomorrow by acting today.

As I continue to process and refine my own theoretical perspective on human development, my expectation is that the theory provides individuals I serve with an outcome that can be predicted with reasonable certainty.  For example, if we engage dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) I should be able to predict with reasonable certainty that you will experience an increase in mindfulness.  If DBT fails to produce that result, I am content to attribute that failure to individual variability… to me, it doesn’t much matter if it’s nature or nurture… so long as we identify the point of failure and try again (this time modified to fit the individualized participant).  Perhaps we could integrate religious and metaphysical concepts into the effort to increase the traction of our DBT efforts.  Or, perhaps we will go in a parallel direction and focus more on interpersonal effectiveness or emotion regulation since they are contributing factors to the overall efficacy of DBT?  Maybe we abandon DBT altogether and take another angle?  The options are endless… but a theory some provide some direction, some purpose, to the decisions that are made in that process.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) meets all of my expectations for a theoretical construct.  ABA is committed to resolving real world issues not theoretical quandaries.  Practical importance is at the forefront of my interest.  ABA focuses on the behavior that needs improvement, not just any behavior.  Good results must be measurable, conceptually systematic, and able to be replicated.  Finally, a good theory must possess generality of the in the respect that it lasts over time and it appears in environments other than the one in which… it was implemented.  (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 18)

As a sidebar…

Does anyone out there have any real world examples of entrainment?  (juxtaposition of one or more systems to form new combinations)

What strategies do you use to ensure you are employing “activated knowledge” as defined by Bergen (2008) on page 33?

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Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Shaking the Tree of Psychotherapy – On Intuition and Spontaneity

I am both pleased and surprised that “throw-ins” are confirmed as the metaphorical bread and butter of the counseling profession.  (Corsini & Wedding, 2011)  I am a huge proponent of both intuition and spontaneity.  It feels more genuine than the robotic process that strictly “following the plan” requires.  It reminds me of my experience in the Intensive Residential Treatment Center (IRTC) at a local hospital.  Their process, while proven, is totally scripted.  Ideally, there is no deviation from the process… there is consistent treatment of every youth regardless of their current situation, condition, or circumstance.  The process left very little room for interpretation, and even less room for “throw-ins.”  To the point, I can’t work like that.

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There are some helping professionals who prefer to work in a structured environment like that… I would compare them to members of a symphony orchestra.  They read the music off the sheet, and when it comes together… it is a work of art.  I, on the other hand, am more like a jazz musician… give me a beat and let me improvise… you can keep your sheet music.  Although having a theoretical base is as important as knowing your scales and arpeggios (to continue the music analogy), I would much prefer to make use of that technical knowledge on the fly.  I left that position feeling like a jazz musician in the middle of a symphony… I just didn’t fit.  It would suffice to say that I am impressed that Corsini and Wedding (2011) can appreciate that perspective.

From my perspective, psychotherapy is an art with scientific roots.  Of course research is needed and appreciated… but someone has to apply it, or customize it, to individual circumstances.  Of course, when my approach fails (and inevitably it will) I will need to go back and shake the tree of science to see what fruit it yields.  In the end, I am perfectly content with deciding how I eat the fruit, and when.

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Corsini, R. J., & Wedding, D. (2011). Current psychotherapies (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Family Systems Theory

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Although I wouldn’t have considered myself a family systems theory advocate prior to taking this course, I have becoming increasingly fond of the perspective.  I do not believe you can work with a client, either individually or in the context of family therapy, without attempting to understand the systems (family, work, community, church, and other relevant social systems) that exert influence on and ultimately play a role in the decision making of an individual.  Regardless of whether I intend to work specifically as a family systems therapist, I think a foundation in family systems theory is needed in order to ethically and adequately treat individuals.  It’s even more important when working with couples or families, but I believe that is implicitly implied when you apply it to the individual.    As an aside, this is a great entry point for our earlier conversation about multiculturalism.  Culture is, by definition, is a bidirectional system that both exerts influence on, and is influenced by, our clients.  So, since we have all agreed previously that culture is a consideration we need to account for when providing mental health services, we are by default systems theory advocates (even if it is on a macro level).

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