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Nature, nurture, and the effect of theory on personal development

Posted Aug 30 2010 12:00am

The adoption of one or more developmental theories could have significant implications on implementation of real world therapy practices. Our theoretical worldview has the potential to bias our views of developmental change and the antecedents that drive that change. Will the therapist sitting across from you attribute your current situation to biological antecedents? Is nature responsible for (insert any psychological condition here)? Or, instead, will your therapist choose to focus on the environmental and societal factors that have influenced your personal developmental trajectory? Before any of us engage a therapist, or any of us engage in the practice of therapy, we should consider the theoretical underpinnings that form the foundation of our helping professionals’ worldview. Obviously there’s a good reason why individual therapists choose the theories they do… conscious consumers should not be afraid to ask for the reason.

When change occurs in my personal life, I usually attribute it to entropy. The illusion of being able to control my environment is tempting to say the least, but I believe self realization comes as a result of accepting that you have little or no control over the sequence and timing of developmental change. For me, clinical counseling represents a vehicle by which individuals learn to control reactions to a constantly changing chaotic world. My goal for all of my clients, and for myself, is to be able to embrace change and employ it as a springboard to drive structural, functional, and behavioral growth. To me, it’s almost irrelevant as to whether it is “governed by nature (i.e., genetics, maturation or biological structures) or nurture (i.e., child rearing methods, cultural values, planned learning experiences, unplanned life events).” (Bergen, 2008, p. 3) Regardless of the governance, the reality is that we have the opportunity to change tomorrow by acting today.

As I continue to process and refine my own theoretical perspective on human development, my expectation is that the theory provides individuals I serve with an outcome that can be predicted with reasonable certainty. For example, if we engage dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) I should be able to predict with reasonable certainty that you will experience an increase in mindfulness. If DBT fails to produce that result, I am content to attribute that failure to individual variability… to me, it doesn’t much matter if it’s nature or nurture… so long as we identify the point of failure and try again (this time modified to fit the individualized participant). Perhaps we could integrate religious and metaphysical concepts into the effort to increase the traction of our DBT efforts. Or, perhaps we will go in a parallel direction and focus more on interpersonal effectiveness or emotion regulation since they are contributing factors to the overall efficacy of DBT? Maybe we abandon DBT altogether and take another angle? The options are endless… but a theory some provide some direction, some purpose, to the decisions that are made in that process.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) meets all of my expectations for a theoretical construct. ABA is committed to resolving real world issues not theoretical quandaries. Practical importance is at the forefront of my interest. ABA focuses on the behavior that needs improvement, not just any behavior. Good results must be measurable, conceptually systematic, and able to be replicated. Finally, a good theory must possess generality of the in the respect that it lasts over time and it appears in environments other than the one in which… it was implemented. (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 18)

As a sidebar…

Does anyone out there have any real world examples of entrainment? (juxtaposition of one or more systems to form new combinations)

What strategies do you use to ensure you are employing “activated knowledge” as defined by Bergen (2008) on page 33?

References

Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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