Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Anthropological Foundations for Clinical Psychology: A Proposal (1)

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Anthropological Foundations for Clinical Psychology: A Proposal (1)

Article excerpt

The concept of human nature as an enduring set of capacities and mechanisms capable upon observation and reflection of being understood and facilitated in their proper function is basic to understanding the assumptions upon which clinical psychology rests. Clinical psychology assumes there is sufficient stability in the underlying capacities of human nature to test observations, draw generalized conclusions and reliably predict behavior. This essay's aim is to make a case for the importance of articulating a normative account of human nature for clinical psychology; and then to set forth a concise account of the basic constituents and capacities of human nature. The account takes the form of a set of descriptive premises that together constitute a concise philosophical conception of the human person that the authors think can serve as a normative theoretical and abstract foundation for reasoning in the field of clinical psychology.

Accounts of human nature in clinical psychology:

In his exchange in 1980 with Albert Ellis on the role of religious values in psychotherapy, Allen Bergin argues that psychotherapy's practical aim of facilitating therapeutic change requires systematic prior judgments as to what changes are desirable. Such judgments, he asserts, are necessarily value judgments: they entail evaluations about what constitutes human psychological well-being. It follows, he says, that psychotherapy undetermined by at least an implicit ethical worldview is a fiction: "a value-free approach is impossible" (Bergin, 1980, p. 97). The outspoken atheist Ellis fully concurs. To the assertions that "values are an inevitable and pervasive part of psychotherapy," and that "value-laden factors pervade professional change processes," Ellis responds, "I, as a clinician and a probabilistic atheist, can heartily agree"(Ellis, 1980, p. 635).

Was Ellis agreeing with Bergin's view that religious values are important to psychotherapy? Assuredly not. Ellis in fact argued the opposite. (2) But he agreed that some set of values is always implied in the therapeutic endeavor. Therapy is directed towards a client's well being. This implies an evaluative judgment that some conditions of mental health and human experience are better than others. This is a value judgment. A judgment is the rational conclusion of a deliberative process over the truth or falsity of a proposition. A value judgment is such a conclusion in regard to a proposition assigning value to something (e.g., such and such is true, is good, is beautiful, ought to be done, should be pursued or avoided, is better than, worse than, as good as, worth-while, etc.). Value judgments can be derived from many sources, such as scientific investigation (e.g., brain tumors are bad for human health), or from social consensus (e.g., drapetomania-slaves running away from their masters--is dysfunctional behavior), or from religious belief (e.g., obedience to Allah and the writings of the Prophet are most consistent with human well-being), or from personal taste, political affiliation, ethnic or tribal loyalty, ethical reasoning, etc. Even the judgment that therapy ought to proceed entirely on the basis of the client's subjective notion of the good, and that it should impose no conception of mental health beyond what the client conceives, is itself a value judgment asserting (at least implicitly) that a non-directive approach is superior to an approach based on pre-specified therapeutic aims. So both Ellis and Bergin agreed that therapy is purposeful, and purposeful precisely in relation to one's set of therapeutic values.

Bergin went on to say that arriving at concepts of mental well being precise enough to direct psychotherapy to practical goals "necessarily requires a philosophy of human nature that guides the selection of measurements and the setting of priorities regarding change" (Bergin, 1980, p. 97). He did nor elaborate the meaning of "philosophy of human nature," nor did Ellis reply to his assertion. …

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