Valorizing Psychology for Individual and Community Well-Being

A Muslim woman sits in a chair with her head resting on her hand as she looks despondently across the room during a therapy session. Her female therapist is seated across from her as she tries to help her work through her life struggles (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

The changing social, economic, educational, technological, and ecological aspects are among the impetus that have bearing on human life. In addition to creating values to human activities, they also cause numerous extents of complexity, and in turn cause people to experience certain type of difficulties.

The complicated scenarios have been described by scholars with certain descriptors, such as volatility, uncertainty, complex, and ambiguous or VUCA, coined in 1985 to help leaders understand the changes that took place in the society due to the effects of the cold war (Bennis & Nanus, 1985). The concepts have, since then, been used to describe the increasingly changing world, hence help give meaning to scenarios that the society faces.

The present COVID-19 pandemic has created a different set of scenarios, mainly attributed to fast changing life conditions and taxing demands. Though the four descriptors of VUCA have provided initial descriptions to understand the impacts of the pandemic situation, there was another set of descriptors which have been conceptualised to  provide concise description of the phenomena experienced by people in the recent scenario. The descriptors have been coined to also provide directions in understanding within the society vis a vis the challenges encountered (Sridharan, 2022). The descriptors have been introduced by Cascio (2020) who  described the internal states of humans as a result of rapid changes in their external life conditions.

The concepts describe more of humans’ internal states in addition to the external conditions of the world. The descriptors reflect human life in chaotic scenarios, attributed to turmoil in politics, changes in climate, emergence of pandemic, and many other factors. The four descriptors, namely Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear and Incomprehensible (BANI) could provide good understanding on how people are facing the world, and in turn help them to prepare for their future.

The descriptors point out that human life is susceptible to catastrophic phenomena, caused by either natural disaster or human-caused fiasco. This includes the ripple effects of instability, turmoil or mayhem happening in one place onto the other part of the world. This fragile scenario is described as Brittle.  The second descriptor addresses the state of immense Anxious that people experience due to uncertainties in life, causing them to live in fear. In effect, there are multiple negative consequences to human life, their psychological states are no exception (Cascio, 2020). They are afraid of the danger coming their way or develop unpleasant emotions and thoughts over the consequences that will happen to their life and family members, now or later. The descriptor Nonlinear indicates the situation of disconnected and disproportionate world. It suggests that the world is no longer shaped by a simple cause and effect relationship. It may be illustrated with a scenario when an act of kindness is no longer appreciated, let alone emulated. Another instance is on technology and wellbeing, in that the former which is supposed to better human life is now seen to have disrupted attainment of the latter. The descriptor Incomprehensible indicates a situation when people have difficulties in understanding certain situations or in finding the right information to understand the complex phenomena encountered.

In the disruptive time when people face difficulties to effectively lead a good life or judiciously deal with the world around them, it is imperative that proper attention be given  to ensure individuals and societal well-being. This points out that people need to be assisted to understand the world around them, to be guided to deal with chaotic life conditions, and to be educated to manage their brittle state, cope with the anxiety, deal with the effect of a nonlinear environment, and understand the incomprehensible state. This warrants for appropriate interventions to be put in place, participated by various parties including scientists and practitioners in the field of Psychology.

Given psychologists are subject matter experts or professionals who study human characteristics in a scientific manner, as well as provide assistance to improve and develop individual and community well-being, their roles in  society must be strengthened. In preparing psychologists to become fully functioning professionals in the increasingly challenging world, there should be a set of informed initiatives to develop competent psychologists.  This necessitates various parties, including policy makers, professional bodies, government agencies and psychology academic programme providers to collectively put in place a set of strategic ways moving forward to avail psychology researchers and psychologists with appropriate specifications, epitomized by high level of professionalism and inclusivity.

What are the expected roles of Psychologists in society? If it is known that technology has changed the lives  of humans, then Psychology could be seen as a field that could do the same as well. As stated earlier, though the former has brought about many positive impacts, the opposite has also been the case. There have been voluminous  detrimental effects of advanced technology, so much so that it has contributed to the fast spread of diseases due to the quick movement of people over various modes of transportations.

Would Psychology be playing its effective roles in developing or improving people’s quality of life? In the current era of BANI scenarios, Psychologists are expected to deal with people and organisations of various backgrounds, including those who originate from other countries. The role of Psychologists is associated with services for others, helping them to attain their own and others’ well-being especially among people who require assistance, to include the disadvantaged, traumatized and marginalized group of individuals.

Psychologists are expected to deal with issues that are beyond their country’s borders. They receive international clients with diverse personal and multicultural backgrounds. At times, they too are consulted by individuals or organizations from other cultures, warranting Psychologists to have enabling knowledge and skills for them to provide services beyond the local content and contexts. Such require global competencies which absence may lead to failure in providing the needed services, worst still is the potential harms that they might cause to their clients. This necessitates psychologists to acquire and update relevant competencies, i.e. having cultural intelligence, adequate knowledge, contemporary skills, functional abilities, and relevant characteristics in the areas they specialize.

A psychologist should master basic knowledge on scientific methodology, enabling them to conduct studies on psychosocial phenomena across various settings. They should be ready to conduct assessments on various individuals and organizations; or to conduct research that could help people to understand certain phenomena. As such, they should be equipped with the content of psychological knowledge and principles that prepare them to function in both local and international contexts. This includes the knowledge on all aspects of human diversity, including human physiological structure, socio-emotional-spiritual-religious aspects, the concept of soul, cognitive processes, cultural factors, and all that relates to human characteristics and their relationship with their surroundings. Psychologists should also have the knowledge on the settings they operate or places in which they live. They should possess the knowledge on ethics as researchers and practitioners, and the appropriate and proper ways to position their roles in multi-cultural society. The holistic knowledge of mankind will enable them to understand the brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible life scenarios which are attributable to the complexity and complicatedness of the world.

Further, psychologists should have the skills to apply psychological knowledge and principles to nurture individual and community well-being. They should have the needed skills to acquire new knowledge and relate it with the existing knowledge and certain contexts. Psychology researchers and practitioners should have the skills to relate and engage with people of different backgrounds as well, such as experts in other professions. Such skill would enable them to expand their horizon of knowledge, which is essential in fostering an inclusive paradigm over the emerging phenomena that affects individual and community well-being.

It is imperative that psychologists be mission-driven, assuming the roles of professionals in promoting well-being and mental health for individuals at all levels in  society, from family institutions to work organizations. As such, Psychologists should have the ability to make their presence felt in the settings in which they are operating.  They should have the abilities to deal with the increasingly challenging scenario, characterized by abilities to facilitate their clients to deal with complexity and solve complicated life demands encountered. They should provide members in organizations to develop positive attitudes towards missions of their organizations or places served with the aim to bring about positive impacts on the people, organization, or community at large. They should be striving towards organization-driven initiatives instead of  personal-orientated services, hence would need to possess the abilities to design and implement change programmes to improve well-being, coping skills, and other problem-solving life issues.

Psychologists should be acutely aware of the importance of applying their expertise and ideas to better human conditions. Cognizant with the idea that the profession entails efforts to find best strategies to apply psychological knowledge and principles for the interest of many, to change people’s lives, to help people regulate themselves in relation to their life demands, and to be culturally sensitive. They should have high openness to new research methods available in the profession, learn new knowledge, share new findings, and acquire new experiences. They should have a reasonable degree of adaptability, accessibility, mutual trust, and open communication, among other desirable qualities.The presence of clients or organization clients from various countries necessitate the development of  skills to care for others, including all types of ‘carers’ in the profession. They are to do collaborative effort, encompassing the activities to complement the effort of other psychologists.

The above set some bases to develop psychologists to face the future. The competencies which are accounted for by good level of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics, could be nurtured through a number of interventions, including Individual-based Intervention (e.g. identifying qualified individuals to be in the profession); Human Resource-based Intervention (e.g Designing and Conducting Continual Professional Development Programmes); Technological and Structural-based Intervention (e.g Establishing clear career track and specialization for professionals), Strategic-based Intervention (e.g Engaging professionals from other fields, being updated with new development or changes in other field that affect human lifestyles or well being)

In nurturing the development of universally competent psychologists, the development of an intervention with a set of basic initiatives is proposed to support the implementation of the above interventions. The initiatives could aim to provide psychologists with Holistic Knowledge on human characteristics. They should be supported by continuous Education programmes on psychosocial aspects of humans, underscoring the effective ways to deal with brittle, anxious, nonlinear, incomprehensible life scenarios. There should be coordinated efforts for the Advancement of Research as fundamentals for the development of policies and practices. The roles of Psychologists could be augmented by mobilizing various parties to recognize the essential roles of Psychology Professions in society. In so doing, there should be strategic initiatives to forge good Engagement with various external groups and professionals. Abbreviated as HERPE Initiatives, these are expected to substantiate the Valorization of Psychology Profession agenda.

Shukran Abdul Rahman is a professor at Department of Psychology, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).  He is the Editor of IIUM Journal of Human Services and the Dean of Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences at IIUM.

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