Psychology is the study of the mind. As an academic discipline, it attempts to explore and identify how our physical brain affects and contributes to our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. An interdisciplinary study by its very nature, psychology draws upon a wide variety of academic fields to inform its research, theories, and beliefs, including biology, anatomy, theology, philosophy, linguistics, kinesiology, sociology, anthropology, and medicine.
The field of psychology can trace its early foundations back thousands of years across a wide variety of cultures from all areas of the globe. Groups of people seem universally inclined to try to understand what makes people think the way they think, feel the way they feel, and act the way they act. Ancient civilizations including the Greeks and the Egyptians had a demonstrated interest in the field of psychology, and numerous cultures and civilizations have tried to understand and treat abnormal psychology and mental illness for millennia. A wide variety of techniques has been employed throughout history, including religious ceremonies, medical procedures, and even the use of early insane asylums and homes for the mentally ill dating back more than a thousand years in countries like Egypt and Iraq.
Today, psychology students study the history and evolution of the modern field of psychology, but incorporate current research, innovation, and technology into their approaches to investigating the impact the human mind has on behavior, cognition, and mood.
Rooted in the idea that by exploring the mind we can increase our knowledge and understanding of emotions, thoughts, and behavior, psychology is considered a social science. It attempts to understand, and in many cases improve the way we experience and participate in the world around us.
There are a number of specialties within the field on which psychology students can choose to focus, including:
In addition to understanding how our brains work and their impact on our lives, the field of psychology also seeks to identify causes and solutions to abnormal psychology in patients with a wide array of psychic disturbances. These can be as minimal as specific perception disruptions, learning disabilities, and mild behavior disorders, to disorders and illnesses as crippling as schizophrenia and manic depression. There are thousands of schools around the nation that offer programs for students interested in investigating this field and pursuing careers within it.
Today, psychologists serve in a plethora of roles within a wide variety of careers. They may find work as therapists, consultants, researchers, teachers, doctors, and professors in fields as varied as management, human resources, sales, marketing, education, social work, research, and the legal and medical fields. Most psychology programs' mission today is to educate, train, and prepare today's students for the diverse and fascinating roles they will someday play in their careers, to make the greatest and most positive impact possible in our evolving world.
Generally, the best psychologists are people who are both extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. They possess not only a very specific skill set and professional mentality, but also a number of innate empathetic qualities that make them both confident and effective therapists.
Psychologists have to be willing to put a lot of time into schooling to become educated and experienced in the latest research, theories, and practices in the field. They have to spend years studying, reading, and learning about the mind, and generally are expected to devote a great deal of time to practicum work. They need to have an extensive understanding of the history of the field, general practices, and differing theories and philosophies about treatment, and be willing to continue their education outside of the classroom. Good psychologists never stop learning. They're constantly reading, writing, and keeping themselves up-to-date on the most recent research in a field that's constantly evolving.
- In addition to meeting the educational requirements, good psychologists must enter the field not only because of their intellectual curiosity about the mind, but also because they enjoy helping others.
- Whether it's through family therapy, group meetings, one-on-one counseling, or another type of intervention, psychologists provide a safe haven for patients to talk about, confront, and work through the thoughts, feelings, and issues that are disrupting their lives.
- Psychologists provide an invaluable service to people in need, and truly help people to live better, more-rewarding lives. This type of work can be incredibly challenging, but also uniquely rewarding for the right candidates.
Psychologists need good listening skills to be successful in helping their patients. Psychologists help patients process thoughts, emotions, and behavior. They strive to help others better understand their own problems, and come up with ways to address and remedy them. Psychologists need to be able to hear not only what the patient is saying to them, but often what the patient means to say as well. They have to be able to read between the lines and dig deeper, when necessary, to help their patients make progress through the therapy. They have to encourage open dialogue while directing the conversation to areas that illuminate and inform the task at hand: improving the patient's mental health.
To do this, psychologists need to have good communication skills and be able to address complex emotions and convoluted situations honestly and thoroughly. They have to demonstrate patience and trustworthiness to encourage their patients to open up to them about their innermost thoughts and feelings. They have to cultivate a sense of non-judgmental understanding and assure their patients that their meetings are a place for safe, confidential discourse. Yet, they also have to maintain a professional relationship and keep the conversations on track toward a successful therapeutic outcome.
Challenging as this balance is, psychologists have to find honest but tactful ways to encourage patients to share private or painful feelings, while still addressing and finding solutions to problematic thoughts and behaviors. This requires a delicate mix of compassion and professional distance and can be far trickier than it sounds, particularly when dealing with complex issues such as addiction, abuse, and often mental illness.
Many people seek help from psychologists in times of crisis, so it's vital that psychologists make good decisions and quickly assess the needs of their patients. They have to be good at dealing with emotions and helping their patients to understand and process their own thoughts and feelings. They have to exhibit good people skills and be good at dealing with problems, since most patients are seeking a solution to their dilemmas. Emotional stability is particularly vital for this field, as psychologists are inundated daily with people dealing with a host of travails, from minor anxieties and frustrations to severe physical and psychological trauma. Because many of their patients will be fragile and particularly vulnerable, psychologists' ethics must be impeccable.
Many psychologists find it helpful to enlist the services of their own therapist or psychologist to help them process the thoughts and feelings they confront during their daily workday. Doing so has been shown to decrease the risk of burnout and extend the longevity and improve the efficacy of many psychologists' careers.
School Rankings & Accreditation
These days almost all colleges, universities, and academic programs are ranked by a number of different boards and institutions. The most famous of these ranking boards is the U.S. News and World Report. The importance of U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings has increased in recent years, and can be a major factor in students' decisions as to which school to attend.
- Schools of psychology are generally assigned a numerical rank based on a number of different factors, including location of the school, size of the institution, class sizes, faculty-to-student ratios, attitudes among students, sports teams, student life opportunities, grades and test scores of first-year classes, employment rates of recent graduates, attitudes about the school from polls of major employers, and a number of other diverse factors based on the ranking organization.
- Many schools vie to be ranked in the top 100 by U.S. News and World Report, as this helps them to attract a wider applicant base and often to recruit more talented and promising students.
Although in many ways school rankings are subjective, arbitrary, and might not mean much at first glance, they are often taken quite seriously by other academic institutions, and in some cases by employers as well. Students interested in pursuing graduate degrees or motivated to earn higher salaries upon graduation may value these rankings more than their peers who are less sure about their future ambitions. Because the rankings are often reliable indicators as to how other academic institutions' admission boards and potential future employers will view the value of a degree from a given institution, these rankings can be a serious consideration for some applicants.
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Although the rankings of schools vary annually and are not consistent among all ranking organizations, an institution that is included in the top 100 schools in the nation is considered by many to be one of the best in the world. Obviously, the closer to the top of the list a school is placed, the more prestigious it's considered to be. Any school managing to attain a rank in the top 100 is generally considered a universally accepted, high-quality educational institution. Generally, competitive students looking to attend a premier university will look to study within this select group of schools.
Students looking to attend psychology school should first and foremost look into whether the programs they're considering are accredited. Schools can either be accredited as institutions (which is more generalized and means the school overall meets the necessary quality standards) or specialized (which assures that the specialized area of study is of good quality). For students interested in practicing psychology or one day pursuing a state or local license, this is particularly important, as many licensing boards require the applicant to hold a degree from an accredited psychology program.
- Basically, school accreditation is used as a universal litmus test for quality of educational standards as granted by one of the seven U.S. Department of Education's regional boards on accreditation.
- For doctoral-level programs, organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), as well as other more localized groups confer accreditation on psychology programs.
- Some factors considered in the accreditation process are length of study; institutional affiliation; program mission and/or philosophy; curriculum; size of program, faculty, and study body; diversity of population; commitment to improvement; and self-evaluation and ethical operations.
For students interested in pursuing graduate degrees, making sure the institution and program they're interested in attending are also members of the APA ensures that their graduate degree will be considered valid and has been issued from an accredited institution. For psychologists attempting to receive state or local licenses, accreditation is frequently required and always encouraged, so taking the time to research a psychology school's accreditation is vital to making the degree useful for future practice and application.
To find out if a program is accredited, visit the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation website.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013