In my two previous posts I suggested that the best way to evaluate “the next best thing” in counseling models or techniques is to start with a healthy dose of suspicion and then to read with an open mind as you try to enter their world and see what they see. Now, moving on to step three, I recommend that you take a look under the hood.
Step Three: Evaluate Assumptions
Whether you are considering adopting a whole model of counseling or merely a technique, you want to step back a bit and assess what assumptions and presuppositions color the author’s view of the world. If you adopt any portion of the model, you will be likely to adopt some portion of their assumptions. In evaluating assumptions, I find it best to ask yourself a few questions,
1. What presuppositiong, worldview, beliefs, etc. bleed through on their pages? Do they focus most on nature? Nurture? Individualist? Communitarian?
2. What ideas and values seem to be most prominent for this author, especially about human nature, health, healing, struggle, etc.
For some authors (especially model builders) assumptions are handed to you on a platter. When Carl Rogers said that he believed that humans had a drive to find health and wholeness, he made his assumptions quite well known. However, during the 80s and 90s, many psychologists stopped trying to build models. They hid behind “eclectic” and focused on “what works.” Well, “what works” (aka utilitarianism) is an assumption that we ought to be aware of. Many current authors have returned to try to build a better explanatory model for human flourishing. For example, Mark McMinn has penned an integrative psychotherapy model (reviewed here in past years) attempting to bring together cognitive and affective and spiritual models. Despite the return to model building, most popular trade book authors rarely discuss their own assumptions.
Still sound fuzzy? Just what are we looking for and what do we do with it once we find it? Consider these made up examples.
Author one: “…her problem? Her love tank was empty, had a huge hole in it from the way she was treated by her father.” Assumptions? You can see a little Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and a statement that present problems are the result of victimization from the past. This will surely impact the author’s ideas for treatment.
Author two: “…her problem? She struggles to connect her whole brain when processing emotions. Neural networks need to be developed and used to cool down her hypothalamus. she…” You can see here that the focus is on neural networks, possibly brain chemistry issues, and an overactive hypothalamus. You might not hear anything about will, choice, right thinking or experiencing. This client is a product of her brain. This will surely impact the author’s ideas for treatment.
Now, a word of caution. Just because we discover assumptions that we don’t agree with, it doesn’t mean we have to chuck the model or technique. Rather, we are merely trying to understand some of the straggler assumptions that might cling to the parts we buy into. I used to start all of my model evaluations with this step. However, I found that I was more likely to wholesale reject their observations if they were wrong in their assumptions. But everyone sees—even if poorly. And observations can be very helpful—even if fixated on one small aspect of life.
In our next step we will seek to let their assumptions challenge, correct, or refine our own (rather than just believing what we have always believed is airtight correct).