Friday, 21 October 2016

Theories of Personality

John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark

All psychological models, all counselling theories are based on an understanding of human nature. Without this understanding the model has no foundation – how can we know what helps people grow and what prevents growth if we don’t have an understanding of what an individual is, what human nature might be?

So as counsellors we will meet clients in a certain way based on our models' understanding of human nature. As people who are also counsellors what do we, as individuals, actually believe about human nature?

Do we believe people are inherently selfish? Greedy? Passive? Self-absorbed? Violent? Racist? Sexist? 

That people like to be told what to do? 

That people can’t think for themselves? 

That people like to control other people?

Do we believe that human nature is fixed?

Do we believe that inequality is natural?

That some people are more or less able  to make decisions about other people?

Do we believe that various physical attributes determine how intelligent a person is?

Do we believe that a persons cultural background determines what rights they should be entitled to?

Do we believe that people pass on their cultures to their children and that some of those cultures are harmful?

Do we believe that human nature is inherently corrupt, greedy and competitive?

Is success is due to personal striving?

How do we define success? This seems a simple matter but being part of the world we will be immersed in the concept that success is a standard of living, a way of living that involves wealth, in a world where wealth and power are analogous.

Many therapists use inspirational quotes like these from Ayn Rand

“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”

"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity." 

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

“The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.”

Ayn Rand developed a philosophy of Objectivism

“Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of conceptformation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism.”

Sounds very similar to many of the foundations of counselling theory.

The father of Capitalism, Adam Smith had a concept of human nature, too.

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”

He describes empathy

“As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination, we place ourselves in his situation.”

He wrote clearly about the need for charity, for small profits and fair wages. Read more here.

Concepts of human altruism and selfishness underlie financial theories. Are human beings inherently self interested individuals or altruistic and community minded? How might these virtues be balanced and to what end? Read more here

Counsellors are not separate from society. Just like the client, we bring our backgrounds, beliefs and experiences into the room with us. What is preventing us from discussing this at depth? Is there any counselling course that presents the very clear, reproducible evidence that empathy reduces with wealth and asks participants to explore this, at all let alone deeply? Why isn't this basic to every single course?

Who benefits?

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