Clinical Epistemology

Clinical epistemology is a method of viewing problems developed by O’Hanlon and Wilk (1987). In this method, problems are broken down into actions that would be caught on video. Anything not caught on video, like underlying reasons for exhibiting the problems, are not looked at. O’Hanlon and Wilk take a non-constructivist view of the context in which the problem occurs. They believe in what Ashby (1960) termed as essential variables. These are the variables that, when present, result in the problem being exhibited. O’Hanlon and Wilk believed that such variables can be identified to occur in a sequential circular manner and then interrupted in a variety of methods. If interrupted, the person would then “learn” to do something different other than the problem (1987).

For example, a family member may perform wonderfully in all varieties of settings, except for one. It is necessary to completely understand all of the parameters that establish that setting for what it is. This is done by first identifying all of the contextual factors that are present when the person is under functioning. These factors may be initially identified as a,b,c,d,e,f. Upon further questioning, it may be discovered that the client can perform under the specific setting unless factors a & b are part of the setting. Factors c, d, e, &, f only coincidently occur at the same time a & b are occurring, but do not make up the setting that the individual under functions in (O’Hanlon & Wilk, 1987).

For example, a father may say that he always yells at his kids during supper time. The variables are a-yelling, b-his kids, c-the father, and d-supper time. Upon further questioning, it is discovered that the father only yells at his kids, during supper, when he has a lot of work left to do, otherwise the father uses a quiet tone of voice. This would mean that variable d-supper is not a necessary variable. However, variable e- work left to be done, might be a necessary variable.

Upon further questioning it is discovered that father only yells at the kid when variable e is present. A further examination into the description of variable e reveals that for yelling to occur the work must be composed of more than three items that must be completed within an hour’s time. Finally, after exploring a variety of contexts, it is discovered that variable b-his kids, simply happen to be present and all that is necessary for father to yell are tasks greater than three with a time limit of one hour.

The sequence in the necessary variables are important to recognize. In the example given, the yelling comes after three urgent tasks have accumulated themselves and not before. A change in the father’s future behavior would require all of the necessary variables to be present and then a deviation of the sequence to occur (O’Hanlon & Wilk, 1987).