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Reversal Theory - what?
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Wednesday, 13 June 2007
I was curious, thought it worth a moment to take a look. Then I noticed it was linked with Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne, Australia), I looked further. Do you realise how much of our current organisational recruitment (and at times promotion) is based on the concept that humans have 'traits' and certain jobs require certain traits? That's how you get the best people? In his article "On a certain blindness in modern psychology" Michael Apter points out the fallacy in this approach and how it can tie people into ways of behaving that are not always theirs, or should not always be theirs, or that they would like to grow out of (and have to) if they are to progress. In contrast, Apter says that we live out patterns of behaviour, changing with our feelings and the situations we are in. We are not statues but dancers!

The ‘certain kind of blindness’ comes from the great psychologist and philosopher William James.

Apter says: "If you are in human resources, and you use personality tests, all you can do is use them to select people for a job, not help them to change and grow and develop into and beyond the job. If on the other hand you break with the trait concept and allow that people are changing all the time anyway, then helping someone to change in some desirable direction seems less daunting – it is only a question of nudging an ongoing change process in the desired direction...

He continues "If biodiversity is necessary to the health of an ecological system, then what we might call 'psychodiversity' is just as important to the health of the individual: it allows him or her to adapt to ever-changing and relatively unpredictable environments, and also to have a life which is rich with experiential diversity and allows for the expression of all sides of his or her personality...

Apter then takes up arousal: "It is commonly assumed that people do not like, and try to avoid, high arousal – which is equated with anxiety. What is obvious, and is missed by psychologists working in this field, is that people actually sometimes want high arousal – the higher the better – which they experience as excitement or even euphoria...

"A clinical implication is that there are two contrasting ways that one can employ in dealing with anxiety. The common assumption is that one must reduce arousal – whether this be through tranquillisers, relaxation techniques, biofeedback, or in some other way. But clearly there is an alternative: this is for the client to accept the level of high arousal that he or she experiences in certain situations, but to find a way of reversing the anxiety into excitement. For instance, in dealing with sexual dysfunction the aim should be to help the person to feel excitement, even ecstasy, in the sexual situation, not relaxation. In helping an athlete or musician or public speaker to perform well, we should help them to feel enjoyably aroused – since they probably need to do what they are doing with intensity – not be 'laid back'..."

It would be sensible to offer these ideas to the medicos who too readily dope our children with Ritalin, or treat many adult conditions as diagnosable 'problems'. In contrast, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is so successful at helping people because it deals with the 'states' in which people find themselves at different times - just as Apter describes.

Apter concludes that "There is evidence, for example, that people at work rarely want moderate arousal [this was demonstrated in a factory study back in the 19th century!] but switch backwards and forwards between wanting high and low arousal; that some problems are less easily solved if we take them seriously; that even in an unchanging situation people look for very different things at different moments; that it is possible to need hassle and stress; that in certain states of mind people can enjoy incongruity, ambiguity, confrontation and conflict."
Source: "On a certain blindness in modern psychology" at the website Reversal Theory

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posted by Dr Ron @ 20:58  
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