The Biological Dimension
A person's biological makeup is an important part of their behavior. Although it may seem like biological aspects should be focused on within the medical profession, the way general health impacts a person can be very influential to how one leads their life. Individual health needs and concerns can cause varied interactions within one's systems, connecting personal biology to the environment.
Human beings are comprised of biological systems. These systems work together to maintain a person's health which in turn leads to how they behave. While Human Services professionals are not medical specialists, the way these biological systems function can be cause for concern within the field of Human Services. The following is an overview of some of the body's systems and what they implicate for behavior:
- Nervous System - comprised of three subsystems that control cognitive functioning, sensations, perceptions, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, information processing, and involuntary actions of the body such as breathing, digestion, and heartbeat; damage to this system can impact behavior through brain injury, loss of brain functioning, imbalanced neurotransmitters, or erratic emotional regulation
- Endocrine System - regulates the secretion of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and insulin that influence growth, metabolism, development, learning, and memory; conditions related to this system include diabetes, thyroid disease, and hormone regulation disorders
- Immune System - made up of organs and cells that defend the body against disease; disorders related to this system include common viruses and bacteria, arthritis, HIV, and AIDS
- Cardiovascular System - composed of the heart and the blood circulatory system; deals with diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and kidney failure
- Musculoskeletal System - supports and protects the body and provides motion; disorders related to this system include multiple sclerosis, bone disease, and weakened skeletal muscles
- Reproductive System - internal and external organs related to sexuality and gender; responsible for sexual identity, activity, and hormones
Within the field of Human Services, the biological dimension of self can be affected by access to appropriate health care, environmental exposure, socioeconomic status, health behaviors such as smoking or active lifestyle, chronic stress, and the community in which one lives in. Biological factors cannot be overlooked when working with individuals and have to be addressed as part of an individual's ecosystem.
The Psychological Dimension
A person's psyche is made up of the cognitions and emotions they possess. Although they are two different things, they are very connected at an internal level. Again, similar to the biological dimension, this is an individualized part of a human being that greatly impacts behavior.
Cognitions are thoughts. They refer to the mental process of thinking about activities an individual is aware of or becomes aware of once reflection occurs. It includes taking in information from the environment, blending that information with what is already known, and coming up with an action plan based on that synthesis. Key elements of one's cognitions are their beliefs or what is held to be true.
There are many theoretical perspectives to explain and understand cognition. A premise of these theories of cognition is that conscious thinking is the foundation for almost all behavior and emotions. For these theories, emotions are defined as physiological responses that follow cognitions. In other words, thoughts produce emotions.
Examples of theories of cognition include:
- Cognitive Development Theory (Jean Piaget)
- Information Processing Theory
- Social Learning Theory
- Theory of Multiple Intelligences
- Theories of Moral Development
When working with clients in Human Services, cognitive theory can be helpful to assess where thinking and/or beliefs have led to undesirable behavior. It is important to note that because a cognitive theory focuses on thoughts proceeding emotions, it also implies a person can actively correct their actions and/or beliefs by making changes to their thoughts. If a person's conscious thinking leads to desired behavior, it is considered healthy. If a behavior is considered unhealthy and change is desired, distortions in cognitions need to be pointed out and adjusted. The role of the Human Services professional is to help the client identify these unhealthy thoughts and beliefs and replace them with new ones.
Emotions are feelings. Humans are physiologically programmed to experience some emotions such as happiness and fear. Other emotions are learned, at least to some extent. As more feelings are processed, the body's systems work together to maintain emotional responses.
The source of emotions is a highly debated subject in psychology, with numerous theoretical perspectives emphasizing several physiological, psychological, or social alternatives. Some of these theories include:
- Physiology-based Theory
- Psychoanalytic Theory (Sigmund Freud)
- Attribution Theory
- Theory of Emotional Intelligence
- Social Constructionist Theory
- Symbolic Interaction Theory
In Human Services, these theories can be helpful to understand how an emotional experience occurred. Often clients need to grasp why they are behaving or reacting a certain way before they can begin to modify their behaviors. Individuals may also distort their cognitions due to a desire to avoid a negative emotional reaction. Regulation of emotional experiences can greatly improve behavioral outcomes which in turn can cause improved emotional development.
The Spiritual Dimension
Spirituality conceptualizes a person's search for purpose, meaning, and connection with the universe. It is different from the institution of religion although the two are often thought of as the same thing. In Human Services, spirituality is referred to in terms of spiritual expression that may or may not include religious beliefs. Because spirituality is a deeply personal thing, it cannot be overlooked when analyzing an individual's behavior.
Within American society, diversity among spiritual practices is great. There is a growing number of religious organizations and spiritual traditions that differ from person to person. Common symbolic themes throughout spirituality include morals, the meaning and purpose of one's life, connection to others, altruism, and prayer or meditation. While there are several theoretical perspectives on spirituality and behavior with emphasis placed on development to higher levels of faith or consciousness.
Cultural diversity impacts spirituality on several levels based on race and ethnicity, sex and gender, sexual orientation, and age. When working with clients not only is it crucial to validate their spiritual beliefs, it is equally necessary to have a personal understanding of one's own spirituality. Being sensitive to the beliefs of others will make the paths to behavior exploration easier to maneuver and analyze.