Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Chaos Theory as a Model for Life Transitions Counseling Nonlinear Dynamics and Life's Changes

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Chaos Theory as a Model for Life Transitions Counseling Nonlinear Dynamics and Life's Changes

Article excerpt

It has been said that "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" (Lennon, 1980). This familiar statement by John Lennon reminds individuals that, despite their best efforts at planning, their lives unfold in sometimes unexpected and unpredictable ways. Yet the prevailing worldview underlying the Western medical model, on which the mental health field is based, is firmly rooted in rationalism and reductionism and has shaped the theories and practices counselors use in daily interactions with and decisions about their clients. The Western medical establishment embraces the philosophy of rationalism, which has full confidence in the intelligible, orderly nature of the world and in the mind's ability to discern this order; it asserts that reason, not experience, is the best guide for belief and action. The medical model is also characterized by a reductionistic approach toward science, that is, a belief that there are no inherently unknowable facts and that all of nature can eventually be described scientifically. Western scientists have traditionally used rationalism and linear thought processes to predict outcomes and manage the unknown: through scientific inquiry, they have focused on identifying patterns of order and stability. Since Darwin's (1859/1976) The Origin of Species, Western scientists have tended to view all living organisms as particles of matter that respond to predictable rules; this implied that human behavior could be changed by "applying" certain formulas. Furthermore, dualism, which assumes a split or discontinuity between mind, body, and spirit, has been a dominant influence in science. In this context, human behavior has been explained by logic and principles of cause and effect; spiritual issues were considered to be the bailiwick of religion. On this view--which many find attractive because of its simplicity--all objects and events are seen as nothing more than the sum of their component parts.

For historical and political reasons, mental health professionals have long worked within this linear framework, yet counselors daily encounter evidence that this framework is insufficient for understanding or working with many psychological and emotional problems. Approximately 400 years since the emergence of reductionism as a scientific model, researchers are acknowledging that many mental health systems, which are organized on strictly rationalistic and reductionistic principles, are in crisis (Wiggins & Schwartz, 1999). Part of the problem with the current approach, according to Wiggins and Schwartz, is a primary focus on pathology rather than on understanding healthy functioning:

   Psychiatry lacks a conception of healthy mental life. It has
   forsaken all serious attempts to understand the patient's
   experiences, deeming any such attempt unscientific. As a result,
   it had reduced mental disorders to a list of observable symptoms.
   Psychiatry lacks therapies appropriate for mental disorders
   due to this lack of conceptions. Thus treatment procedures
   have become simplistic and reductionistic. (p. 6)

Psychiatry, as well as derivative mental health components, is at risk for losing compassion and faith in the innate human capacity for strength and resiliency. It is clear that a model is needed that is capable of accounting for emergent and unpredictable life changes.

In the field of mental health, the system of diagnosing mental illness through the five-axis diagnostic procedure outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) remains the standard form for the mental health assessment and diagnosis of clients. Although this diagnostic approach may have some flaws, it does have some value. It provides a common language among practitioners, a means for coordinating with managed health care, and a system for facilitating insurance reimbursements. …

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