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Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Central Role of Lifelong Learning & Humility in Clinical Psychology

Washburn, J. J., Teachman, B. A., et al. 
(2022). Clinical Psychological Science, 0(0).


Lifelong learning plays a central role in the lives of clinical psychologists. As psychological science advances and evidence-based practices develop, it is critical for clinical psychologists to not only maintain their competencies but to also evolve them. In this article, we discuss lifelong learning as a clinical, ethical, and scientific imperative in the myriad dimensions of the clinical psychologist’s professional life, arguing that experience alone is not sufficient. Attitude is also important in lifelong learning, and we call for clinical psychologists to adopt an intellectually humble stance and embrace “a beginner’s mind” when approaching new knowledge and skills. We further argue that clinical psychologists must maintain and refresh their critical-thinking skills and seek to minimize their biases, especially as they approach the challenges and opportunities of lifelong learning. We intend for this article to encourage psychologists to think differently about how they approach lifelong learning.

Here is an excerpt:

Schwartz (2008) was specifically referencing the importance of teaching graduate students to embrace what they do not know, viewing it as an opportunity instead of a threat. The same is true, perhaps even more so, for psychologists engaging in lifelong learning.

As psychologists progress in their careers, they are told repeatedly that they are experts in their field and sometimes THE expert in their own tiny subfield. Psychologists spend their days teaching others what they know and advising students how to make their own discoveries. But expertise is a double-edged sword. Of course, it serves psychologists well in that they are less likely to repeat past mistakes, but it is a disadvantage if they become too comfortable in their expert role. The Egyptian mathematician, Ptolemy, devised a system based on the notion that the sun revolved around the earth that guided astronomers for centuries until Copernicus proved him wrong. Although Newton devised the laws of physics, Einstein showed that the principles of Newtonian physics were wholly bound by context and only “right” within certain constraints. Science is inherently self-correcting, and the only thing that one can count on is that most of what people believe today will be shown to be wrong in the not-too-distant future. One of the authors (S. D. Hollon) recalls that the two things that he knew for sure coming out of graduate school was that neural tissues do not regenerate and that you cannot inherit acquired characteristics. It turns out that both are wrong. Lifelong learning and the science it is based on require psychologists to continuously challenge their expertise. Before becoming experts, psychologists often experience impostor phenomenon during education and training (Rokach & Boulazreg, 2020). Embracing the self-doubt that comes with feeling like an impostor can motivate lifelong learning, even for areas in which one feels like an expert. This means not only constantly learning about new topics but also recognizing that as psychologists tackle tough problems and their associated research questions, complex and often interdisciplinary approaches are required to develop meaningful answers. It is neither feasible nor desirable to become an expert in all domains. This means that psychologists need to routinely surround themselves with people who make them question or expand their expertise.

Here is the conclusion:

Lifelong learning should, like doctoral programs in clinical psychology, concentrate much more on thinking than training. Lifelong learning must encourage critical and independent thinking in the process of mastering relevant bodies of knowledge and the development of specific skills. Specifically, lifelong learning must reinforce the need for clinical psychologists to reflect carefully and critically on what they read, hear, and say and to think abstractly. Such abstract thinking is as relevant after one’s graduate career as before.