By trying to systematize, organize, categorize, and simplify, we necessarily lose some mystery, subtlety, complexity, and beauty.
Reality, Life, social interaction and the ways we experience them are so complex that it is practically impossible to put all of their richness into worldly two-dimensioned words and numbers. Psychological tests cannot give an appropriate overview of experience, which is necessary when interacting with another person—for example, as a counseling psychologist. The only thing that can is another human being with an equally complex mind. Only us (and possibly some animals) can feel empathy toward another (thanks to mirror neurons), and eventually, with some inner-work, compassion. Looking, truly and authentically in another being’s eyes, with nothing other than pure attention, pure understanding, and pure, unconditional love (yes, I said that). This penetrating vision allows one to have Gestalt-like insights into another being’s world. No judgment. No anger. No sadness. No hypocrisy. Only a perception less biased by our mind, an observation closer to reality. These skills can best help us devise helpful strategies by tapping into the core of a person’s feelings and needs.
We all have this capacity to connect to one another and experience a certain (subjective) truth, full of complexity and magic. Everything present in the now is sufficient to adopt the perspective of the other and develop a true understanding. But, we may sometimes need some kind of “objectivity” (or agreed-upon inter-subjectivity according to post-modernists) and time-saving predictors for practical reasons as we still use Newtonian physics although Relativity and Quantum theories are apparently closer to “reality.” In other words, it may be necessary to sacrifice some validity in order to achieve a certain degree of reliability. In this sense, psychological tests may be necessary. From The Couch’s article provides even more reasons for using psychological tests. However, be warned that a great danger, which has been present in most civilizations, awaits us especially, people in PSYC 406: simplification.
To illustrate this danger, let me point out that Chinese cosmology is characterized by correlative thinking. According to this cosmology, the body is a microcosm of the greater universe and is thus connected and related to it in an intimate way. Although it is comparable in no way to Western science, the same inherent problem appears: the consequence of trying to systematize direct experience.
“Heaven has four seasons with which to regulate the twelve months. Man likewise has four limbs with which to employ the twelve larger joints. Heaven has twelve months with which to regulate the 360 days [of the year]. Man likewise has twelve minor limbs with which to employ the 360 lesser joints.” (Correlative Thought in Early China, p. 3)
One correlative concept that became extremely popular with time is the Five Phases (or 5 elements): Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These phases are linked with the 5 planets (visible to the naked eye), the 5 senses, the 5 tastes, and so on. However, when scholars arrived to correlate the Five Phases with the four seasons and the 4 directions, they had to force some components in order for the concepts to make sense. The ingenious solution scholars found for the 4 directions was to add a center (earth) as the fifth direction. For the 4 seasons, however, they first tried to split summer in two, but then the two split seasons were each half as long as others — so it wasn't aesthetic. They finally chose to take the last 18 days of each season as the fifth (earth) phase. In short, what we have to understand from this example is that our models will always have to resort to certain forced fits and thus sacrifice some precision and uniqueness. We have to keep that in mind when we use reality-limited psychological tests. In this regard, I encourage you to read Kika’s post.
In conclusion, psychological tests may be useful on a practical level, but we must never forget our humanity, and our capacity to understand reality directly—by experience and as much as possible—as well as others’ realities. If these tests are used wisely along with conscious human care, then they may help us help others.