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Why do you need psychology?

Updated on June 17, 2013

What is Psychology?

Psychology is typically one of the introductory courses most college students will need, but why? This hub will attempt to explain the discipline of psychology, the key themes of psychology, the approaches of psychology, and how an understanding of basic psychological principles can help any individual regardless of their situation in life.

The definition of psychology

To get at the root of our definition – let’s look at what the word is broken up. First, you have the Greek word psyche and logos as roots. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the Greek psyche means your soul or personality for definition a, and definition two simply states mind, which is your recollection or memory – what you feel, think, see, hear, and so on. Mind goes on further to differentiate both conscious and unconscious mental activity. The Greek word logos is divine wisdom or reasoning. When these two words are put together you essentially have psychology – or the wisdom and reasoning of the individual’s soul, personality, and mind. Psychologists study the mind and behavior. Our behavior is a result of our thinking patterns, our personality. Psychologists cannot actually go into your mind (which we commonly refer to as the brain), they must study the behavior that results from our reasoning skills to develop understanding. This is a nutshell generalized version of defining psychology.

Questions to ask

Why study psychology?

The first reason to study psychology may be only to get a better understanding of your world around you, and even why you do some of the things you do! A word of warning, though; I can’t tell you how many times students admit that they have a mental disorder when we discuss information on abnormal behaviors. However, some of the ways information from psychology can help you personally would be to learn about yourself, help you think of things from a new perspective, understand how to improve certain aspects of your life, or even allow you make better decisions, or set new goals and create measurable behaviors that will help you achieve those goals.

The second reason to study psychology is within a traditional college setting by seeking a degree in Psychology. People who study psychology may end up in several different fields; but for now, I want to develop to two main branches of psychology: Psychologists and Psychiatrists

  1. Psychologists: This branch focuses their studies on the mind and behavior of a group. For example, educational psychologists typically focus on learning and memory, social psychologists focus on group behaviors; and occupational psychologists focus on work performance. As you can see, there are several different areas where studying psychology can be applied.
  2. Psychiatrists: This branch focuses on the mental or emotional disorders of an individual. Psychiatrists also have a medical background in addition to the psychological background.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists typically serve the public by counseling and therapy methods. Both careers also hold a doctoral degree. The psychologist completes a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph. D.) or the Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D); whereas the psychologist completes a Medical Degree, or the M.D. Psychiatrists typically earn their Bachelor’s Degree in psychology, and then apply to a medical school for their graduate studies. Psychiatrists can administer medications but the psychologist works through different types of counseling or therapeutic methods.

If you are interested in working in this field, there are several paths to consider:


  1. Obtain the Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology
  2. Attend a medical school
  3. Complete residency requirements
  4. Obtain your state board’s license to practice
  5. Obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (optional, but helpful)

The fields within psychology are not quite as easy to line up like this. There are so many options available for the student of psychology. Counselors and Social workers may also have a degree in psychology. The other option would be to teach psychology in a school setting. It all depends on the specific degree(s) you work towards and it varies by states as well. A few of the more popular degrees within psychology are these:

  1. Educational Psychology
  2. Family and Marriage Counselor
  3. Drug and Addiction Counselor
  4. Industrial-Organization psychologist
  5. Forensic Psychologist
  6. Sports Psychologist
  7. Clinical Psychologist
  8. Health Psychologist
  9. Vocational Counseling
  10. Genetic Counseling
  11. Engineering Psychologist
  12. And even more!!

The options you have as a student of psychology are endless. However, these jobs can be highly stressful and may also include hectic schedules. There is a great need for psychologists in today’s society. Another major area of psychology lies in research, too.

Key Themes within Psychology

  • Psychology is empirical – this theme means that something is measurable; there is something that you can study with observable behaviors.
  • Psychology is theoretically diverse – this theme shows the variety within psychology. There are several theories within psychology; learning, memory, behavioral, social, and so on. Not only are there several theories within psychology, there are also various approaches to those theories. We’ll discuss the different approaches later.
  • Psychology evolves in a sociohistorical context – this theme looks at psychology from a social aspect as well as the historical aspect. For example, new issues develop in today’s American society as a result of the new technology that wasn’t around even 10 years ago.
  • Behavior is determined by multiple causes – while psychology is the study of the brain based on observable behavior; the student of psychology must remember that there are many possible factors involved in determining what may be going on in the brain. One observable behavior may be a result of several previous experiences or a current situation.
  • Behavior is shaped by cultural heritage – our culture also determines behavior. Cultural heritage is the customs, values, beliefs, norms, and even the institutions within our society that shape us into who we are.
  • Heredity and environment jointly influence behavior – our genetic makeup and the environment we live in play a main part in how we act.
  • People’s experience of the world is highly subjective – Not everyone sees the same thing in a situation, people take their own opinions from any scene. (Weiten, 2013)

These themes are essential principles to remember as you look at the total picture of psychology. Relying on one specific branch, or one theory to explain every person you meet will do psychology injustice. When you study psychology, these themes bring you to a deeper understanding of the entire person. Psychology is meant to help you describe and explain behaviors, predict when these behaviors may happen, and improve the individual for a better life.

What is a branch of psychology?

A branch of psychology is basically the purpose behind how you look at psychological issues. Any psychologist may fall within one of these branches in their beliefs, but a good understanding of all these branches will be necessary to get a better understanding. Remember the theme – psychology is theoretically diverse? Each of these branches can add something of value to any behavior you observe. Therefore, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of each branch.

  • Clinical psychology applies theory to assist an individual improve something or adapt to situations. For example, a marriage counselor or school psychologist would fall under this branch of psychology.
  • Cognitive psychology is interested in the processes of the brain such as memory, learning, and problem solving. There are some amazing new theories developing from the field of neuroscience. Educators need to have a good understanding of cognitive psychology, and even parents could benefit from a better understanding of motivational theories.
  • Developmental psychology studies the changes within people as they age. What is important to the older adult is different than what a teenager typically deals with in life. Their interests lie in more than just mental processing as they also consider physical and emotional growth and how it relates to the cognitive development of an individual.
  • Evolutionary psychology is concerned about how humans evolve or develop for survival. One of the most known aspects of this theory is the “survival of the fittest” concept. Theories called “trait theories” are important for the evolutionary psychologist. Trait theories are issues like how personalities develop or what makes one person abnormal while another is normal. Criminal psychologists have a good understanding of evolutionary psychology theories.
  • Forensic psychology is where most criminal psychologists are, though. Issues such as mores, values, culture and norms are important in the field of forensic psychology. They add the legal aspect that we sometimes see in court cases.
  • Health psychology identifies many of the behavioral traits in relation to a persons health. This branch attempts to explain the psychological, social and behavioral aspects of a person’s overall health.
  • Neuropsychology is one of the newer branches within psychology. This branch looks at the structure of the brain as compared to the function of the brain – the electrical connections that can be seen with advanced technology.
  • Occupational psychology works with psychological aspects in the workplace. It looks at both individual employees and group behaviors. The occupational psychologist seeks to increase job satisfaction and employee performance.
  • Social psychology is the branch that attempts to explain group behaviors such as conformity or aggression. They also look at how our social environment impacts us as individuals.

The branches of psychology are mostly ways to group information within an otherwise large concept called psychology. As you can see, a career in psychology would probably use a combination of the branches listed above. For example, a human resource officer would do well to study some courses in occupational psychology, social psychology, and cognitive psychology.

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2013). Psychology. (and other definitions) Retrieved from

Weiten, W. (2013). Psychology: Themes and variations, 9th Ed. Independence, KY: Cengage Learning. Retrieved from [doi: 2011937544]

Main differences

Clinical Psychologists
Industrial Psychologists
Education difference
Ph. D. or Psy. D in Psychology
Ph. D or Psy. D in Psychology
BS in Psychology plus MD
2011 annual salary difference
Anticipated growth between 2010 and 2020
These are the main differences between the occupations of psychologist and psychiatrist. Source: Sara Mahuron, Demand Media


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