Decoding Psychology, Deconstructing Psychologists

OK, so what exactly are psychologists like?

Before that, let’s understand what exactly ‘psychology’ is.

Though the terms psyche and logos will tell you that it is the study of mind, it is, well, something different.

Psychology is a science that studies behavior and cognitions (for the technically challenged- memory, language, perceptions, thinking etc.).

It came about when some people decided that it had to be differentiated from metaphysics, philosophy.

Thank God for them, otherwise we psych students would never have the fancy equipment in our labs that we do at present as also the various experiments and psychological tests we pride ourselves on. The ‘science’ connection came from the other illustrious parent, physiology.

Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory of psychology in 1879, formalizing the break and establishing the subject as an independent academic subject and since then, it has been through a number of debates on, believe me, what should the subject study! The definition that I gave is the latest one and I hope now you understand why the literal meaning of psychology is different from what psychologists profess to study. Evolution, man. Of ideas. As simple as that.

Now let’s gear up for what psychology is NOT.

Firstly, psychology is not the same as psychoanalysis.

The latter comes under the former and is definitely not all that the former is. Not every psychologist is a Freudian (I’m not, for example. I’m a Humanistic psychologist, if you really want to know). And for God’s sake, Freud is not the father of psychology. He made psychology popular, took it to the masses and is one of the biggest thinkers and intellectuals we have ever had but with all due respect, his teachings are not to be taken as the general impression of what psychology is.

Secondly, those who study and practice psychology are psychologists.

Not. Psychics.

Intuition, sixth sense and all that fancy stuff that Hollywood has stuffed you with is not psychology. Remember that the next time you meet a psych major. We can’t tell what’s going on in your mind or what problems you are having just by looking at your face. We do predict behavior but not by spending 2 minutes with people. We are not astrologers, c’mon. We also control behavior, but in a very different sense than what the lay man would like to believe. Say, if a man is a drug addict, rehabilitating him to his fully functioning self would be an example of control. So would be helping a child get rid of his irrational fear of heights. So would be increasing cooperation in a team of an organization. These are the kind of ‘controls’ we try to achieve. We are good people, essentially.

Psychology is not the same as psychiatry.

Psychiatrists are those who have a medical degree first and then specialization in psychiatry and who can prescribe medicines. Psychologists can’t prescribe medicines (they don’t have medical degree, that’s why) but then psychology being much wider, all psychologists don’t deal with people having mental disorders. For e.g. one can be an organizational psychologist (every corporate house has such people in its HR team) or a counsellor (very different from the amateur counselling that your teacher used to do in school) or a forensic psychologist and so on. There are umpteen avenues a psychologist can specialize in, so every psychologist is not a clinical psychologist. And definitely not a psychiatrist.

Finally, we psychologists are normal people. Just like you.

Yes, as normal and as much abnormal. We are not magicians and we are definitely not God. We mortals do have problems in our lives. It is just that we have better tools to deal with those and so we are better placed to solve them. But problems do strike us all the same. A psychology student nervous before her paper presentation or crying on a loved one’s death are not to be taken as things grossly out of place. We are humans, before being anything else. We do need to breath, sometimes.

Oh, by the way, life is great when you are a psychologist.