The good old ways? Historically Indian education system has been mainly dominated by passing down knowledge using verbal memorising. This was very common in both educated class as well as tradesmen. This is mainly due to the fact that recorded mediums were not available in India for centuries. And where writing was available it was limited to a specific class of educated men. This method sadly has also been passed down to the current education system in India. Repetition is seen as a tried and tested method of retaining information for scholars. Reference books are not used as reference books but more as religious scriptures that need to be replicated word to word. During preparation for high school graduation (10th or 12th), students are given Different techniques and methods to remember things easily. Things such as chemical formulas, mathematical equations are repeated over and over again for several days. It is very easy to find such courses available online as well. For competitive exams where time is a precious commodity students are told to remember patterns in mathematical questions so they will be able to answer them, many professors will give you hints as to find the answer in the problem equation or to easily derive it from it. But then what is the point of having a maths exam if all you're doing is trying to avoid solving the actual equation. It is not to say such time saving methods are useful in day to day usage, but when trying to assess the understanding of a topic, these should play no role. Another example of the same line of thinking is not allowing students to use scientific calculators during the exams, this makes zero sense. Calculators are used daily in most professions which makes it an important skill to have, and most importantly does not hamper the way an equation is understood by the student.
Similarly in science, remembering theories does not guarantee understanding of the basic concepts. A person might be well versed in a Theory but not actually understand the workings of it or basic concepts behind it. In practical scenarios a person who understands the foundation of a therapy should be able to apply it or at least refer to it when it is needed. It's a simple point ‘Remembering information does not guarantee the understanding of it’, so why are we using learning methods which employ the opposite principles?
A fading memory Any person who has studied the concept of memories will tell you that memories are fallible. Since memories are reconstructed, they can be distorted using inaccurate information. In the legal system eyewitness evidence was considered a reliable source in the past, but its authenticity has recently been called into question. Memory is easily affected by multiple factors, such as suggestions - young people are in fact more prone to this type of memory distortion. As we get older, we are able to remember less information, and older memories, the longer they are not recalled, will degrade over time. Our memory essentially works like a Computer Hard Disk Drive, older data is never fully erased, but usually overwritten, this means everytime our minds run out of space to remember it will decide to throw out a piece of information in favour of new or more important information. Since we have no control over this, and since we do not use most of these theorems, equations, events, dates and names of people, most of us will actually forget what we have memorised in school by the time we start our professional careers. This makes teaching methods that rely heavily on memorising poor for long term use.
A young science Psychology and psychiatry are relatively new Sciences. This means when it comes to these topics there is still a lot to learn and explore. Not only that but both of the Sciences are a lot more complex. We know very little about the factors affecting our mind, making it difficult to experiment and come up with solid theories. Similarly when we look at historic theories today, few if any hold up to scrutiny. This is not to say all the areas from the past are useless, of course there are many theories which are still being developed till today. In traditional sciences such as Physics and Chemistry, most theories have been developed through hard work and dedication of hundreds of years, but during this time many many theories have been discarded and are considered laughable today. For example Alchemy is considered to be nothing more than pseudoscience today, yet developments in alchemy have given rise to modern chemistry. The main issue with the field of mental health is unlike mainstream sciences it has not had enough time and contribution given to it. This issue is exaggerated by the fact that many theories in psychology cannot be proven in experiments or are difficult to prove. This is mainly due to the fact that most variables when it comes to psychology are difficult to control or contain. This means many theories, how good or bad they might be, would not be properly tested. Historically this is the exact case. Regardless, holding on to historical knowledge and theories in this scenario is detrimental to the progress of the field. In fact more than any other science it is in need that we keep on questioning historical theories and keep building on them. Using these untested theories on people who need help, yields mixed results. One size fits all thinking doesn't work for mental health. Hands on experience with patients and clients will help you decide which theories work, which ones only work sometimes, and which theories don't work at all. However most courses in psychology and mental health do not approach learning in this manner. This has meant that most professionals such as psychologists and counselors come out of educational institutions with little or no exposure of Real world use of their knowledge. In fact most novice professionals See the world of Mental Health in a black and white manner. They usually jump to quick conclusions based on the theoretical knowledge they have been given. What they forget to account for is the ever changing environment and multiple factors that might affect their client or patient. This is something that only comes with experience, only after spending years looking at cases which seem the same at the start but are poles apart when they unravel, will you understand That one theory does not fit all. In fact most theories known fit anyone, they are there only to introduce you to different ideas, patterns, and ways of thinking.
All hands on the deck And this is not something which is exclusive to our field. most professionals will agree that what they learnt in theory in the colleges is only a tip of the Iceberg of knowledge you will get to learn on the job. This is also a reason why most reputed institutions in India such as IIM & IIT actually promote hands-on learning. Articleships and internships are an integral part of their syllabus. Similarly almost all Health Care courses require you to spend one to one and a half years working full time in hospitals. yet this is something which is not really a case for mental health courses. Even though many of them include research projects and part time internships, they are far detached from Real world scenarios. That is why an overhaul of the current education system is urgently needed For the field of Mental Health. Without hands-on experience we are risking many of our clients and patients' well-being by putting them in the hands of professionals who are yet to come to grips with the industry. This was an untested vaccine or an experimental treatment method there would be outcries. And that is not the only issue but by using These underdeveloped theories as is without combining them with experience, we put the credibility of our profession at-risk. It is important to remember that the issues here are not actually the theories but the time given to them to develop. The same thing applies to the professionals too, they need to be given time to learn skills they are going to use everyday. Is something that cannot happen in classrooms this is something only an experienced professional can provide them. Maybe someday in the future today's young professionals might enlighten us with their own theories, except with experimental and empirical applicability! But ultimately in our case -
“experience is the best teacher”.
- Omkar Naik