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“Get really good at psychology. Get really good at theology.”

April 1, 2013

Here’s a great new post at Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology, which is my favorite blog dealing with psychology and religion.  Beck is a psychology professor at a Christian university and frequently talks about theology, from the perspective of psychology.  He has written extensively on a favorite topic of mine:  disgust and purity metaphors in religion.

One of the unfortunate stereotypes in all academia is that anyone who tries to combine two different fields in their graduate or professional work is probably weak at both fields.  For instance, a person who gets a combined PhD in psychology and religion (they do exist out there) is kind of weak in psychology and kind of weak in religion, because there’s no way to fully study both in the same time another person can study one or the other.  Perhaps some of that stereotype is deserved, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true.  Beck’s post does give some pointers on how such a combination is possible – though he calls his model the “trainwreck model,” presumably because whatever structure might exist at the nexus between two fields has to be created by you out of the chaos.

He also very interestingly recommends that psychologists study not just clinical/counseling psychology and religion, but also more applied fields of psychology – which may include social, developmental, behavioral, cross-cultural, and cognitive psychology.  I think this is very good advice.  It is probably tempting for clinical/counseling students to find a theoretical orientation and only learn enough to be an expert on mental health outcomes and therapy; this is like building a house without a foundation – I have seen complaints that clinical/counseling psychologists don’t know enough about experimental psychology to be good consumers of general psychology research.  By “the basics” I mean things like classical and operant conditioning, theories of social influence, cognitive dissonance theory, stage development theories of cognition and moral thinking (Piaget, Kohlberg, etc.), reinforcement schedules, etc.  Though I am moving to a doctoral program in counseling or clinical psychology this fall, I did get a MS degree in experimental psychology and found my experience in applied psychology to be invaluable.

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