Wednesday, 25 August 2010

On the danger of psychometrics and career matching tests

Much of what occupational psychologists do makes me uneasy.  Not as uneasy as the legions of career coaches who offer to help people based on a 2 day course in NLP but that's another story. 

Psychologists are very keen to put people into boxes.  We like to label people -  schizophrenic, depressed, anxious.  For occupational psychologists we like ENFP, conscientious, emotionally intelligent.  Of course, most of these labels are useful because they have good reliability and validity.  

However, when we use labels such as these we must be mindful that we are creating a reality as much as describing one.  And, particularly in the field of career psychology, I think there's a danger that we are reinforcing a kind of paternalistic role model that may even be the root cause of the issue.  

Freedman and Combs (1996) write: "Speaking isn’t neutral or passive.  Every time we speak, we bring forth a reality.  Each time we share words we give legitimacy to the distinctions that those words bring forth.”  

Anyone who's seen the TfL advert will know we tend to see things that confirm what we seek.  In career decision making we tend to see behaviours or judgments which confirm our existing views of ourselves and owe believe psychometric tests which are in any case only modified versions of what we have told ourselves in the first place. 

But the unquestioned use of labels and categories can consolidate problems that the client is experiencing   and reify something which perhaps did not exist - or half existed in the messy, ambiguous reality of being a human.

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1 comment:

Rachel said...

Rob - I love your quote about the power of language. I think that solution focussed coaching addresses this issue really well. Steve De Shazer wrote a book called 'When Words Were Originally Magic'. I love asking my clients questions like:
'Are there any times when this problem seems a little better? What is happening then?' or 'If you knew the answer what would it be?'