Psychology isn’t a worldview. It needs to be said.
Looking for Answers
With a plurality of views, perspectives, and beliefs, with technology that allows us to be exposed to every crevice that humans reside in, do you experience information overload? Feel adrift? Overwhelmed? Confused?
Many people who feel this way end up in therapy for various reasons. Therapy is a great place to look for answers. It just doesn’t possess a unified framework to inform every thought and action as a worldview does. In the U.S., almost 10% of the population utilizes therapy/counseling services (estimate from 2019, according to the CDC). Beyond the treatment of a singular problem, clinicians often get asked some pretty big questions.
What is a Worldview?
A worldview is “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world” (Oxford languages). Many people automatically jump to think this is about religion, but it can just as easily be philosophy or any “collection of attitudes, values, stories and expectations about the world around us, which inform our every thought and action” (Gray, 2011, referencing Sire).
Historically, those who become trusted leaders in their community are often sought with worldview questions; they have been religious leaders (clergy), philosophers, shamans, doctors and counselors, and even political leaders. Caring for people– and caring well- often leads to bigger investments of trust by those who are cared for, and as a good doctor knows their limits and refers to things outside their expertise, so good therapists do, too. It is the responsibility of leaders to lead- hopefully well.
Does Psychology Know Its Limits?
Psychology is at its best a scientific discipline and can only observe, make connections, provide interventions that are linked with change, and such. The weight of importance given to any approach is the result of interpretations as to what is deemed important- informed at the highest level by a worldview. Psychology isn’t sufficient to be an entire worldview, but it can contribute. From my position, I think it is ever-increasingly treated as the “whole pie,” filling the void when clear definitions are lacking. This can create problems.
Therapists need to know their limits in not only areas of treatment (e.g., if you don’t ever apply ERP and say you treat OCD, refer to someone who does), but also in realms of belief, action, and life that cannot be answered through therapy (what is my purpose? or why am I here?). Clinicians appear to be getting better at honoring clients’ pursuit of religious, spiritual, or other beliefs and ensuring that the person coming to treatment is respected according to their values. There are increasing forms of training and guidance for such respect and even integration. However, when I observe the broader world of psychological interventions, they can sometimes be lacking in appreciation for the whole person.
Four Reasons Why Psychology (and Thus, Therapy) Cannot Be a Worldview
The field of psychology, despite ironically the word itself being based on the root ‘psyche’ (spirit) is not a comprehensive worldview. Here are 4 reasons why.
- Psychology is one field of study. Being so, this means that it is not comprehensive for ALL of life. Just like the study of medicine or architecture or electricity cannot provide all answers, it is also not thorough enough to base one’s entire life on it.
- Psychology is limited to the study of what we think we need to know at any given point in culture or time.
- Psychology cannot answer immaterial questions; it only observes them.
- Psychology largely focuses on disorders and how to recover, largely within a medical model (disease-based).
To put it in simple terms, you may be disappointed if you exclusively look to this field for life’s answers.
What’s At Stake
We are generally more successful in any environment when we know the terms. By this, I mean that it doesn’t help people to go in circles about something one person is not equipped to walk with. Don’t get me wrong: life involves lots of uncertainty, and sometimes there is not an “evidence-based answer” or an indicated direction. That’s okay, and psychology has some of the best tools for exploring when we don’t know a solution. However, let’s not presume (erroneously) that psychology will answer systematically all our deepest questions. It cannot. Here are a couple of things at stake here when we don’t stay in our lane:
- Many people are scared of therapy because they fear their actual, deeply held beliefs and approaches to life will be dishonored.
- I think this is one of the biggest contributors to delaying or avoiding mental health treatment altogether. Sure, all of us may fear some change, but some people really don’t know that a good clinician is not out to change their worldview (or not supposed to). They will challenge you, encourage you, and hopefully ask good questions that allow you to grow! Going to a well-trained, respectful clinician can make an incredible difference in life- for some, it’s actually life-changing.
- Sometimes too much trust and hope are placed in a single person’s (or field’s) hands.
- Psychology has been wrong about things, and it will be wrong about more. While exploring, for instance, purpose in life, many just need is a place to do that- explore. But psychological interventions need to not pretend they are self-sufficient for things like when a person identifies that they are longing for a community, connection to a larger culture of those who are like-minded, and/or clear directions and answers as to how to live out purpose. Asking questions and affirming an individual’s answers will only take a person so far who is craving to be a part of something bigger. This is just one example.
Thought-Provoking Questions to Help
I hope this is a thought-provoker for all of my readers. Psychology goes far; it is not a comprehensive worldview, though. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you know what your worldview is? Is there a label to describe it?
- Have you ever considered what unifies your beliefs, actions, and values together?
- How does therapy help, and what are its limits? In things that therapy is limited in, where can you go to find solutions?
- Are there any ways you need to go outside of therapy to bolster your education, understanding, exploration, and living out of larger values? If so, what are they?
- Have you been unfairly afraid to do therapy, attributing too much power to it? Or not giving it enough power?
Many blessings on the journey,