The Researcher's Role
It's not really surprising that researchers and clinicians often speak different languages—they live in different professional worlds. As a scientist, I don't have to face the task every day of helping troubled people handle whatever challenges life has sent their way and deal with the dilemmas that have them stumped. Researchers demand a degree of empirical correspondence between ideas and data that isn't possible, or always desirable, for the mental health practitioner dealing with the unique, case-by-case demands of their practices. Of course, sometimes research can guide a clinical decision in a particular case, but more often, clinicians are faced with the idiosyncratic circumstances of a client's situation and find it difficult to always rely on a set of broad principles that tell them what to do or say. Nevertheless, psychological research can play an important role in helping clinicians do their job.
By remaining skeptical of oversimplified explanations of the human psyche and reductive answers to complex questions, psychological research forces clinicians to ask difficult questions and not pretend that they know more than they do. In that way, research serves as a corrective against the pervasive human temptation to construct a narrative that matches our preconceptions and unexamined biases, walled off from the messy reality in which all of us—clients, therapists, and researchers alike—have to live.
Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., has conducted groundbreaking research on inborn temperament, personality, and the interaction of biology and psychology. His many books include Temperamental Thread: How Genes, Culture, Time and Luck Make Us Who We Are, Galen's Prophecy, and An Argument for Mind. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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