Workshop teaching psychology:
The methodology of an integrated approach

Neeltje Huppes

INTRODUCTION

The background

Self-knowledge is an indispensable requirement for living a dignified life in a rapidly changing world. At present we live in a world where the values of the previous generation are considered outdated by the next. This lack of continuity leads to a loss of meaning that causes instability in the lives of young adolescents as well as their parents. This in turn creates a growing need for counseling services. Similarly, many business houses, NGO’s and the like have understood the importance of providing guidance for the positive self-development of their employees.

Psychology has the potential to become an important discipline in the years to come. The so called New Age books have a growing market, but it is a pity that the increasing need for self-awareness and inner growth gets largely filled in by Western psychology and rather superficial self-help books, when, so close at hand, in the Indian culture and the Indian psychology there is a tremendous wealth, a much greater depth and a true connection with the Indian psyche. A "living" Indian psychology could be a tremendous contribution to the development of India as a nation and to the role that she is destined to fulfil in the larger context of the world.

Psychology education and the job requirements of a psychologist

In the quickly changing conditions of our world today the question arises: are psychology graduates and post-graduates prepared adequately for their jobs during their study? If one asks young psychologists for a reaction, their answer is, "No". What is lacking? They complain that the content of the courses is not always relevant and suitable for the Indian culture. Besides, the content is mainly taught as a body of facts that has to be learnt by heart, which does not give psychologists the ability to apply it when they start their career. During the years in college and university psychology students do not get enough guidance in how to understand themselves and they are not given enough opportunities to integrate the course content in their own lives. It does not become a conscious self-owned knowledge and due to this, many of them feel poorly prepared to guide clients. And truly, for helping others, what matters most is not what the psychologist has memorised, but what the psychologist is.

The need for change

The job requirements of a psychologist call for a high level of self-awareness and a broad range of interpersonal skills. It seems imperative that a change be made in the method of teaching: a change from traditional lectures to an integrated approach–an approach that gives students the opportunity to assimilate and own the course content on many levels and in various domains and integrate this content as completely as possible in their own being. Next to this, there is a need for a thorough reflection on the relation of the individual with the world. A psychologist needs to have clarity about his self-view and his world-view, he needs to look within and discover the congruences and incongruences between the two in his own being and work on wholeness in himself. If this integration does not take place a psychologist will be incompetent to do his work well.

What can we do to achieve this integration?

The changes proposed here are not just "technical" changes, like asking an interesting question or initiating a discussion during lectures. Though asking questions during a lecture will help the students to remain attentive, this still does not imply that a learning environment is created where students feel encouraged to observe themselves and gain self-knowledge. The changes suggested in this workshop are to be made on a deeper and more personal level for students as well as teachers.

To bring about the desired innovation a teacher has to be willing to make a change in attitude: from an authoritative teacher (s)he has to become a guide, inspiring students to observe and study their own self.

The teacher has to change the teaching process: instead of prescribing tasks to the students, (s)he has to facilitate learning experiences through which the students gain self-knowledge and insight in themselves as well as in the subject matter. A teacher has to see that personal growth, invoking the inner knowledge, facilitating development of the qualities and abilities of the students is more important than plain cognitive information-transfer. Accordingly (s)he has to bring about a change in the learning environment.

THE WORKSHOP

The background

Successful implementation of an innovation requires an inner preparation of the teacher as well as an outer preparation of the teaching-learning material. In this workshop we will focus on the first steps and pack into two hours what normally would take two days.

Before we start, it is useful to put Indian education in context and realise how the British ruined Indian education, especially under the direction of Macaulay and his Minute on Education,1835. From this date onward the British used the schools in India as an aid in the establishment of the British empire; the educational system was such that it made India forget her own culture and her own roots. They did a thorough job: Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of British India, declared in 1813 that Indians in general had "superior endowments in reading, writing, arithmetic than the common people of any nation in Europe." This situation had been reversed almost completely by the time the British left in 1947.

The roots of the Western and the Eastern culture are not the same. Thus the question arises, "What is the basic difference?" In the East consciousness is seen as the basis of existence, whereas the West sees matter as the basis of reality. In general, Western metaphysical thought is speculative and exclusively based on the intellect. At its best the mind can throw up ideas or opinions that try to represent truth, but the intellect and the intellectual reasoning fall short of knowing the supreme Truth or the Ultimate.

In the East the metaphysical thinkers do not hold that the mind is the primary instrument for discovering the Truth. Here the highest status is given to spiritual intuition and spiritual experience and the mind is seen as an aid that can help in expressing and clarifying a truth that is already "seen". Thus thought is mainly used as an instrument for reaching a consciousness beyond mental thinking.

In the previous three centuries humanity has been dominated by the culture of the West, with the result that the concentration of mankind has been increasingly on the mind and the materialist view. In the twentieth century the tendency of humanity to live in the surface consciousness has increased tremendously. If we look at our present society it seems to have reached its zenith. The most valuable part of a human being, the soul, has retired deep inside, giving free reign to the development of the mind and the satisfaction of the vital.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote already about this tendency in 1916 while going from port to port on his way to Japan:

"In every port and in every country I have seen it happen: this "necessary progress", these "needs of man", are blotting out the intrinsic value of individual human beings....The value of power and money has increased to such an extent that men have not the courage to ignore these "necessities" and their vehicles. Now people unashamingly judge the worth of all things in monetary terms: men do not hesitate to sell even themselves. By this the nature of human beings is gradually changing–the aim and the glory of life is being shifted from inside to outside, from joy to necessity. Such change is creeping into society that it seems one day money alone will exhibit the worth of a human being."

Rabindranath Tagore (1916/1961). A Visit to Japan , p. 67-68

To get some insight in how these opposite views could have developed, we will have a very short look at the evolutionary process of mankind. There is an ascending evolution in nature, from the stone, to the plant, to the animal, to man. One of the gifts of man is that he is a mental being. This has given him the possibility to interact with matter in a rational manner. We all know how applied science has influenced our lives thoroughly; the computer and the TV are just the most obvious examples of this great change.

But this material development is not all: because man has been given the mind, he can facilitate his own development; he can witness himself, become aware of himself and make conscious decisions about how to live life. This is a privilege given to man, which makes us humans distinct from all other creatures that have been created so far.

Taking birth puts the question to each person whether (s)he really wants to make use of this privilege. This is a question each one of us has to answer. It is an issue that has been worked out in great detail in Indian psychology. Strangely enough, life is often so absorbing, that we are not even aware of the fact that we forget to reflect on the meaning of why we took birth. Today let us take some time to look within ourselves.

We now take a few steps that may help you to increase your awareness about self and world. In case you have already clarity about your aim in life and how your work is related to this, you may use the following reflection and introspection as an aid to intensify your self-knowledge.

INTROSPECTION

Sit as relaxed as you can. Trust yourself to your chair. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. Watch your breathing, slowly breath in and out, and in and out. Now think of something that makes you calm and peaceful: beautiful soft music; the image of a calm, vast lake; the sky full of stars; your own child sleeping very peacefully; anything that makes you calm and receptive. If you are used to meditate make yourself calm and peaceful in the way that works best for you.

After you have invoked the calm and feel calmer and calmer, turn your attention slowly to yourself. You may like to feel the calm deepen as you go deeper and deeper inside yourself. Now slowly, while staying in this peaceful atmosphere start reading the questions of the paper that has been given to you. Your answers will remain between you and your self and are only meant for you.

Take your time before coming to an answer, try to let the answer emerge by itself, because such answers are often the purest.

WORKSHEET:

Introspection

  • A situation of great learning in my life was......
  • The most valuable moment in my life was......
  • The feeling(s) associated with that moment is......
  • A deep, quiet happiness comes to me when I.....
  • Something that brings me closer to my inner nature is.....
  • The best present I can give to myself is......
  • Something I would like to develop in myself is......
  • I find maximum guidance in my life from.....

Slowly gather the treasures your answers have given you. Feel what is most significant for you. You may like to write down something.

– Long pause –

Let us now do a reflection related to our work.

REFLECTION:

Bad teacher and good teacher from our own school days

This exercise can provide a first discovery about how your own experiences can help or hinder you in your work. We start with the negative part, and then move on to the positive side.

Bad teacher: go back to a moment in your youth during your own school or college days, that you remember till now, because you felt completely misunderstood or deeply hurt by one of your teachers.

See it happening again. Picture this teacher in front of you. When did it happen? Where did it happen, can you see the place/room in front of your eyes? Can you feel the atmosphere? Who all were present? Remember the faces of the people, their expressions, the tone of their voice etc. What did this teacher convey to you? What/how were your feelings at that moment? Can you still feel the difference in your breathing, the tension in your muscles? Did you say something? What/how was the tone of your voice. What/how was your main feeling at that moment. What/how did you feel afterwards?

How do you feel just now? Describe it. Did this incident leave a scar? Any idea what made this teacher act like this?

Self-reflection: Now try to be honest with yourself. How much is a bad teacher present in your own work? What are your weak points?

Good teacher: go back to a moment that you remember till this day and will always remember because you felt understood and appreciated in your core by one of your teachers.

See it happening again. Picture this teacher in front of you. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who all were present? Remember the faces of the people, their expressions; what they said, the tone of their voice etc. What/how did you feel at that moment? Did you say something? What/how did you feel afterwards?

What do you feel just now? Describe it. Does such a feeling spread to others?

What was special in this teacher? Our best teachers had some special qualities and capacities.

Self-reflection: How much is the good teacher present in your own work? What lifts you up?

Now that we have experienced again how a teacher can make or break us, let us reflect on ourselves.

Let us have a look at your own teaching.

Self-view: Picture yourself in your own classroom.

Are you standing or sitting? What are your feelings about the students sitting in front of you?

How much of yourself is involved in the content you are teaching?

How much of your best qualities are present in the classroom?

We all have in us qualities and possibilities like those of our best teacher or another person we admire for his or her character. Let us explore these feelings for a while. (This will remain absolutely personal). Some of the prominent aspects:

Qualities: good sense of humour, concerned about well-being of students, impartial, full of goodwill, looking for the best in each student, loyalty, etc.

Qualities related to teaching: patience, self-discipline, open mindedness, enthusiasm.

Qualities related to methods of teaching: willingness to change, a good variety in teaching methods, ability to demonstrate the relevance of the subject matter in an open, inviting way.

What are some of your unique qualities?

WORKSHEET:

Reflection on capacities and qualities

We admired certain qualities and capacities in the teacher we remember as our best teacher.

Let us have a look at our own capacities and qualities.

  • Where, in what do you succeed in being a living example for your students?
  • Where, in what do you not succeed in being a living example?
  • Which qualities would you have to develop more to achieve this?
  • What would you have to do to succeed better?
  • What would you have to refrain from for succeeding better?
  • Which capacity or quality will help you most in changing yourself?
  • What can you do to make this even stronger?
  • What in yourself is the greatest hindrance for change?
  • What can you do to overcome this?

All the questions you answered just now are open ended questions on which each one of us has given different answers, while each one of us experiences his/her answers as most true. If we think about this a little, it may lead us to realise the following: only questions about facts, like "When did Jung live?" produce one single answer. A seemingly straightforward question, "What is the most important contribution of Jung’s work?" gets already answered in different, sometimes opposite, ways by different psychologists, depending on their beliefs and the way they make sense of their world. Questions related to human existence always generate many answers. If this is so, is it then meaningful that the course content gives psychology students a single-window-view that they have to learn by heart? Many of us agree that psychology education should become more meaningful.

The present scenario of psychology in India

The content

If we look at the syllabi and course content of the Psychology courses in Indian universities, we see that they are dominated by Western psychology. Many of the Indian universities were founded by the British and the ones that came into being after Independence are based on the same model. The course content is largely taken from the West, ignoring the treasures of Indian psychology. Traditional Western psychotherapy, for example, concentrates on how to remove blocks, to overcome neurotic conflicts by delving into these. It also tries to develop cognitive and behavioural strategies for making people function well in a certain context. It focuses on the outer layers of life and deals mainly with the surface or outer nature of the human being. This is understandable when we realise that psychology as a discipline was born hardly 150 years ago and if we recall the historic trend of the West, sketched in a few lines at the beginning of this workshop.

Indian psychology has a much wider scope: it starts from the inner nature, from who we are in the essence of our being. It deals with the relation of our outer and inner nature; it acknowledges the fact that the soul comes down on earth for a new experience, for growth, for evolution of consciousness. It concentrates on self-development, on how to enlarge positive thoughts and feelings, by taking the highest and the deepest as its base. None of these approaches should be made compulsory in sound psychology education. Each human being should have the freedom to find out where to position him/herself on this ascending ladder of consciousness. But in order to achieve this, psychology students should be exposed to both systems and be provided with a learning environment in which they can experience the course content for themselves through self-observation and open-ended reflection.

Let us see how we can reformulate the objectives of psychology education, making them more student-centered.

The methodology of an integrative approach

How can we help the students to learn with their whole being and not only with their mind? A first step for changing the learning process of the students is to look at the course not in terms of information that is to be transferred, but in terms of how this content can be worked through and utilised to develop the qualities, abilities and skills that are required to function well as psychologists. The content is to be offered in such a way that it helps the students to find themselves while studying.

To achieve this we start with re-formulating content related issues in terms of qualities and abilities to be developed by the students. In this way the content of the courses becomes also a means for self-development of the students.

The list below shows how this can be done and mentions a few of such abilities.

The objectives of the psychology course:

Abilities in students related to the study of the content of the courses; cognitive abilities

  1. The ability to become aware in oneself of the different dimensions of self and consciousness.
  2. The ability to understand how these concepts differ in meaning in various schools of thought.
  3. The ability to reflect independently on these various approaches; how they could be applied and how this would effect daily life of oneself and of one’s clients.

How will this fit in with the content of the existing courses?

Example

While studying Western psychology let the emphasis be on what can be utilised and how this can be utilised in the Indian context. While working with graduates we could ask them to pay a lot of attention to ability 3, –to reflect independently on these various approaches; how they could be applied and how this would effect daily life. E.g., there is a tremendous difference in approach between CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) and Client Centered Counseling. Each asks for a very different outlook and personality of the therapist. If we allow students to reflect on these enormous differences, it will help them to find an approach more in harmony with their own being. Since both these approaches are alien to India, some students may want to find an approach more embedded in their own culture. In the classroom we have to give time and space for reflection, because ach student is unique and must find an approach that is in harmony with his/her self.

It is useful to link ability 3 with ability 1, to become aware in oneself of the different dimensions of self and consciousness. This will help the student to find his/her svabhava, his/her inner strength. In this way each student, guided by his/her own inner capacities and qualities, can make his/her own synthesis of Eastern and Western psychology, which can be put to use as soon as he/she has a job.

This innovation will only be effective if it is coupled with a change in attitude of the teacher. A little while ago we discussed some of the qualities for creating a learning environment where the students feel welcomed to discover themselves, where there is mutual trust. For this the teacher has to change from a taskmaster into a facilitator of learning experiences. If such a learning environment is not present, it is not possible for a students to look freely within. They are so used to give the answers that the teacher wants to hear, that it will take time for them to open up. A change in methodology requires a change in attitude of teacher and students.

What this innovation brings about is a shift from forcing the students to learn the course content by heart to encouraging them to develop self-awareness, leading to self-knowledge and self-development, leading to a self-preparation for work in harmony with one’s very own svabhava.

Next follows an example of this new approach with undergraduates related to ability 3–to reflect independently on these various approaches and how they would effect daily life.

A technique that can be quite effective for acquiring a deeper understanding is the group discussion. Many of us use this technique now and then, but a group discussion becomes much more effective when it is backed up with self-observation.

In most colleges the content of the Child Development course contains Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s Theory of Levels of Moral Development. This theory touches directly on personal experiences that life has given our students and ourselves. We all have gone through value conflicts and fear of punishment, and many of us remember such situations as very painful events or even now malfunction in certain situations due to this. With the relation, often the conflict, between man’s outward life and the urge of his inner being, we are touching one of the core issues of our existence.

Possible lesson plan:

After a lecture in which Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s theories are explained, we can have a short discussion that could be started with the question "Who of you can give an example from daily life of any of the levels of this theory?" At the end of the class the students are asked to observe how almost every day they meet situations that are related to these theories. For the next class they are asked to report in writing on at least one such situation. This will form the input for the next discussion class. Dependent on the relation of the teacher with the students this can become either a more technical discussion where the theories are thoroughly understood and tested against the input, or, a more personal class where the students will talk about their own difficulties with being honest in a authoritarian environment etc.

The result of this integrated approach is that the concepts of the course content are studied and understood thoroughly, while at the same time the students develop self-awareness and get the opportunity to begin to work on self-improvement based on their own personal observations.

Indian psychology with a natural emphasis on positive thoughts and feelings can be brought in in a natural way. Without putting pressure on the students it may encourage them to look deeper and foster ethical development based on the soul.

Development of qualities and abilities and skills in the students

We have seen through a few examples how in psychology education the emphasis can shift to reflection and experiential understanding of the theories of the course content; in this way the course content becomes a means for self-development of the students. In an integrated approach the content is never only an aim in itself, a content that has to be memorised; always the relation between the content and what this content means for the individual self and world is the central issue.

The content as a means for self-development of the students

Let us formulate a few of the objectives for self-growth.

Abilities and qualities in students related to personal development

There are many personal abilities to be developed by psychology students during their study; only a few are mentioned here, e.g.:

  1. The capacity to reflect on one’s life experience and understand the learning that took place within a semester, and the ability to report this effectively, orally and/or in writing.
  2. Awareness of one’s personal growth.
  3. The ability to articulate one’s personal philosophy.
  4. Reflection on one’s responsibility as a psychologist.

Self-observation is a natural part of Indian psychology. We look at the world through our own filters and for functioning well as a psychologist it is important to become aware of these filters. Here is an example of how this could work in our day-to-day teaching with first year students.

WORKSHEET:

Introduction to self-observation

Find out how much you are aware of your own nature

  • Are you more a leader or a follower?
  • Are you more emotional or mental?
  • Are you more the past, the present or the future?
  • Are you more like a cloud or the earth?
  • Are you more like a giver or a receiver?

After answering these questions the concept of self-observation is introduced. A discussion can be started with the question, "Is it helpful for a psychologist to understand the motives behind her/his own actions and reactions?" At the end of the class the students are asked to observe themselves and jot down for the next class some interesting incidents. In the beginning it is helpful to give the students a focuspoint, like: observe what causes anger in you and observe how you react to the anger of others. After some time most students will start choosing their own focuspoints.

Another easy to introduce technique is to provide CHECKLISTS for the students. They are especially meant for helping students to get started with conscious self-development. The aim of a checklist is to help students to keep up their effort in an area where they want to change themselves. A checklist provides them insight in how much progress they have made in this area. (We can not force self-development on the students, they have to start this out of free will and filling up a checklist should not be made compulsory.)

Here is a checklist related to learning to make conscious choices. To show students the relevance of checklists and self-observation, a discussion could be started on peer pressure, which is one of the areas of Social Psychology that each one of us has experienced. Most of us have experienced situations where pressures to conform forced us to behave in ways that made us uncomfortable. Most teachers know too well how peer pressure can influence negatively, sometimes even ruin, a healthy self-development. It is certainly a topic that will grip students. To introduce the topic, students can be asked to fill in a checklist by ticking the statements that they can answer with ‘yes’.

CHECKLIST:

Choice

Tick mark the statements that you can answer with "yes".

  • I hardly dare to disagree with my peers when making a choice.
  • I dare to differ from my peers when they choose to do something that I do not like.
  • I am able to explain to others what guided me in my choice.
  • I do not want to run the risk to be teased by being different from my peers.
  • I do not mind being all alone.
  • I feel unhappy when I am all alone.

This checklist can be followed up by a discussion in many different ways: self-observation, making conscious choices and the role of the will, overcoming fear, etc. A checklist is more useful when the list is meant for self-improvement and each student sets him/herself a small task. (Adding statements for self-improvement should not be made compulsory. How to add statements can once be shown and done in class; later the sensitivity of the teacher is the best guide for introducing more checklists to all or to some students. Checklists should never be used as a technique to discipline students).

Here is an example: students who want to concentrate on a certain area for self-improvement add individually to the checklist a small task in a few personal statements, like "I will tell my friends that I do not want to go to a movie with a lot of violence." or "I feel I hurt myself when I go out with people who force me to drink. Next time I will tell them that I stay home." or "I want to seek the company of new friends who are not rowdy." Students work on these statements for a certain period of time through self-observation. After this period of time the checklist is filled up again. The tick marks will give the student insight in the areas where they made improvement and the areas where they have still to work more.

In general, it is very useful to link up checklists with the course content. "Motivation" is another area where checklists can provide a lot of meaningful experiences.

CONCLUSION

In this workshop we explored the need for change in the objectives and methods of psychology education. If we want to implement some of these changes, a different approach regarding the content of teaching and a change in the teaching-learning process is required. To achieve this we have to be willing to change ourselves: the way we teach and the way we relate to the students depend on who we are in the classroom.

The main objective is to introduce a living psychology and this means that it can not be taught as a body of facts that has to be memorised. Learning by rote causes loss of meaning! The course content has to help the student to develop a clearer self-view and world-view; diversity and plurality are the basis of existence. Learning by experience through self-observation will make the study of psychology meaningful and will prepare the students for their work. To bring this about we have to provide a trustful learning environment in which real self-observation can take place; an environment that is open to change and self-development without compulsion in a fixed direction. Some of the ‘teaching aids’ for providing this learning through experience are worksheets and checklists.

What is asked from us on a personal level?

The suggestions that have been given here for a change in content and method of teaching psychology are meant to serve as starters, for each teacher is unique and must find his/her unique way of teaching and learning. Any change starts with ourselves. Most academics hardly had any training in educational techniques. Practically all of us have been taught in a traditional way. The forces that resist a change are thus quite strong. But it is the gift of the mind that enables us human beings to witness ourselves and our surroundings. With the help of the mind we can construct and reconstruct our world in a constant development. If we are somewhere dissatisfied with the present teaching-learning process and want to implement some of the changes mentioned in this presentation we can make a shift. The main shift is: from a task master of a prescribed content that is to be memorised, to a facilitator of living educational experiences which are partly prescribed and partly chosen by the students. This asks for a shift in the attitude with which we teach. There is in our nature a force that resists change, but somewhere in us there is also the seeker and lover of the new, the unknown. Somewhere there is the yearning for a better world. It may be time to make a conscious choice.

Coming back to the beginning of this workshop: let us take a positive view and see the present turmoil in the world as a necessary means for destroying outdated formations, so that a new world, based on higher values and a deeper harmony, can take birth. There is no doubt that the wisdom behind Indian psychology can become a pathway to bring about greater harmony. Human beings will have to rely increasingly on their inner strength to come to terms with the world. The West has started looking for answers from a deeper level. A ‘living’ Psychology based on the Indian psyche could be a tremendous contribution to the future destiny of this earth.

Even if it may seem difficult in the first instance to start, "a beginning can always be made", says Sri Aurobindo in his book ‘The Human Cycle’, "for by the doing the difficulty will be solved."