Posts Tagged ‘Self-knowledge’

One of the ethical rules that psychologists obey is the need to keep psychological test material  secure and confidential. For example American Psychological Association APA has very clear rules about confidentiality about test material and results. It is understandable that for example disclosure of right answers in some intelligence test might jeopardize its’ validity because the situation that should be new for everyone taking the test would be familiar. In the same way, ethical rules for psychologists demand that psychologists do not reveal any other test items or information about what they measure.  Disclosure has the potential to invalidate the accuracy of psychological tests and thus harm clients of psychologists who require accurate and valid assessment of their psychological attributes. Psychologists should therefore be mindful of these principles in handling psychological test material and releasing this material.

Keeping the individual’s test results confidential is a principle that every psychologist obeys and I don’t want to question this. However,  I would like to play with the thought that what would happen if there would be more publicity in the field of psychology and about tests in general – if more and more non-personal test material would be public, what kind of effects would it have? Would making different test more public help psychologists in their mission to help people develop their self-consciousness and help people realize their fullest potential? Would test development be ruined or be more effective?

Anyway, some copies of well-known tests seem to appear in the internet anyway – and a lot of self-help tests with more or less psychological knowledge behind them. And unfortunately, a lot of “helpful advice” also seems to exist on how to answer to different tests to appear smart, outgoing etc.

I sometimes wonder what would be better – to keep the test material as a professional secret as it is today or to systematically share some test information.  Is possessing some critical information about tests the strenght of psychologists today or would sharing some of this possessed information be a more powerful strength? I’m a huge fan of Linus Torvalds because of what he managed to do with open source software and I would very much hope some kind of similar development in the field of psychology when developing psychological tests.

Even if everything could not be shared, where could we begin? I’ve already seen some very promising applications that provide pre-screening of some mental problems – giving some preliminary answers to persons with problems that should they seek  professional help or are their problems in the range on normal difficulties that can be mastered alone or with the help of friends.

Finnish  employment offices also have some personality and motivation tests  that give guidance to young people about what kind of professions they should choose. It’s just a shame that the professions are nor the same any more but are in continuous change and so also the tests seem to get old faster than a group of professionals have the time and resources to develop them. I think that this nicely illustrates the need for some co-operation and increased openness.

Professional life today is changing more quickly than ever thus creating new challenges for people and their mental health. This is where psychologists should join their strengths together and also listen to the feedback of their clients. I’m afraid that just individual groups of psychologists cannot do this but we would really need broad activity within psychologists and the clients utilizing psychological information. I don’t have specific answers what should we psychologists do right now about this challenge – maybe more thorough feedback about test results to persons that have been taken different tests is the first step – but about beginning truly sharing issues, what would be the next step? With this question I hope to open further this discussion about what to share with whom and when. In general, I have a lot of faith in discussion and interaction between psychologists and their clients.

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Photo credit: Todd Huffman

Meditation, mindfulness, awareness, consciousness and metacognition are terms appearing in different contexts and defined through different schools of thought. They all refer to processes within the mind that have to do with the mind itself. They all try to increase knowledge about the self and help find some degree of control over or release from the automatic verbal and nonverbal hum generated by neural networks in the brain. The idea is that through self-awareness, release and increased knowledge, more control and autonomy can be experienced. A person can more fully concentrate on the most important thoughts at the moment and choose to feel better by centering on adaptive feelings and mindstates.

The brain never sleeps. It continuously goes over information recorded in activity of neural networks, rearranging and combining it with past experience and producing future predictions. Meditation techniques that aim at silencing the brain usually actually result in immense activation because the brain cannot cease doing what it is built for. The brain does not want to be quiet because the fluctuations of activation and deactivation are what define its existence. And as people typically relate the self to activity of the brain, the brain’s activity defines the existence of the whole person. Trying to silence the brain can therefore result in a quite discomforting feeling of nonexistence.

In addition to endless activity, the brain does not understand the word “no”. When your try not to think of something, the mental image of the “thing” will automatically be produced in the mind. There is then, no sense to try and stop the brain from producing for example maladaptive thoughts or feelings. This will only result in activation of their representations in the mind as well as the negative feelings associated with them. Trying to actively stop thinking depressive thoughts will only result in a mind full of depressive thoughts.

However, the ongoing automatic and responsive activity of the brain naturally contains many levels of control and awareness. When there are maladaptive thought processes or mindstates that a person wishes not to experience, what needs to happen is a shift in the level of awareness and a change in feelings towards indifference. Through recognition of malign thought processes, a person can gradually learn to view them more objectively and detach emotion from thought content, which leads to deactivation of the thought and more infrequent appearance in the mind. Techniques that increase self-awareness are thus also the core of many types of psychotherapy. Problems of the mind can be cured by consciously altering processes of the mind.

Although thinking about the functions of the brain and awareness of thought processes may feel detached from normal life, there is a lot of which people without specific problems can make use.  Approaching the workings of one’s mind in a more relaxed and objective state is beneficial for not only people with thought processes disturbing mental health but for everyone. For example, increasing metacognitive awareness and metacognitive skills can support learning . Becoming more aware of own thought processes helps identify the way that knowledge is constructed in the mind. It helps answer questions like: ”That do I know?” ”What do I not know?” ”How could I understand this better?” and ”Where could I find this information?”.

Information intensive work typically requires functioning within hypermedia contexts. Even the more conservative companies have now evolved into complex organizations with numerous parallel processes through which employees have to define their work. When thinking about the nature of modern work it becomes evident that the amount of specific knowledge that people have is actually less important as flexibility of thought and use of metacognition. To succeed it is more essential to understand how to make use of available resources, how to develop oneself and operate within different contexts. Information contents do not matter as much as the employees’ flexibility in using them and viewing their personal contribution from different points of view.

Developing oneself through meditation, increasing self-awareness and training metacognitive skills are not only for those in therapy or those quitting work and leaving for India to become enlightened. They are ordinary human skills that are already needed in day-to-day work. There are ample possibilities for learning more about self-awareness and a lot of scientific and non-scientific information available from studies on metacognition to yogic philosophy about self-awareness and enlightenment. What is still missing is an integration of this knowledge into leadership and management. Ideas about personnel development and wellbeing are typically somewhat regarded as expendable or additional on top of “real work”. However, as metacognition is becoming a vital skill for knowledge workers, companies should consider integrating more metacognitive and awareness-supporting elements into their basic functions. Luckily with the abundance of different types of software and platforms, there are many possibilities to further this kind of thinking and integrate it into the core functions of work. In the future, instead of arranging for separate personal development programs, working itself can contain functions that increase awareness, wellbeing and learning.

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