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Keeping Faith and Science

Given I am in the B.S. Psychology program and Counseling will become my M.A., science is very relevant to my field.  That said, so is spirituality and religion.  Science, to me, help provide the framework to understand data, track trends, develop treatment methods, and so many other greatly beneficial things that it would take too long to list here.  Spirituality and religion, though, also has a place in understanding clients.  It helps frame the references potential clients will come to me with, and it may provide a window through what the client may feel, and what may be, a much more useful, and beneficial approach for them.  The current recommendation at my school is that everyone who goes into the Psychology field should minor in Sociology.  I feel this is wrong-headed, and belies the usefulness that understanding people from a more personal perspective is not as useful as understanding people from a macro perspective.  I have had Psychology majors look at me, confused when I tell them I am in Religious Studies as my minor, to have them tell me that to be more distant in terms of understanding clients, the better off you are.  I have even listened to lectures where subjective experiences are entirely discounted, and remarked on as useless or of little value in telling us anything about the state of the client, or of humans themselves.

Certainly, we can’t take a single case study and project it onto the whole human race, or even a population of a region.  Certainly, quantitative and qualitative studies and methodology tend to be different, and are definitely looking for different pieces of data.  Yet, at least as far of my understanding of modern psychology and especially my neck of the woods is concerned, there is a dehumanizing element that is growing.  It discards the subjectivity of many well-done research projects and experiments and merely discards them.  Not everything can fit into five easy columns, or even a couple hundred question and answer surveys.  The way I see it, the qualitative, and alongside it, the subjective, needs to stand alongside the quantitative and observable.

I understand that there is a place for discernment, and I think it is a good thing to have skeptical, and especially informed, inquiry.  I definitely understand why outliers are not counted in quantitative studies, though I feel that some outliers may tell us things that we often overlook, merely by dint of them being outliers.  Why are they outliers?  Are they useful in exploring some question about the experiment or survey, or whatever it is, at hand?  I am finding critical questions such as these simply being discounted, sometimes before even being entertained in classes.  I am not saying that qualitative studies are any better than quantitative; they both are looking for very different answers to the questions they pose, even if they pose the same questions.  I am also not saying that quantitative studies cannot provide us useful answers that qualitative studies seek to answer.

What I am saying, is that qualitative studies, and by extension, understanding a client from a qualitative standpoint, offers the opportunity to engage the person.  This engagement requires we listen to the person in their own words, withhold our judgment as much as possible, and seek to understand them.  Quantitative studies do not need to engage with a person to get the data they need.  Qualitative studies require you to dig into a person, even if from the outside in a distanced way.  It requires you to get to know them so you can distinguish between different features of the study.  Keep in mind I’m talking in great generalities; there may be a study I haven’t seen or don’t remember that goes completely against either way that I’ve portrayed these kinds of studies.

In the end, what I hope Psychology eventually gets to, regardless of specialty, is more towards addressing the whole person.  From where a person lives, their past, their present, to even what they eat, I hope that all that data is embraced and looked at.  It may tell us a lot that looking at things individually does not.  It may give us insight not  only into how the person relates to themselves, but to the environment around them, and the data there is only really just beginning to be mined.

I enjoy science, and I enjoy my religious path.  The two aren’t at loggerheads.  My pursuit of a science-based career doesn’t impugn my religion, nor does it need to.  Neither does my path as a shaman or priest, impugn my pursuit of science.  My practice as a Northern Tradition shaman, in my view, can be enhanced by training in Psychology and Counseling.  It does not take away from it.  Science can inform my path, give clarity to it.  It gives me more tools for my toolbox.  I also see my path as a shaman giving my Counseling tools from its own toolbox.  More Counselors are recognizing the benefits of alternative states of consciousness, mindfulness exercises, and similar things as positives for their clients.  Some Counselors, such as one that I was seeing at one point (though for different reasons), use Tarot cards to help people figure out their gender identity, or guided journeys for actual counseling work.

Keeping faith in both my religious path and the sciences I do pursue does not require some kind of twisting, either of logic or of my faith.  It does require me to be open-minded, observant, honest, and willing to reconsider old ideas, reject methods based on poor results, and most of all, learn and apply the new knowledge to what I know.  This is far easier for me to do with science than it is with my spirituality.  After all, by the time new data gets to me, its often been vetted by the scientific community, and is being contested or accepted, sometimes with new experiments or archival reviews to prove or disprove the conclusions reached in the process.  Yet, I find myself still having to have faith in the science: I have to have faith the study was done in good conscience, that the conclusion reached is not only viable but verified by the evidence, that the methods used to gather data were reliable, and so on.  With my spiritual paths, I have to receive, then vet the information first, and sometimes I am able to get direction from another person as to its reliability.  From there, I have to either choose to follow the advice, pick up the new spiritual tool, etc., and take a lot more on faith than what I do with a scientific study.

In both cases, my faith is really built on results.  If I pray, get an answer, follow through on it, and a situation is resolved or an end is reached, I tend to take that as a positive affirmation.  It won’t pass scientific muster, but science and religion, as I see them, really operate in largely different areas, especially as far as their basic questions are concerned, and where the roads they lead to go.  I approach my psychological studies differently because, given that I am not in my M.A. program yet, I won’t see the result of this or that theory’s impact on counseling a client.  However, I will admit I have preferences, and these are based on how I understand the theory, how I have seen it or it is used in practice, and the desired end or implications of the theory.  There’s a lot of parsing I do, regardless of which path I’m talking about.  It’s necessary; if I accept all religious experiences without critical thinking, I may not be following a God/dess at all, but a spirit who just wants my attention and energy.  If I accept all scientific studies without critical thinking, I may not be accepting good, reputable science at all, but a sham conducted by a company to show a desired end.  To me, you don’t leave critical thinking at the door with religion or science.   Good science, and good religion too, is gained by critical questions being asked, and sometimes, having the answer blow your mind while others, the answer is obvious.

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