What is Psychology?

9/13/2012 DK 0 Comments

By David A Webb
Having a good grasp of what psychology is all about is essential for anybody wanting to explore the topic in greater depth. Now this may sound like a really obvious thing to state but psychology is one of those terms that is often banded around without any real consideration as to its actual meaning.
A classic case in point being the usual response you get from people when you tell them that you teach psychology; namely, "I better be careful what I say", or "so do you know what I'm thinking then?" I know I shouldn't but my stock reply to these reactions tends to be "Absolutely" and "Not at all...but then I would say that, wouldn't I"
It's actually a serious point though because there is clearly a great deal of confusion surrounding psychology. Indeed, I've met psychology students coming towards the end of their degree who have admitted that they are still not 100% sure what psychology is!
Psychology Definitions
To help understand the ambiguity surrounding psychology, let's start by taking a look at a couple of definitions.
Psychology is the scientific study of people, the mind and behaviour. It is both a thriving academic discipline and a vital professional practice. (The British Psychological Society) The scientific study of the behavior of individuals and their mental processes. (American Psychological Association)
The common theme across these definitions is that psychology is fundamentally concerned with understanding Behaviour.
So What's The Problem?
Basically, a lack of unity. Within psychology there are multiple and often competing levels of explanation when it comes to understanding behaviour. When you begin studying psychology you quickly realise what a disparate topic area it is, and at times it can almost be overwhelming.
Keep It Simple
Particularly when you're starting out. Just keep hold of the notion that psychology is basically about behaviour. You can't be expected to know all the different ways there are to explain behaviour straight away; but as you are introduced to more and more you'll find that you'll soon be able to place a behavioural explanation within an appropriate psychological framework.
If you would like to find out more about all the major branches and sub-divisions within psychology, you can do so by visiting
Not to be confused with Psychiatry
A very common misconception about psychology is that it is similar, if not synonymous with psychiatry. It is not. Psychiatry is a distinct medical specialism (all psychiatrists have a medical degree) that is fundamentally concerned with mental disorder. Psychology has a much broader focus and is not inextricably linked to the concept of mental illness.

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