Running head: CHAOS THEORY AND COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY
Chaos Theory and Its Implications for Counseling Psychology
Rory Remer
Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology
University of Kentucky
February 20, 2003
Abstract
Individuals and groups are dynamical systems that generate patterns of behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and interactions. Chaos Theory (ChT), based on a mathematical approach to the non-linear, non-independent modeling, concerns these patterns. ChT has important insights to offer Counseling Psychologists, and implications for the conduct of psychology as a whole. Counseling Psychologists should have a basic, working knowledge of ChT--its impact and implications. In the present exposition I give a mathematical and conceptual overview of ChT and relate it to the definition and mission of Counseling Psychology. Using these bases, implications for theory, research, practice and training are discussed and problems of and suggestions for incorporation of ChT in the conduct of Counseling Psychology addressed.
Chaos Theory and Its Implications for Counseling Psychology
People, individuals and groups, are dynamical systems. Their actions and their interactions generate patterns. Chaos Theory (ChT)^{ 1} concerns the patterns generated by dynamical systems. It is based on a mathematical approach to the non-linear, non-independent modeling of patterns of behavior. ChT has important insights to offer Counseling Psychologists, and more important, implications for the conduct of psychology as a whole.
ChT is not, *per se*, a philosophical system or paradigm. In fact, it is as non-biased as any mathematical approach can be—which is not to say that it is without its assumptions. While ChT is not biased, I am. My bias will come into play more because I am applying the insights derived from ChT as I see them than actually applying ChT—or dynamical systems modeling--itself. This type of application is not without precedent. Even the Vatican is interested in the ramifications of ChT for religious doctrine (Russell, Murphy, & Peacocke, 1995).
Personally, I think everyone—professional psychologists, other social and physical scientists, and even lay-people--should have a basic, working knowledge of ChT and its impact and implications. My contention is that that background is essential to understanding and effectively functioning in the world--and certainly to helping people, if not also just being one. In fact, these implications are so far-reaching they go even to the core of how we approach psychology. I will attempt, and I trust succeed, in convincing you likewise.
Many, if not all, the concepts that constitute chaos theory are not new. They have been around for quite some time in one form or another. In fact, you would recognize them in sayings, adages, and the like. For example, “for want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want…” Their juxtaposition and connection, the development of concise, scientific language and terms to define their related constructs, and, most important, the application of concrete, systematic, logical mathematical procedures to substantiate them lend them new validity, credibility, and clout—or should.
Let’s start with a most basic question, “Why do I believe ChT applies to psychology at all?” Mathematical models as applied in other disciplines focus on the modeling of patterns of behavior, with the subsequent goal of predicting, if not controlling them. That description would seem to fit much of psychology rather well. However, psychology in general, and Counseling Psychology in particular, is not limited to patterns of behavior. We also deal with patterns of feelings, thoughts, and interpersonal interactions. These phenomena are more challenging to address because the data available to do so are usually, if not always, both difficult to produce and of a less than optimal, solid, ratio-scale type. This situation leads to asking whether ChT does and can apply. And that argument is grounded more in logic than in empirical evidence, at least for those latter three areas.
To start we need to look at what ChT is mathematically. We also need to look at the assumptions about patterns of behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and interactions, on which psychology is founded. Then we must look at the match—briefly.
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