beginner's guide to psychology

What is Psychology – A Thorough Beginner’s Guide!


Psychology is among the many disciplines and sciences that focus on our minds and behaviors, and it provides information and insight into the two areas that can help us improve our lives as well as other people’s lives if we apply the information.

If you are interested in psychology and would like to know the essential basics of it, this beginner’s guide to psychology is definitely what you need!

Here, we’ll look at what psychology is, where it came from, how it works, its branches, its benefits, how to practice it, and frequently asked questions about it.

What is Psychology

The word “psychology” comes from the words “psyche“which is known to mean “breath”, “soul”, “life”, or “self”.

There are varying definitions in the modern world when it comes to psychology.

Some experts say that it is a scientific study of how the mind dictates and influences our various aspects of behavior like memory, emotion, and thought.

Other experts define it as the study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes.

According to Britannica, however, psychology is the scientific discipline that looks into mental states, processes, and behaviors in humans as well as other animals (1).

The best definition going by the American Psychology Association is the scientific study of the mind and behavior (2).

Psychology looks into how the mind operates and its influence on our behaviors and also delves into various aspects of the area including cognitive processes, human development, health, social behavior, and sports among many others.

Understanding how various factors such as social pressures, environment, and biological influences affect how we think, act and feel brings us close to understanding psychology.

Through psychology, we learn the relationship between behavior and brain function as well as behavior and the environment and get to apply our learning so that we can increase our understanding of ourselves and the world around us and improve them.

History of Psychology

Tracing psychology back to its deepest roots, we may have to go as far back as thousands of years ago during the period of Plato and Aristotle were establishing philosophy (5).

It is believed that psychology was still there in countries like Greece, Persia, Egypt, China, and India in that era.

Psychology is actually believed to have been derived from biology and philosophy.

Around the period between 387 BCE and 335 BCE, the great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle are known to have given different perspectives on psychology-related topics.

Aristotle said that mental processes normally take place in the heart while Plato said they take place in the brain.

After that, there is Avicenna, a doctor from Islam who took the effort of studying nightmares, poor memory, and epilepsy, and helped treat people who struggled with the conditions. During medieval times, Islamic doctors established the first medical centers for dealing with psychiatric conditions (6).

Mesmerism sprung short afterward in the early 1770s. Mesmerism is a term coined by Franz Mesmer who said that hypnosis (that had been referred to as mesmerism) made a good cure for different types of mental illnesses.

Almost a decade after, Philippe Pinel promoted the release of mental health patients from the confined areas they lived in and encouraged better treatment for them.

In the late 1870s, a famous German scientist called Wilhelm Wundt, separated psychology and made it an independent field of study. He also went on to come up with the first laboratory that was solely dedicated to the research in psychology at Leipzig university. This is what made him get the title of “the father of psychology”.

1890 was the year when a lot of advancement in psychology happened.

Firstly, the State Care Act was passed in the state of New York that advocated for taking mental health patients to the hospital to get professional medical treatment as opposed to letting them stay at home.

Secondly, William James, a well-known philosopher from the United States published a book on psychology called “Principles of Psychology” which drew immense attention and attracted many science experts to the field.

Thirdly, the APA (American Psychological Association) organization was formed and G. Stanley Hall took on the leadership.

Different people over the years contributed to tiny but crucial aspects to the development of psychology as an independent field. These people include:

Hermann Abbingaus, who was based at the University of Berlin did a thorough study on memory.

Ivan Pavlov, who introduced the concept of conditioning in psychology through his experiment with the behavior of dogs during their meal times.

Sigmund Freud, who introduced the concept of psychoanalysis where he worked with introspection, clinical observations, and interpretive methods to better understand the mind as well as addressed the unconscious as an influence on the thoughts and behavior of mental health patients.

Carl Jung, who introduced the ideas of archetypes, modern dream analysis, and introversion as well as extroversion (7).

Abraham Maslow, who explained the hierarchy of needs and humanistic psychology, a type of psychology focused on human strength and potential.

Fredrick “Fritz” Perls together with Laura Perls, his wife, who created Gestalt therapy which promoted the use of mindfulness, personal responsibility, and relationships.

Aaron Beck, who brought about the idea of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which focuses on changing how we think and react to different life situations.

E. B. Titchener, who focused on the idea of structuralism and consciousness.

John Dewey together with William James, who advocated for functionalism and explained the role of consciousness in our lives.

As more scientists became curious about psychology, they studied different aspects of it and went on to explain and discuss serious issues such as observable behaviors, internal mental processes, self-actualization, and personal growth.

Psychology is still a rapidly growing field that helps us understand more about the self, the mind, and human behavior.

How Psychology Works

In the grand scheme of things, psychology helps us pursue our naturally occurring curiosity about the things around us, get to understand them well, and figure out how we can use the understanding to better our lives (8).

It allows us to use experimental methods to gather and understand data from research and use it to find solutions to some of the challenges that life comes with.

Psychology seeks to predict, explain, describe and change mental processes and behaviors. Let’s look at each aspect closely.

* Predict – Psychologists seek to make predictions about behavior and mental processes based on their scientific research. The predictions made are then confirmed through experiments and more research, and in turn, become solidified and fully established explanations for different behaviors. When the predictions fail to be confirmed, the predictions are revised to be in line with the findings of research studies made by psychologists and other scientists.

* Explain – Psychology helps to create theories through which certain behaviors can be explained. For example, the classical conditioning theory is used to explain why a dog salivates when mealtime approaches.

* Describe – Psychology also helps to describe various behaviors, and in the long term, come up with the general laws that give a proper description of human behavior.

* Change – Psychology also paves the way for change and control of negative behaviors such as disorders and phobias by providing solutions and better alternative behavior that can counter the negative mental processes and behavior, and as a result, enhance the quality of life of different people.

Branches of Psychology

There are many different branches of psychology which include:

1. Developmental psychology – This is a branch of psychology that pretty much deals with human development from a tender age of an infant to the later years of an older adult. It focuses on different mental aspects such as problem-solving, identity formation, motor skills, acquiring language, moral understanding, self-concept, and personality among others, and how they affect our experiences and development.

2. Clinical psychology – This is a branch of psychology that specializes in offering comprehensive and progressive behavioral and mental health care to individuals as well as groups such as families (9).

3. Health psychology – This is a branch of psychology that looks at how psychological, social, and biological factors impact illnesses and general health status, and goes a long way in enhancing different essential systems of health care.

4. Cognitive psychology – This is a branch of psychology that looks into various mental processes such as memory, perception, language, attention, and thought, and uses the findings to improve the lives of human beings.

5. Evolutionary psychology – This is a branch of psychology that deals with the theoretical aspect of psychology and tries to explain different psychological and mental traits such as language, memory, and perception with respect to natural selection.

6. Neuropsychology – This is a branch of psychology whose focus is on the relationship between cognition and behavioral control on one side, and brain mechanisms and processes on the other side (10).

7. Forensic psychology – This is a branch of psychology that aims to apply clinical specialties and skills such as treatment, assessment, and evaluation to people as well as legal institutions that come into contact with the law.

8. Social psychology – This is a branch of psychology that studies how social perception, social interaction, and social influence affect an individual’s or a group’s behavior.

9. Occupational psychology – Also known as industrial-organizational psychology, this is a branch of psychology whose primary focus is on the assessment of people’s performance in the workplace as well as in training and in providing recommendations that help improve job performance and success of organizations.

10. Abnormal psychology – This is a branch of psychology that studies psychopathology and abnormal behavior and treats mental disorders that often arise from the two areas.

11. Comparative psychology – This is a branch of psychology that deals with the study of the behaviors of animals.

12. Biological psychology – This is a branch of psychology that is based on understanding how biological processes affect behavior and the mind. It is often associated with neuroscience.

13. Personality psychology – This is a branch of psychology that is aimed at studying how aspects of personality including behaviors, character traits, and patterns of thoughts evolve over time.

14. Quantitative psychology – This is a branch of psychology that deals with the study and development of techniques and methods for measuring different attributes including human behavior.

15. Sport psychology – This is a branch of psychology that works with psychological skills and understanding to enhance the performance and overall well-being of athletes (11).

16. Humanistic psychology – Also referred to as “The Third force”, this is a branch of psychology that deals with the response or reaction to the analysis and description that is imposed by behaviorism as well as to the unconsciousness and irrationality that is emphasized by psychoanalysis.

17. Rehabilitation psychology – This is a branch of psychology that looks at people who struggle with chronic health problems and different disabilities, and ways in which they can enhance their quality of life experiences.

18. Human factors and engineering psychology – This is a branch of psychology that aims to bring ease to everyday experiences through the application of the psychology of human behavior to various resources such as devices, products, and systems we use daily.

19. Experimental psychology – This is a branch of psychology that takes advantage of science in exploring the processes observed in animal and human behavior (12).

20. Climate and environmental psychology – This is a branch of psychology that uses knowledge of climate and environment to better the world we live in.

There are also many other branches of psychology which include military psychology, aviation psychology, and counseling psychology among others.

Benefits of Learning Psychology

Here are some rewarding benefits of taking the time to learn a bit about psychology:

* Sharpen your critical thinking skills – In psychology, the processes of predicting, investigating, and experimenting normally exercise your problem solving, deep critical thinking, and proper analysis skills, and as you get more into psychology, you get better in these areas.

* Get to know yourself well – Branches of psychology such as humanistic psychology and environmental psychology help you understand how you develop as a human being and the different stages that you go through from when you are young to your old age. You also get to understand how your environment contributes to who you become and this increases your self-knowledge and self-awareness.

* Get to know others well – Just like you get to know yourself, psychology also helps you interpret other people’s behavior and understand the mental processes, motivation, and influences behind their actions.

* Become well versed with mental health – The deep look into the common health disorders like anxiety, stress, and even the chronic mental health conditions, their causes, and treatments can help you know how to take care of your mental health as well as encourage others to do the same.

* Enhance your communication skills – In psychology, you learn various aspects of communication such as body language, emotions, and even language, and the knowledge can help you understand the proper way to express yourself and thus become a much better communicator.

* Increase your confidence – Psychology helps you to understand most of the problems you experience as a human being, where they come from, and some of the most reliable ways to deal with the problems. When you learn, understand, and apply the knowledge in your life, you can reduce most of the issues that affect your confidence and self-esteem and therefore become much more empowered.

On top of that, psychology can also come in handy for you in terms of improving your school or workplace performance, dealing with different traumatic experiences, enhancing your athletic performance, preventing bullying, and helping the law enforcers in their operations.

How to Practice Psychology

To become a psychologist, you need to have proper training in psychology from a credible organization, get tested, and get the qualifications and license to be a practicing psychologist.

You need to choose the branch of psychology you want to specialize in and understand it well so that you can easily apply the knowledge and understanding in the real world, and also help advance that branch through your personal effort to handle some of the needing aspects in that particular branch.

It is important to take time to see the different options in terms of psychology branches and the career opportunities that each gives you. From there, based on what you are passionate about in psychology, you can decide which branch works well for you.

Every country has its requirements for people to be legally qualified practicing psychologists. In the United States, you may be required to have gotten a doctorate degree in psychology or a related field in an accredited university.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Psychology

Question: Which are the most common applications of psychology?

Answer: Some of the popular applications of psychology include mental health research and treatment, ergonomics, development of education programs, child development, informing public policy, steering psychological research forward, and self-help.

Question: Which areas of life do branches or sub-disciplines of psychology affect?

Answer: Psychology extends its arms as far as the business world and media, forensics, sports, environment, climate, and family.

Question: Which career opportunities come with studying psychology?

Answer: Based on the branch of psychology you choose to focus on, you can work in government agencies, at hospitals, in the business world, and even as a professor.

Question: What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Answer: While both experts help to deal with mental health problems, each has received unique medical training. A psychologist has been trained to use psychotherapeutic techniques to deal with mental health problems while a psychiatrist uses a pharmacological approach.

Question: Which are the commonly used psychotherapy approaches in psychology?

Answer: A psychologist uses cognitive behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, and psychoanalysis.

Question: Which health conditions do psychologists deal with?

Answer: Psychologists often treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotic disorders, addiction, sleep-wake disorders, personality disorders, mood disorders, and eating disorders.

Question: What factors influence human psychology?

Answer: The factors include gender, genes, race, environment, ethnicity, social aspects, family, level of maturity, and trauma.

Question: Which type of doctors practice psychology?

Answer: The doctors who use psychology on a daily basis include clinical social workers, mental health practitioners, psychiatrists, and family as well as school counselors.


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