Just about everyone has heard of the field of psychology, but it is difficult to explain what psychology means in its entirety. The simple definition of psychology is “the study of the mind and human behavior.” However, psychology as a field is much more complex than that definition implies. Psychology also includes the study and understanding of why people act a certain way, as well as how people relate to others and themselves.
The practice of psychology has been around for centuries, but it evolved more formally in the late 1800s. William Wundt developed the first experimental psychology laboratory in the late 1870s. The turn of the 20th century also saw great strides in the field of psychology. Scientists and psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov, and Carl Rodgers, contributed to the field, and new subdisciplines of psychology began to emerge. These new areas of psychology continued to lead to a variety of psychology careers and subspecialties.
For instance, cognitive psychology is one known branch of psychology that studies how people think and solve problems. It is based in some part on scientific method. Cognitive psychology began as a subdiscipline in the late 1950s. Research has been conducted in areas such as memory, perception, and knowledge representation. Notable psychologists including George Miller and Steven Pinker helped gain recognition and acceptance of cognitive psychology.
Social psychology is a branch of psychology that studies how people think and behave as a result of the presence of others. Social psychology can be described as a cross between psychology and sociology. A newer branch of psychology has emerged as a result of social psychology: social cognition. Social cognition is the study of how people interpret and remember information from others.
Other branches of psychology continued to develop. Ivan Pavlov developed the theory that behavior can be learned through association. As a result of Pavlov’s research, the concept of behavioral psychology began to take shape. Simply explained, it is the belief that all human behaviors are learned through conditioning.
The theory is that there are two types of conditioning: operant and classical. Operant conditioning develops as a result of punishment or rewards for specific behaviors. In classical conditioning, however, the theory is that a behavior develops in relation to an occurring stimulus. This area of psychology is criticized by some as not taking into consideration that behaviors may not all be learned through conditioning.
Another branch of psychology that is relevant to all humans is developmental psychology. This type of psychology studies how humans think, change, and develop emotionally as they age. Stages of development from infancy to old age are studied. Debates, such as whether nature or nurture play a more important role in a person’s emotional development and personality, have resulted from the study of developmental psychology.
Abnormal psychology is another area of psychology. This branch studies deviant, odd, or abnormal behavior. This may include various types of psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorders. The symptoms, causes, and treatments of people with mental illnesses are studied and researched.
The study of abnormal psychology resulted in the writing and publication of a diagnostic manual. The criteria for various mental illnesses are documented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This book is used by mental health professionals to help determine the criteria for various mental illnesses and disorders.
Professionals within the field of abnormal psychology may use various branches of psychology to help treat those with mental disorders. Cognitive and behavioral psychology approaches may both play a role in teaching people new and healthy thought processes and behaviors.
Throughout time, psychology and its various branches have continually evolved and changed as society changes. Where the future of psychology and its study will go is not certain. However, it is likely it will continue to develop, exploring new worlds of the human psyche as time goes on.
Qualities of a Good Psychology Professional
When deciding if a psychology career is the right choice for you, it is essential to take an honest look at the qualities you possess. For those who want to pursue psychology careers, there are some personal qualities that are helpful to have. Although not all psychology professionals have to have the same qualities, some common ones may lead to success in the field.
One of the most important qualities someone in the field needs is the desire to help others. This may be difficult at times. Some people may not be ready to accept help, which can become frustrating.
Since a large part of working in the psychology field involves working with others, it is important to be a people person, or at least be comfortable with and interested in interacting with a variety of people. Someone who enjoys talking to and meeting new people may be a good fit.
It is also helpful to be able to work well as part of a team. Psychology professionals may work together with social workers, physicians, law enforcement officers, and others toward a common goal. It is important to be able to communicate effectively, not only with the people being helped, but also with other professionals.
Although helping others is the goal in psychology careers, it may not be a quick process. In some situations it may even seem like progress is not being made. Having patience is a much needed quality for professionals in the field. Someone who is patient may have the perseverance to stick with a client or patient, even if progress is slow.
Another one of the most important traits someone in the field can have is compassion. People who need psychology professionals may be hurting. While it may not be physical pain, emotional pain can be just as real and debilitating. Others may have psychiatric illnesses they are dealing with.
Being compassionate is about understanding what another person is going through. This does not mean that someone has had to experience the same thing. Instead, it is the ability to be empathetic. It may, indeed, be this strong compassion that leads someone to the psychology field to begin with.
It is also helpful to be nonjudgmental. That does not mean not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It simply means understanding a person’s actions may be wrong, but not concluding that person to be a certain way. Psychology professionals may try to help people who made choices that are difficult to understand. Some choices may even seem morally wrong. Being nonjudgmental allows you to separate the action from the person and foster growth in more positive directions.
Being even-tempered and emotionally stable are also two essential qualities of someone in the field of psychology. Workers in the field may hear about upsetting situations and events. Some situations may even provoke a reaction of anger. Someone who is even-tempered may be able to deal with certain situations in a calm, rational way.
People who work in the field of psychology need to be ethical and able to maintain confidentiality. Patients or clients will share very private information. Psychology professionals should not discuss cases with their own friends and family members or use such information for their own personal advantage.
Being resourceful is also a helpful quality to have. Psychology professionals may need to locate additional services for clients. It may take research to find these resources.
Having the ability to be open-minded is also a useful quality. Not every patient or client will benefit or respond the same way. It may be necessary to try new approaches and think outside the box to help someone.
Good organizational skills are also a plus for psychology professionals. Working in the field of psychology may mean juggling a large case load or seeing several patients in the same day. Paperwork and proper documentation may also be part of the job. Having the ability to prioritize keeps work organized and will help processes to flow more smoothly.
History of Psychology Careers
Psychology is the scientific study of human thoughts and behaviors. To understand how psychology careers evolved and where they are going today, it is important to have a brief understanding of the history of psychology.
Even as far back as ancient Greece, people studied psychology. As with other areas of science, the field of psychology began to evolve during the scientific revolution. Researchers such as Johann Friedrich Herbart tried to find a connection between mathematical calculations and psychology. In the late 1800s, William Wundt started the first psychology research lab in Germany, which accelerated the field.
In the United States, psychology began to emerge as a scientific discipline in the late 1800s. William James wrote a textbook titled The Principles of Psychology. Schools began teaching psychology from the James textbook, and soon he was referred to as the father of American psychology. The book detailed four major elements of psychology and behavior including analysis, introspection, hypnosis, and using statistics to differentiate what behavior is normal and what is abnormal.
The field of psychology continued to change over time. However, psychology careers as we know them today did not exist in their entirety. It would continue to take years and many more contributions from pioneers in the field before psychology developed into the multifaceted discipline it is today.
Perhaps one of the most famous contributors to the field of psychology was Sigmund Freud. He developed psychoanalysis and theories about the unconscious mind that some psychologists still hold as true. Freud’s theories began a whole new way of viewing psychology and human nature. He believed the subconscious mind was responsible for some behaviors people exhibited.
He also theorized that personality was mostly set by age five. One of his more controversial theories was regarding psychosexual development. He believed when people managed to go through psychosexual development appropriately, they would develop normally psychologically. If they did not, various psychological issues would develop as a result. Through the years, some therapists working in the field began to dismiss Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, but even so, it did influence how psychoanalysis was performed in the early to middle 20th century.
Another contribution to the field of psychology in the 20th century was from Ivan Pavlov, whose work led to the concept of behavioral psychology. His research concluded that behavior can be learned through associations over time. Although some of Pavlov’s theories are not widely used in psychology today, his theories led to further study of behavior, such as behavior modification, which is still in practice today.
Later in the 20th century, another American psychologist named Carl Rogers founded the humanistic approach to psychology. This approach to psychology did not stress the subconscious mind, as Freud’s approach did. Instead, humanistic psychology was focused on a person’s ability for self-actualization and the ability to change or grow from that.
Toward the end of the 20th century, psychology evolved and changed even more. With this, a combination of the various types of psychology helped build the vast array of psychology careers that exist today.
For instance, the concept of cognitive psychology began to take shape. Cognitive psychology focuses mainly on how people think and learn.
Psychoanalysis started as a career towards the end of the 19th century and continues today. Into the 20th century, subspecialties of psychology emerged, such as child psychology. Psychologists also began to specialize in particular therapies, including cognitive or behavior psychology.
As problems emerge in society, additional areas of psychology and new psychology careers develop. For instance, as drug and alcohol abuse increased, a need for substance abuse counseling emerged. In addition, as scientists learn more and more about the brain, subfields of psychology have developed, such as neuropsychology. This subfield examines the connection between brain chemistry and behavior.
In the last two decades of the 20th century, more psychology careers developed, such as school psychology, sports psychology, and forensic psychology. Additional subspecialties in psychology that developed in the late 20th century and early 21st century include industrial and organizational psychology, rehabilitation psychology, and music and art therapy.
In the 21st century, the field of psychology and the opportunities for psychology careers are expected to grow. And as the population ages, more opportunities will emerge to work with the elderly. Society continually changes and new problems develop. This not only lends to the develop of new psychology subspecialties, but also increases the need for psychology professionals.
It may be difficult to predict what direction the field of psychology will take in the future. The one thing is certain: as long as there are humans, they will have emotional, social, and other types of problems and will need assistance from those working in psychology careers.