On Psychology and Astrology

I am sure that I have posted somewhere before on the matter of the way in which psychological tests and reports are used to “screen” candidates for this or that position in the modern world, but I can’t seem to find any such post in a search of my blog. Perhaps I dreamed it. (Something Freudian there, for all you amateur and professional psychologists reading this. Or perhaps something Pythonesque).

In any case, as of today, I have told my daughters they are forbidden to become psychologists on the pain of disinheritance (believe me, that wouldn’t be very painful in their case!). I have come across too many cases – not the least in my own personal experience – that show that reports cobbled together by psychological experts with the help of “objective tests” are a very blunt instrument. Considering that the psychologist is messing around with the delicate matter of an individual’s psyche, that is pretty serious. I have no doubt that most psychologists and the tests they use are capable of uncovering dangerous pathologies, but that is about the extent of their “objectivity”. A psychologist friend (yes, I do have one) once laughed when I told him that psychological tests were seen by some authorities to be “objective”: “All you have to do to become a psychologist,” he said, “is go to University for three years. Then you hang up your certificate and your sign and you can practice ‘psychology’. There’s no peer review of your activities after graduation.” I don’t know how true that last remark was, but I have no reason to doubt it.

My wife [please note: I have permission from Cathy to tell this story] has just received a copy of a three and a half page psychological report that was the result of a 15 minute interview and a 567 question test she had to undergo for entry into a course. In fact, she already knew that she was accepted into the course before the interview, but nevertheless underwent the exercise. There were a number of instances of obvious error that one could point to – including a base assumption that she was “nervous” about the interview and “defensive” and “in denial” because she was concerned about entry into the course (an obvious factual error).

But the one that took the biscuit was the observation that “It should be noted that Catherine appeared to be sleeping, or nodding off while she was in the waiting room.” Now, apart from the question of what that has to do with the price of eggs in China, the fact was that the psychologist was late for the interview, and Cathy took the time thus provided to spend a moment in prayer and meditation. It reminds me of a psychologist’s report I recently received that began with the observation “David is a neatly presented man with a large Hercule Poirot moustache.” See what all that training produces?

This is a delicate subject, of course. I would like to bring forward another dozen examples from both Cathy’s own report and the one I received in my case, but that would be crossing boundaries. My only observation is that there is nothing at all objective about psychological reports. I can see that they might be helpful in a court of law at some later stage when the applicant is found to be completely bonkers or dangerously pathological (“We had a psych report done and none of this showed up”) but seriously, I sometimes think that it would be just as accurate to use an astrological reading as the basis of determining character. (There are many similarities, I think, with the esteem in which psychological reports are held in our day and age and the esteem in which astrology was held in centuries past – it too was thought to be an “objective” science).

Now I have nothing against people seeing psychologists. I have done so myself on my own volition and found them to be very helpful as a means of coming to understand myself and examining my life. In most cases, when people go to see a psychologist for the sake of personal growth, they have, at minimum, a series of six hourly sessions with the psychologist. In these circumstances also, there is an honesty about the relationship between the psychologist and the client, because the client really is the person sitting in the chair in the room, and not someone else paying for the resultant report.

Personally, I think it would be far more helpful and accurate if we waived these psychological tests for candidates and simply just spent time speaking to the people with whom the candidate has lived and worked for most of their lives. It is simply impossible for a stranger to make “a window into men’s souls” in the space of a few minutes or hours of a clinical meeting, no matter how many certificates there may be on the practitioner’s wall to say otherwise.

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7 responses to “On Psychology and Astrology

  1. matthias

    Yes well ,some years ago ,i was contemplating studying psychology instead of sociology. I went to an open day at swinburne university and at the Psych desk they had an instrument which gave measurements about a person’s personality traits based upon their responses to viewing objects contained within this instrument. my wife picked up the instrument and reponsed verbally to the objects that she obersvered. The Lecturer told her that based upon her reponses her personality traits included being forthwright ,dogmatic and seeing the world in black and white. I looked at him and told him he could have saved a lot of money in building the instrument as i could have told him that .

  2. David Kennedy

    It was on the basis of such ‘expertise’ that many paedophile priests in the US (I’m not sure about Australia) were allowed continued access to children, with disastrous results. There was a time in the 1970s that psychologists actually believed they could cure these guys with a six week ‘retreat’.

  3. Tony

    I did the same two psych tests for employment with a couple of years between them. In the interim period someone told me they reflect how you feel.

    So in the first one I came out looking like a psycholgical wreck and in the second, I was brimming with confidence and self-assurance.

    In short and like you David, I’m a great fan of decent counselling and less than enthusiastic about making too much of ‘tests’.

    • Yes, “objectivity” suffers when one takes into account the current state of mind/heart/body of the one answering the questions and the one interpreting them (let alone how the questions are interpreted). Too big a margin for error, in my opinion.

  4. Paul

    I once attended a short course on Jungian archetypes (actually run in a Catholic institution by a priest who, I believe had psychological qualifications).
    We were given a long questionnaire and told “just do it quickly, it’s not that important”. The results were collected and then the whole course that followed was based on our answers, so they were, in fact, very important. According to our answers, we were classified as one of 4 archetypes, and the characteristics of each were explained (actually, they were asserted with no justification).

    Everyone, including myself, started saying “this is amazing, that is just like me!!!”

    But hang on a second!!!! I was saying that, based on answers I gave about my own impression of myself, I think I am the way I think I am. Is that so amazing???

    I left this course thinking psychology is an elaborate party trick. It was unsettling to see something paraded as a meeting of religion and science when it appeared to me that it contained neither religion nor science.

  5. This sounds like the way silly nuns go on about the Enneagram…