Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another madcap idea

This is my column today.

In my column last Monday, I wrote about how the proposal to require drivers to undergo neuro-psychological testing as precondition before driver’s licenses can be granted or renewed was an impractical idea, particularly in this country where almost everything carries a tag price and those with money get away with practically anything. If implemented, the proposal will simply open another window for corruption at the Land Transportation Office, one of the government agencies notorious for corruption.

Also on Monday, a news article was published in this paper about the Vatican’s move to re-allow psychological testing for seminarians who wish to become priests of the Catholic Church.

As I wrote last Monday, what makes psychological testing impractical is the fact that in order for results to be reliable and valid, they need to be conducted properly. This means strictly observing a number of testing protocols. The conduct of the test, the interpretation of the results, and the formulation of the diagnosis require a high level of expertise, which unfortunately, is not widely available in this country. The results are very seldom conclusive anyway; most psychologists play it safe by coaching their diagnoses by calling them indicators.

This is precisely why most of us in the human resource management profession limit our employment tests to very basic psychological tests. Very few people pursue advanced studies in clinical psychology and fewer still choose to practice the specialization. It’s not difficult to figure out why. Mental health is not exactly a popular discipline in the Philippines. There’s a lot of stigma attached to psychological counseling. Even kids who get summoned to the guidance counselor’s office for regular counseling get ribbed a lot and are automatically suspected of having committed mischief.

So there’s a lot of static surrounding psychological testing in this country. It amazes me therefore when people prescribe it as an ultimate screening mechanism. What is even worse is when people want to use it as the primary criteria to qualify people.

Given the inherent limitations of psychological tests, I would caution anyone against looking at results as Gospel truth. It can be dangerous and extremely discriminatory. In fact, most high-level psychological tests carry strict disclaimers about how the results of the tests should not be used to discriminate against other people.

Thus, I was aghast when some bureaucrat proposed psychological testing for our migrant workers earlier this year. The impetus for the madcap idea was the growing list of migrant workers who have been unable to cope with the pressures of working under harsh conditions in another country. The problem is not just implementation— obviously, conducting psychological testing for millions of people every day is an administrative nightmare. Let’s not anymore discuss how the set-up is prone to corruption.

The main problem is that the measure presupposes that ability to cope with difficult situations—or even mental health for that matter—is a hundred percent predictable. Or that all cases are congenital, latent or innate. It negates situational cases such as for example, temporary insanity or rage. It also disregards environmental factors that cause certain behaviors to surface. There’s a whole universe of possibilities out there that can cause certain behaviors to surface. So technically speaking, a psychological test can fail to detect certain signs simply because they weren’t there when the tests were conducted and only surfaced later on.

And even in cases where the indicators that are being sought are detected, it would still be unethical to discriminate against anyone on the basis of medical or psychological conditions. When we consider that even problems that are caused by medical conditions such as chemical imbalance are manageable and are treatable, the whole concept of using psychological tests to deny anyone equal opportunity to gain employment or entrance into a group smacks of unethical conduct. It’s plain and simple discrimination.

These are some of the reasons why I have serious reservations about the proposed use of psychological testing for seminarians who want to become priests of the Catholic Church.

The Vatican was specific about the tests being voluntary; but a number of our bishops glossed over that part. In fact, one bishop gave his full support to the measure citing how the tests were standard practice “during his time.” Of course the whole point that the fact that such tests were done during his time and yet did not deter sexual abuse from being committed by priests was lost on him.

The article that was published in this paper was a tamer version of what came out in other media outlets. One television broadcast chose to be more specific, and well, more controversial: The Catholic Church will conduct psychological tests to deny homosexuals from becoming priests.

Many reports focused on three main issues that are supposed to be detected by psychological testing: Ability to practice celibacy, homosexual tendencies, and tendency to commit sexual abuse (coached as deviant sexual behavior). However, most chose to focus on the generalizations that the Vatican made, mainly, that inability to practice celibacy or that homosexuality is a predictor of sexual abuse.

I have already presented the inherent limitations of psychological tests that show why relying on them alone to detect ability to practice celibacy, homosexual tendencies, and tendency to commit sexual abuse is unrealistic. And now comes the sweeping generalization that the detection of these tendencies will stop sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is not necessarily about sex, just as sexual harassment is not always about sex—it is most often about the wrong use of power. There are other factors that cause it. Focusing on the sexual aspect makes for good headlines, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

The irony really is that the Church seems fixated on sex to the point that even its discussion on sexual abuse is limited to the sexual nature of the act. For an institution that is supposed to uphold celibacy, it is funny that the Church seems too absorbed on sex and sexual issues.

2 comments:

Twin-Skies said...

1. Regarding the suggestion for driving tests.

I was actually interested in the idea of using psych tests to filter out incompetent drivers, though you had me there with the possible corruption that will influence the process.

Not to sound cruel, but sometimes I wish we could just rely on natural selection - let the idiots who failed to evolve proper conduct when it comes to driving voluntarily remove themselves from the gene pool via fatal accidents. What sucks is that they always involve innocent bystanders when they crash and burn...

2. On the matter of the Church and sex.

There is an old saying in video gaming that's aimed at a lot of these so-called "morals advocates":

Lemme get this straight, you were looking at a game known for its graphic portrayal of decapitations, gore, blood, disembowelment, and kills via bizzare means, and you're telling me the only reason you banned it is because of nudity?

You know the world is f***ed up when it's the boobies that get people upset, and not excessive violence.

Bong C. Austero said...

twin-skies,
yeah, it sounds cruel, but i guess we can all be forgiven for thinking that way every now and then.

i completely agree with the video game analogy.

thanks

bong