Intellectual Competence Knowing About And Knowing

Intellectual competence involves "knowing about." In our graduate training, internships, supervised experience, continuing education, and other contexts, we learn the kind of information about empirical research, theories, interventions, and other topics that we need for our work. We learn to question the information and evaluate its validity and relevance for particular situations and populations. We learn to create and test hypotheses about assessment and interventions.

Part of intellectual competence is learning which clinical approaches, strategies, or techniques show evidence or promise of effectiveness. If clinical methods are to avoid charlatanism, hucksterism, and well-meaning ineffectiveness, they must work (at least some of the time). Thus, the supposed competence of the practitioner has little meaning if his or her methods lack competence. In his provocative article "The Scientific Basis of Psychotherapeutic Practice: A Question of Values and Ethics," Singer (1980) emphasized the importance of clinicians remaining knowledgeable concerning the emerging research basis of the methods they use. Intellectual competence also involves learning what approaches have been shown to be invalid or perhaps even harmful. Stricker (1992) wrote, "Although it may not be unethical to practice in the absence of knowledge, it is unethical to practice in the face of knowledge. We all must labor with the absence of affirmative data, but there is no excuse for ignoring contradictory data" (p. 544).

Intellectual competence also means recognizing what we do not know. We may know about depression in adults but not about depression in children. We maybe familiar with the culture of one Asian population but not others. We may understand the degree to which the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 is useful in assessing malingering but not whether it is useful in assessing leadership abilities.

Intellectual competence also involves knowing how to do certain clinical tasks. This aspect of competence is gained through carefully supervised experience. Knowing how to do psychotherapy is not something one can adequately learn solely from reading a book or sitting in a classroom. The APA Ethics Code Standard 2.01c (American Psychological Association, 2002) encourages properly trained psychologists planning to provide services new to them through relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study. In addition, both the APA Ethics Code (Standard 2.03) and the Canadian Psychological Association Ethics Code (Standards IV.3 and IV.4) recognize that knowledge becomes obsolete and that psychologists undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence.

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