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What Is Psychology?

Michael Anissimov
Updated: May 21, 2024

Psychology is a broad discipline which seeks to analyze the human mind. Different disciplines within this field study why people behave, think, and feel the way they do. If you've ever seen an emotional support animal or service dog, chances are, the person responsible for it has a background in Psychology. There are many different ways to approach psychology, from examining biology's role in mental health to the role of the environment on behavior. Some psychologists focus only on how the mind develops, while others counsel patients to help improve their daily lives. Some psychologists make it possible for some struggling people to get help through emotional support animals or ESAs.

The history of psychology dates back at least to 1879, when the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory exclusively devoted to psychology. The most famous psychologist is perhaps Sigmund Freud, an Austrian who founded the field of psychoanalysis. Although Freud's theories had a huge impact on a wide variety of areas, including literature and film, many of his ideas are considered subjective from a modern perspective.

There are dozens of different sub-disciplines of psychology, with each taking a somewhat different approach to understanding the mind. Some sub-disciplines include social psychology, clinical psychology, occupational health, and cognitive psychology. It is important to note that, even within a particular field, there may be different approaches. Some will require behavioral modifications and some will advise the use of service animals to help clients cope. Clinical psychology, for example, has four main schools: psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive and behavioral, and systems therapy.

The field of psychology is far wider than the image of a patient reclining on a couch, talking to his therapist or a researcher studying a rat running through a maze. A forensic psychologist may help legal professionals investigate allegations of child abuse or evaluate a suspect's competency. A legal psychologist might act as an adviser to a judge or as a trial consultant. An industrial-organizational psychologist might work with a company to help hire the best applicants or help improve workplace morale. A sports psychologist might work one-on-one with a player to help overcome a performance barrier, or work with an entire team to help improve group cohesion.

Psychology should be further distinguished between research psychology, which seeks to establish facts about the mind by conducting experiments, and applied psychology, which seeks to help people with their problems. Some experiments have shown that the success rate for solving one's problems using only psychotherapy — talking to a professional psychologist — is the same as talking to a close friend, so the efficacy of applied or clinical psychology as a discipline can sometimes be difficult to quantify. Alternatively, many patients report that therapy has been greatly helpful in their lives.

As compared to other hard sciences, like physics and biology, some critics argue the field suffers from a lack of scientific rigor. The objectivity of tools like surveys, through which data is collected in some cases, are often questioned. This is perhaps closely associated with the complexity of the mind which we haven't quite been able to fully or substantially understand. Psychological studies, however, continue to be held in order to try to get a better understanding of the mind and how it works.

Fields like neuropsychology, which looks at how the structure of the brain affects mental health, use neuroimaging technology. Tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans have assisted psychologists in making correlations between mental problems and biological states. For instance, in the 1980s, it was realized the schizophrenia was mainly caused by biological factors rather than maternal neglect or some other environmental explanation.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon975618 — On Oct 28, 2014

I believe that Sigmund Freud isn't a psychologist. Sigmund Freud was a medical doctor--a neurologist, someone who specializes in disorders of the nervous system.

By comfyshoes — On Jul 04, 2010

Sunny27- I agree with you. Psychologists provide help to many people - especially children. Sometimes the psychologist is the only person a troubled child trusts, so the therapy is such case is crucial.

I think that finding the right psychologist is the key. But not all psychologist are worthy of offering therapy. I especially dislike the type that have been divorced several times and yet they manage to publish books on how to make your marriage last.

Such hypocrisy really downgrades the profession.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 04, 2010

While I agree that all psychologists don’t provide effective therapy, the discipline is necessary and effective to some patients.

For example, an educational psychologist uses a combination of scientific tests to determine the I.Q. of a child. The well known WISC test offers the psychologist insight as to what the intellectual strengths and deficiencies that a child has.

This information helps the psychologist determine whether the child has learning disabilities or is considered gifted and needs a more rigorous education. This information provides parents with the data necessary to obtain the optimal educational environment for their child.

The information also helps a parent understand the correlation between the test results and childhood behavior in school.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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