Education SHOULD override Experience

Have you ever been told you don’t have enough experience? Or need more experience. Any derivation of the implication you need experience for a job? This includes a comment on something in life in general? Ever heard the cop-out of, “once you are older you will understand?” I have had it happen numerous times and I find it quite frustrating, condescending and flat out offensive. Clearly many times its also used to avoid disagreement. I have found many times if not avoiding disagreement, I have already know the person does not have enough information to debate the topic appropriately.

My main point is education actually circumvents the need for years of said experience. Otherwise, if I am not correct why are we not back in the days of apprenticeships? These lasted years or even decades in all domains. Your dad was a blacksmith, you would become one, and train for years in it to shoe a horse. That is not how life works now.

There are a few base problems with the notion of having “experience.” First, when is there enough? When I have asked a person how many days, weeks, months or years you need for a given ability or task… Usually, at this question I get a blank stare. Even worse, many times they will then invoke their own personal experience of the number of “days, etc” they have had to do the task. Here are some examples in different domains of life of how much is necessary.

Point #1 How much time?

Driving (most can relate)
How many hours of training does one need to become a competent driver? How much experience to be a good, safe, or great driver? How many weeks, or years? Take a driver that has driven one year in total after their test. Now, compare them to someone who has been driving for 30 years. In this example, we all can clearly guess its the person with 30 years. However, the next point is even more important, and will override years of experience. However, first are some examples in different areas for those who can relate, still on the topic of time.

Psychology
In my MA and Phd programs we had to accrue enough hours to be deemed competent to do therapy, assessment, supervision etc. Now after, a person with a PhD in counseling or clinical finishes school they need a year long internship. Well, I recently read a peer reviewed article in which they indicated they studied the need for this internship year. The article indicated there was no measurable outcomes between the psychologists who did the year internship, and those that did not. Here is where I take a personal vendetta against psychology even though I love it. We are the ones who tout, evidence based practice. We are trained in these sophisticated research methodologies, and especially testing and assessment. We should be the ones being the model, and showing the way to measure these things and practicing/training in an evidence based way. Here we are mandating an internship when evidence is NOT showing a difference between groups. Shame on psychology and the American Psychological Association. Again, how many hours of supervised therapy, assessment, and supervision do we need? Please show me the outcome research substantiating your claim. The onus is on you to show a need, not for me to refute a claim that has no basis. As Hitchens Razor states… “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Medical
I have known physicians (OB/GYN) who have been required to deliver a certain (forget the exact number) number of babies before being deemed qualified. The question any good researcher will ask is…Why that number? Have you tested physicians who have made that many deliveries against physicians who have accomplished half that number, or double that number? Second follow up, was there a meaningful difference between those three different groups of physicians. The researcher will then say. “If I cannot tell a difference between those three groups you have no scientifically valid reason for any three of those numbers and need to establish a baseline number that does show a difference.”

Point #2 Variation in experience

Second/Most important point
When we invoke the word experience, we actually are expecting without saying (implied premise), that they have a VARIED experience. First is the number of whatever it is in the above examples… Hours, days, weeks, months, years. The problem is that this concept of VARIATION, “goes without saying” when invoking experience.To illucidate this I have applied this to the above domains.

Think of the driving example, since most reading this can relate to driving. Imagine, the person with one year of experience grew up in Minnesota as I did. We learned how to drive in heavy rain, inches of snow, on ice, and black ice, hail, and even got to hydroplane. We learned how to steer out of a spin, or attempt to control a spin on ice and snow. Keep the wheel straight when hydroplaning. Now, if you compare us Minnesotans with one year of driving “experience” to someone with 30 years of “experience” think about this. They may have merely driven in southern Californian weather, with maybe some rain… There really is no comparison. The Minnesotan will be better. Furthermore, to take this example one step further. I dated a German citizen. For those of you, who have been to Europe, you know the streets can be extremely narrow. Now, she had to take her drivers test, on a manual (stick shift), and had to park the car on a hill facing up the hill. Then if when parked facing uphill, and attempting to start forward up the hill if the car rolled back at all, it was an automatic failure. It is normal in Germany for people to take the test two, three, and even four times to pass it. Plus, these people are driving (due to latitude) in the same weather conditions as the Minnesotans I speak of. So, arguably they probably are better drivers due to the increased testing standards, plus narrow streets, and same terrible weather conditions. That would at least be my hypothesis going into researching Germans vs Minnesotans.

Think of the psychology example. If I have seen patients for 1000 hours, who are 16/17 year old white girls, with anorexia, how varied is that? Should I take on patients who have depression, anxiety, PTSD, couples issues, who are hispanic? Clearly no. In the medical example, the physician has delivered 1000 babies, with absolutely no complications (which would never happen). How competent are they then to take on “high risk” (however they define that) pregnancies?

I have seen for years these questions/points tend to rub people the wrong way, and they walk away uncomfortable. This is skepticism people, they must be questioned.

Point #3 Education should override experience

In conjunction with these two above mentioned points, number/time and variation, critical to the discussion is education. The point is education is a shortcut to having to do the literally thousands of hours of experience. Much less worry about variation as well. In a MA program in counseling we learned how to ask questions. We learned an overarching theory of how people create their own misery, and problems in life. We don’t need to have 50 patients commit suicide to figure it out how to predict it. We are taught what to look for.

In driving, you learn cognitively, without a wheel, to hold the wheel straight when hydroplaning. Otherwise, if you turn, you will go off the road when the tires catch. You don’t have to be in 20 accidents to figure it out.

In medicine, they learn time frames, for the umbilical cord being wrapped around a babies neck, to keep them alive. They don’t have to have 20 babies die, and watch the clock to figure it out.

Education gives us overarching concepts, and even the nitty gritty details of how to manage certain circumstances. This is the goal of education. We each don’t need to suffer all these failures (learning opportunities) to get the point. Education, gives us this information on a silver platter. As a personal example, I have not had direct experience doing therapy with someone with schizoid personality disorder. It’s very obscure, and they rarely come to therapy due to the very nature, and definition of the disorder. Most of you have never heard of it. However, with my theoretical orientation, I at least have a game plan on how to deal with them. Of course, I’d refer them to someone more educated on this disorder, but in a pinch I can deal with it.

Once during my training with a psychologist, who had been practicing for 20 years asked my opinion on a diagnosis. This was not a training exercise, he stated “you have studied diagnostic reasoning, what do you think the diagnosis should be?” So he deferred to someone still training to make the call on a diagnosis. This is not to brag but to illustrate we all have our own specialties, especially in graduate level training.

So, the ultimate three points here to take away, are.

One, what is the necessary number of X, or hours to years you need to be deemed competent?

Two, did they have enough varied experience to be deemed competent?

Three, education can and much of the time should override “experience” when done appropriately.

Also, (my psychological opinion) I have noticed it is usually people who don’t have a lot of education who invoke “experience” as being so important. It appears as if they are, hurt, offended, put off, whatever. The point is they are having a negative reaction to the concept of education, versus experience. You have heard people say, “I went to the school of hard knocks.” I am not rejecting experience. I am simply saying that education is the shortcut and superior. It renders experience obsolete in many ways, unless carefully prescribed.

Another important point to note, is experience by definition with a lack of education is as stated in other posts is personal experience. I have numerous times, in relation to psychological concepts have heard people with years! and I mean years with some psychologically related concept, say something that flies completely in the face of either modern education or research. Look back to the post of NOT recommending medication or therapy. I once had a conversation with a man, regarding the foremost relationship expert in the U.S. about relationship psychology. He had been married over 35 years with 3 kids. He said, “I don’t think she’s getting the whole picture, since she doesn’t have any children.” I thought that is ridiculous considering other researchers are naming her as the top researcher, who do have children.

Many of you may be thinking that experience is a part of educational process of which it true in the above examples. True, however, since everyone can relate to driving a car… You simply did not drive as your parent, sat chatted about the days events. Both of you were hyper vigilant and they were talking you through things. Looking over your shoulder. Use your blinker. Creep out to see around a car. All those annoying but necessary commands. Now, you do it without paying active attention to these details. So, that experience, is what I would consider “educational training experience.” There is active attention drawn towards what you are doing in the moment, or worst case, after a particular task has been executed. Where you look back, assess, and think about what you did in a critical way, complementing and criticizing your own actions. This last point is what we did in therapy training.

The beauty of research/education (more for research in a later post) is it will circumvent bias, plus you have large numbers that are representative of a population under study. It is peer reviewed, and as researchers we are testing against our hypothesis. Also, for research to be reputable, we don’t want simply a novel one shot study reported on the news, but instead something that has been studied again and again and the same result occurs (replicability). As dramatic examples, I can read 100 journal articles, and say that two gay parents are able to raise an emotionally healthy child, just as a straight couple. I can’t witness a hundred couples in an unbiased way, when the 100 journal articles are tapping potentially, over 1000 couples. Furthermore, researchers are putting in safeguards, as written in the articles, which show how it is unbiased.

Again many of you may still be saying that experience is required as part of the educational process, and I agree. However, the experience you gain when in a training program is quite advanced. When I was in graduate school, we had practicum placements. They had to be where I could see a diverse population, and have a licensed therapist, or psychologist supervising us. Other details as well such as discussing ethics, and legal issues. Furthermore, we were expected in supervision with our licensed therapist or psychologist to extensively discuss our reactions to therapy, analyze our own work. Finally, we had assignments in the course associated with the practicum related to the above issues.

Finally, of course the astute reader will ask, “how are we defining varied?” “What is enough variation?” “How is it measured? All legitimate questions.

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