Philosopher In Meditation, 1632
Although psychology's focus on individual behaviour and mental processes is unique, its interests overlap broadly with the disciplines of philosophy, sociology and medicine. Professional psychologists are formally trained and accredited, but many non-professionals retain an avid interest in psychological news and principles. Psychology is an enormously useful and practical science, with applications in daily life as well as in programs of self-help and behaviour change. A good grasp of introductory psychology is essential for the critical consumer of psychological information.
Most people who know "something" about psychology are not professional psychologists. "Amateur" psychologists range from people who are interested in learning about psychology to professionals in fields like sales, education, or health care who use principles of psychology in their work.
A. Psychology And Other Disciplines
The interests of psychology frequently overlap with related disciplines, including philosophy, medicine and sociology. Much is gained in both research and application when the expertise and perspectives of these different disciplines work together.
Because psychologists study human behaviour and mental processes, they study themselves. This self-interest has its roots in philosophy, the study of knowledge. Psychology differs from philosophy mainly because psychology encompasses other phenomena -- including emotions and behaviours, nonhumans as well as humans -- than does philosophy. Another important distinction is psychology's emphasis on the scientific method as its standard approach to knowledge.
Medicine examines illness, including disturbances of mental processes and behaviour as well as physical disease. In contrast, psychology encompasses normal as well as abnormal behaviour and mental processes.
Sociology is the study of group structure and behaviour. Whereas sociology's focus is the group -- including social class, institutions, cultures and subcultures -- psychology focuses on the behaviour and dynamics of the individual.
B. Professional Versus Amateur Psychology
Psychological issues and discoveries are popular topics in the news and everyday life. An interest in psychology, however, does not guarantee a good understanding of psychological ideas and methods.
It is important to distinguish between the amateur psychologist and the professional psychologist. Professional psychologists adhere to strict codes of ethics(standards for morally correct practice) and professional conduct in the course of their training and membership in professional organizations. Amateur psychologists, individuals who have not had specialized training or certification, are not equipped to conduct valid research or apply research findings safely and effectively.
One goal for the introductory psychology student can be to become a more critical consumer of psychological information. A knowledge of psychology will equip a student to make sound judgments about identifying and applying psychological principles in real-life problems and decisions. Psychology is an enormously practical science. Its findings can be applied usefully in all human enterprises.
C. Psychological Self-Help
In recent years the concepts of humanistic psychology have been popularized in the human potential movement and in many self-help programs for behaviour change. Popular literature offers many easy-to-read sources for practical applications of pscyhology. While many such sources are sound interpretations of psychological research, others are based more on author opinion and preference. A basic education in psychology can assist the interested reader in distinguishing between worthwhile and worthless popular literature and behaviour-change programs.