Why Study Psychology? Possible Career Paths
Some areas within psychology
Treatment of mental health issues
All forms of teaching and learning
Sport,Motivation, Performance, Competitiveness
The behavior of people on the Internet
Behavior of people at work
Study of people and their spirituality
Study of positive thoughts and emotions
Reasons to study psychology
There is a saying that people study psychology because they want to find out what’s wrong with them.
That may or may not be true but there are lots of other reasons to study psychology.
It’s human nature to be interested in ourselves and what better way to spend anything from 3 to ten years (from undergraduate to doctorate) than studying ourselves and our behavior in depth?
Many people think that by getting a psychology degree they can then become a psychologist right away.
But in fact most careers in psychology require many years of postgraduate training, clinical training and, in Ireland,registration with the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) , or their equivalents in other countries.
Exceptions to these requirements would be a career in advertising, marketing or in human resources.
However, these career paths would also benefit greatly from postgraduate qualifications.
Clinical Psychology and Sigmund Freud
Clinical Psychology, broadly speaking, is the treatment of people with mental health issues. This includes Counselling and Psychotherapy.
But although clinical psychology is not the only career path, it is possibly one of the best known.
Most people have heard of Sigmund Freud (who is actually dubbed the father of psychoanalysis) and his theories on the id, ego and superego, not to mention his ideas on sexuality and the Oedipus complex.
Many of his ideas have been discredited but he was important in the development of psychology because he was arguably the first person to mention and discuss the subconscious.
Social Psychology and Stanly Milgram
Social psychology involves the study of the behavior of people within groups or society.
It became popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s when experiments on obedience, crowd behavior and body language were shown on TV shows.
A movie, The Tenth Level was made in 1975 about Stanly Milgram’s1 obedience experiments, This involved a random group of people from all walks of life; teachers, lawyers, tradesmen, nurses, secretaries, jobless, etc, etc.
The experiment went as follows: Volunteers were told that the experiment was about teaching methods.
- Two people would be called into a room and 'randomly' chosen to be the "teacher" and the "learner"
- But unknown to the volunteer, the "learner" was actually an actor,
- The teacher was then taken to a room and told to sit at a desk on which there was a lever with labels that went from "Mild" through "Strong" to "Severe-Caution!"
- They were told that the learner was in another adjoining room and they would be communicating via the speaker and microphone nearby.
- The volunteer was then told that they must read aloud from a list of ten facts (in one example)
- They were then to ask the learner to repeat the facts
- For every one the learner got wrong, the teacher was to pull the lever, which administrated a mild electric shock to the learner (This was untrue, the lever was not connected to anything)
- The teacher was told that every time the shock was administrated, it was a little stronger than the one before.
- The actor (learner) began to complain, saying the electric shock hurt
- But if the teacher hesitated to pull the lever, they were told to "Please continue"
- An astonishing 65% of the volunteers continued to pull the lever right up to the "Severe" level, even though the learner was by this time screaming and pleading for them to stop.
- The teachers were also clearly showing signs of distress, but still continued to obey the instructions that were continually repeated to them.
You can read about this experiment here
Educational Psychology does not just involve classroom teaching
Other areas of psychology
- Educational psychology: Can involve not just classroom teaching, although that is a rewarding area in itself, but also specialization in helping children with learning difficulties, behavioral difficulties and special needs to obtain the education they deserve.
- Sport Psychology: A rewarding and interesting area for those who have a particular interest in sport, motivation, performance and competitiveness, among others.
- Cyber psychology: An upcoming area involving such fascinating subjects as on-line versus real-life identity, internet addiction, cyber crime and cyber bullying for example.
- Forensic psychology is the study of criminal behavior. Many of us are fascinated by crime and the criminal mind.
- Organisational psychology: This mainly involves the study of people at work, but also the interesting area of Ergonomics which is the study of how and why we use objects, from the simple chair to a complicated piece of machinery. An understand of ergonomics is essential in the development of such items.
- Transpersonal psychology: The study of people and spirituality. Although it's been around since the 1970s, this area is still controversial and many psychologists dismiss it as not being scientific enough to be taken seriously.
- Positive Psychology: As its name suggests, the study of positive thoughts and positive emotions. Seldom taught as a separate module in universities but it is gaining popularity as an area of research and has been become mainstream due to people like Daniel Goldberg and Malcolm Gladwell who write popular psychology books on it and related subjects.
Varied and interesting career paths within psychology
If you prefer to remain in academia, you can study for a doctorate and apply to continue to carry out research in your preferred area, either exclusively or while teaching at a university.
So as you can see, there are several, varied and interesting career paths available within psychology.
My advice is to wait until you have completed your undergraduate studies, during which you will learn about each area of psychology, before deciding in which area to specialise.
1. Miligram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. London: Tavistock