Psychology research is not a self-help manual


Damn, I thought this article was going to be about ME. Bookmarked for later.

Greg:...and lately I've had the chronic fluctuating mood disturbances which would indicate psychothymic disorder. I mean, the hypomanic symptoms are there and yet I'm experiencing moments of aphasia and aproxia and I just want to pull my teeth out, Dr. Crane. What do you think? Frasier: Well, Greg, two possible diagnoses come to mind. Either you are seriously mentally ill and you should be institutionalized immediately, or you are a first-year psychology student! Greg: Oh yeah, I'm at UW. Frasier: Yes, well, it's not uncommon for students to feel that they're manifesting symptoms that they are studying. It'll pass. Greg: What do I do till it passes? Frasier: Well, just relax. Though it might be a good idea to postpone reading about male sexual disorder until after spring break.

Only tangentially related, but also good advice.

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It was kind of an interesting take on the subject. But I’m not really sure what upset him so much. I think most people get that psych research is not about them individually. That being said, if something works out for a significant group of people and it’s not going to do any harm to try it, why not?

I write about psychological studies online a lot having been a therapist in the past. I over-rely on the word “suggests” as in "The study suggests that… " and I think in that way it pretty much says that the study is not absolute and conclusive for everyone and sometimes at all. What’s the point of the psychological research if it doesn’t give us some possibilities to ponder and some population tendencies to consider? Is that reserved only for shrinks? I tend to like my research open-sourced. If it works for some people, why not give it a try - understanding that we are individuals and it may not bring the same results for us. In my experience, therapists offer such choices all the time.

The writer himself admits that the suggestions from the blog he cited were pretty good ones. So, his point is correct, but I’m not sure why it had to be made. What’s the harm of exploring the things that research “suggests” for us?

I suspect you’re wrong. Did it occur to you maybe you’re better educated than the average Oprah viewer? It’s a really short step from “The study suggests” to folk wisdom.

Zaki implies psychology is inherently a study of populations, but I don’t think that’s true. Psychology is clearly interested in the mental processes and behavior of individuals. But as in many sciences, conclusions are often easier to draw from aggregate data. As long as we have the statistical literacy to understand what studies say, we should feel free, if not obligated, to look for applications that help both groups and individuals. That is, or should be, the whole point of clinical psychology.

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But folk wisdom often has its roots in the truth. I still don’t see the problem. Do we keep such research and information and only share it in secret cabals? Are we really afraid an untrained mind is going to taint it or be tainted by it? What’s really the harm? The closest thing I can come to as a problem is the possibility that a person might not seek professional help. They might think mental well-being is a DIY project. Well, actually it is, but a therapist can help and is even sometimes necessary. But there’s nothing to suggest that scenario is out there doing damage in the world. I don’t know. Seems like a lot of concern about very little.

I think blog writers do need to be careful about how they share things. But what if they’re not. I guess we can challenge it in the comment section if there is one. Or call the blog police. I guess I don’t see practical concern here. Sounds like the writer was venting a little and that’s fine.

Exactly. Or why bother at all with individual therapy if the research has no meaning for individuals. Without research, individual therapy would all be based on the therapist’s opinions and biases. Boundegar has a point about many layman not having the statistical literacy that you’re talking about. But most articles I read are pretty clear about the limited implications that all individual studies have. So, again I’m just not sure what the problem is. There will always be unrealistic headlines promising miracles.

Are we really afraid an untrained mind is going to taint it or be tainted by it?
Well, sometimes, yes.
For one thing, “Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People”

For another, telling people about research about what likely (subconsciously) motivates them and makes them happy changes the structure of their minds in potentially important ways. It can skew their perception of their incentives, so that things that once would have made them happy or productive will now do so less. Humans are not automatically rational, and sometimes knowledge – especially half-understood knowledge – can be more dangerous than ignorance.

I’m a clinical psychologist and every time I mention some research finding in psychology to my mother she’ll promptly explain how it doesn’t apply to her. The number of times I’ve had to explain that because it’s not her experience doesn’t mean the study is wrong! And she’s not a stupid woman.

You might feel differently if you were a doctor; I understand self-diagnosis doesn’t always work out for the best. Unfortunately, there’s no good solution besides frequent warnings, and they only work sort-of.

Part of the problem is we treat medicine like a science, except for mental health, which is usually treated as a form of poetry. And again, the articles you read probably aren’t the ones on sale at the supermarket checkout.

For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced psychology, per se, is of any direct help.

Psychiatry can prove effectiveness as an approach to treating specific conditions. Psychology has a much harder time demonstrating its value.

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