Many students of psychology (including myself) are shocked when they discover that the study of statistics is necessary. “Maths!!! I just want to help people!” is the usual cry of derision. is there a purpose in having potential psychologists, who do not intend to do research, suffer through the complexities and esoteric boredom of stats?
Simply put: Yes.
The statistical arts are basically a numerical summary of a set of recorded data. A sexual abuse therapist may see over 150 children in a year. Of these, 50 have anger management issues, 14 are promiscuous, 75 are diagnosed as experiencing ADHD, 10 are withdrawn, 5 appear to have no negative psycho-social behaviours, affect or cognitions, whilst another 5 have already perpetrated against other children.
The therapist would have more difficulty developing an awareness of the differences and similarities across the children if statistics were not available to summarise observations.
Statistics will also inform the therapist to associations and relationships between the characteristics and experiences of the children. For example, between diagnoses of ADHD, sexual abuse, age, gender and likelihood to experience abuse again.
The statistical information helps the children because the therapist grows in knowledge by reflecting on patterns of behaviour and psychological well being. The therapist is now able to formulate hypotheses about interventions to aid a specific set of inappropriate behaviours, affect or cognitions. Using statistics the hypotheses can be tested, leading the therapist to better methods of intervention & evaluation; the child is lead to a better quality of life.
Communication of the therapist’s observations and research conclusions to other sexual abuse workers extends understanding and creates better interventions and supports for abused children.
This is an example of why we have statistics in psychology…to achieve our goal to help people.
Florence Nightingale (pioneer nurse, writer and avid statistician) agreed:
Statistic…the most important science in the whole world: for upon it depends the practical application of every other science and of every art; the one science essential to all political and social administration, all education, all
organisation based upon experience, for it only gives the results of our experience.
A psychology degree places an expectation on you in the workplace to be able to;
- design research
- collect data in an unbiased (as possible) manner
- analyse observations
- determine if a change has occurred or not and to what extent
- draw logical conclusions from the results to inform further research and understanding
There is also the responsibility for you, as a psychologist to;
- identify interventions that really work (requires reading of research articles)
- use psychometric instruments to measure psychological states
- facilitate learning, development and change for the individual/group
- argue for or against decisions that directly impact on the wellbeing of others
These goals cannot be met without the use of statistics.
Ultimately, raw individual data has little use if it cannot be synthesized into a larger overall picture; too much individual information leads to overload and is meaningless. Summaries provided by statistics create meaning from aggregate data that can be used to help people to live more fulfilling and powerful lives.
Informed decision making for the therapist and the client requires knowledge and use of statistics.