The first part of my post today is about understanding what psychology is. Psychology is the study of mind and behaviour, and I think many people (including myself) often forget the variety of ways in which this field can be studied.
Most people I meet outside of psychology a) think I mean clinical psychology when I say I study psychology b) don’t know you can do research in psychology and c) assume by research I mean give people surveys about their feelings.
Most students who I meet in psychology either aren’t interested in or don’t know about research. Generally they get into a bachelor of psychology to become a clinical psychologist. I can’t blame them for this, as I had no idea what a degree in psychology might lead to when I started. It was only in 3rd and 4th year that I began to understand a little about psychology research, and how fascinating it could be.
So most people don’t really understand how varied ‘psychology’ can be. However, even those who realise this tend to be interested in one area, and dismissive of others. They don’t realise how related these areas can be, and suffer from the opposite problem – they understand how varied psychology is, to the point of thinking of each area as a separate entity!
There are a lot of different people who end up studying ‘psychology’, and many of those aren’t happy with all the ‘sciencey-stuff’ they have to learn on the way to becoming a practitioner. Or in my case, unhappy with all the ‘people-stuff’ learnt on the way to studying brains. But each part of psychology can help inform others, and generally you can find a way that it applies to the area you’re most interested in. For example, child psychologists need to understand how adults work to see where the child would normally be heading. Organisational psychologists benefit from the latest research in how our attention works in particular settings. Clinical psychologists should be aware of the latest brain imaging studies regarding their patient’s conditions. And what is the use of doing all this theoretical and technical brain research if not to inform practical work? Neuropsychologists need to be aware of current practice to ensure their work is covering the important issues.
It really excites me when I find a student who is interested in research. It even excites me when I find a student who has HEARD that you can do research in psychology! And I think this side of psychology should be more publicised, with all the amazing and varied things that it can offer. Psychology isn’t just for people who want to help others, it’s for those interested in how people work, respond, feel, think, move, and react (and I’m yet to meet someone not interested in at least one of these aspects of humans). It ranges from how children’s sense of self develops, why crowds react in anger, how gamers' skills transfer, where in the brain emotions are processed, to when vision and auditory signals interact.
If you’re interested in learning how people work, consider taking a look at psychology, but don’t rule it all out if you don’t like the first thing you see, because there is so much on offer!