Psychology is a term that we hear constantly and probably even use it often enough, but when we are faced with the question: What is psychology many of us struggle to produce a satisfactory definition.
Mind Reading, fortune telling and even extra sensory perception are all commonly confused with the scientific study, which is only natural considering society judgements, expectations and myths spread from various movies. The depiction of psychology we see popularised in movies will often showcase the the study as an arcane tool used by an initiated few; this uncanny insight can be used to peer into the intentions, past or future actions of another person to reveal truths that are sure to delight and astound. Sometimes the psychologist is portrayed as kind of Confessor and can absorb the incoherent ramblings of a patient with a difficult past.
Of course, it is not just the field of psychology that is subject to these misconceptions, and like other misconceptions all of these descriptions do have an air of truth about them, of course you could watch movies about psychology all day and still not get a really good idea of what the multi faceted discipline is really all about.
There are many fields in the study of psychology, you could say there are as many fields as there are human minds. There are of course, psychologists who assist the police in law enforcement and more than a handful who are dedicated to helping people sort out the confusion that experiences can leave in our thought patterns.
But there are also many qualified psychologists working in the marketing industry, helping corporations improve productivity by creating healthier workplaces, other psychologists work with technical designs, military projects and there are plenty in the entertainment industry.
So What is Psychology, aside from being the study of the behaviour of humans and the way their minds work, it is also the study of how this can be applied to a wide range of applications and contexts. One of the most significant ways that psychology is applied is in the treatment and care of those with mental health issues.
But that really is only a fraction of what the applied science of psychology does to improve human life.
History of Psychology
Modern psychology as we know it is the product of two sciences that fused together long ago: Biology and Philosophy. Long ago the ancient Greeks thinkers were the first to show an interest in the refined development of this study, Socrates and Aristotle among them.
The term Psychology was taken from two Greek words; Psyche which means Life, later on the meanings were closer to self or and the word logia which means it is something to be studied. Hence the Study of the Self appropriate, right?
The Science of Psychology
The Study of the Self is actually a fairly recent study, it was first recognized as a science in 1879, just over a century ago. Wilhelm Wundt, a German professor, philosopher, physiologist and physician, was the first to establish a psychological laboratory in Leipzig.
Wundt is considered one of the founders of modern psychology; the work he did was primarily laying the groundwork for those who would follow but he did produce some important descriptions of the mind and its structures.
Wundt used introspection to produce the sensations and feelings on that he would then analyse extensively, the process was highly subjective. It was Wundt’s vision that one day highly trained individuals would be able to accurately assess the mental processes underlying the thought and feelings of human beings.
Many Schools of Thought
In an effort to gain a more accurate view of the thoughts and behaviours of humans, many different schools of thought have risen. At certain times a particular school of thought may be particularly applicable. Although the views adopted by a certain school may be strikingly different to those of another school all are complimentary and have contributed to the better understanding of this fluid subject.
Today’s psychologists approach their study with objective scientific methods that enable them to build off the collective perspectives of the schools and psychological minds from aristotle to Wundt. This has given them a fairly accurate method of predicting, explaining and understanding human thoughts and behaviours.
Psychological studies are structured and must follow the scientific method from hypothesis to empirical tests to be accepted as psychological theory and empirical evidence. Today Psychology is divided into two separate categories the academic which continues to advance the science and the applied category that puts psychology to practice.
Academic Psychology places an emphasis on expanding the theoretical knowledge of which other researchers will practice applied research in an effort to address problems faced by people everyday. The theoretical knowledge that is studied exhaustively comes from more specific topics within psychology such as human development, personality traits, social order and more.
This is where the theoretical knowledge and applied research that supports the principles of psychology are applied to solving problems humans face each day. These problems come in a plethora of varieties and complexities which can be as simple as finding better coping strategies to understanding the complexities of schizophrenia.
Then there are psychologists in schools, in corporations and in product design. even more work as therapists attempting to help people with behavioural or mental conditions.
So What is Psychology? It is the study of the human mind and the way this study can be used for the benefit of humans.