Recently, I read an impressive summation of the past 40 years of alcohol treatment research in Alcohol Research & Health. It notes a raft of advances made in alcoholism treatment as well as new and fresh paradigms to understand alcohol dependence. The article is well worth the time to read.*
I was, however, stuck by a sentence that stated something to the effect that, “new research is not embraced by our field.” Hence, we plod along with outdated perceptions and treatments. Now, I have seen this before and know first hand of such reluctance. This time however, the word “why” leaped out.
I know of little research that’s investigated that tantalizing question.
So, what follows is some speculation as to why we don’t embrace research and change in counseling.
If ever there were one variable that would top the list of why we don’t embrace change, I would be willing to bet it is pride. Pride is an inflated value of self and beliefs. Puffed up value only produces closed-mindedness and makes you think you know things you don’t. It’s stubborn, and often holds tight to views past their prime. In turn, it can be outrageously dismissive of rigorous research, citing such rejections on flimsy protests.
In turn, pride makes people think they know the all the answers or worse the right answers. People who believe they know the right answers are dangerous. They shut out new ideas. They spout the rigid and inflexible “my way or the highway” attitude. But, more inappropriately those with “the right answers” impose such ideas on others. Even worse when a client who relapses from an imposed treatment, it is the client who is blamed “for not getting it.” Not the one who imposed it.
A different factor responsible for not embracing change is the omnipresent reliance on tradition. Tradition has a magical grip on providers. They believe that longevity is the tell-tale sign that something works just because it’s been around for a time. Longevity is not proof.
Associated with tradition is, “It worked for me, so it will work for you” thinking. This is a fallacy, a generalization fallacy to be specific. It is a misleading notion, a myth. Generalizations lump people into stereotypes. That should speak volumes for not ever using the sentiment “It worked for me, so it will work for you.”
Next comes, the suspicion of science, with all its strange sounding terms and equations. What unfortunately happens with providers who don’t understand science is that the resulting bewilderment invokes anxiety if not fear. In response to the fear, folks often turn to their “gut” for reassuring, soothing, and trusted feelings. Unfortunately, the gut is prone to error, and has intimate connections to pride. Moreover, in this day and age, that which is feared is an easy target for scorn. Ridicule adds fuel to not embracing change, and feeds one’s pride with a stuffy, “I guess I told you off” attitude.
Lastly, research often flies in the face of prized theories. No one likes to see a cherished belief exposed to the focused examination of critical thought or research. The impulse is to fight back and defend the belief. Why? Our cherished beliefs are part and partial of our identity and pride, and when both are threatened, defensiveness follows.
The sad result from all these factors is that many counselors and treatment programs turn their backs on solid thought and research, which could otherwise help many a client.
Now, someone is going to ask what are the solutions for these problems. Well, a blog does not provide enough space to offer a comprehensive solution. But, a good first step would be – swallow your pride, and embrace change.
* Willenbring, M.L. (2010). The past and future of research on treatment of alcohol dependence. Alcohol Research & Research, 33, 1 & 2, 55-63