So you want to take a psychology class, that’s awesome! Maybe you’re looking to become a therapist or maybe you’re looking to become a researcher. Either way, there are a few things you need to know before taking a class, or pursuing the field. Here are 5 tips I have for you as a psychology student!
1. Know there are different subfields of psychology
Generally, psychology is defined as the study of the “relationships between brain functions and behavior, and the environment and behavior,” according to the American Psychological Association. However, there are many different subfields. If you decide to take a Psychology 101 class, you’ll probably get a general overview of the different fields.
Personally, I took Forensic Psychology before I took Psych 101. Forensic psychology is how psychology applies to the law and the judicial system. A forensic psychology class will be very different from a cognitive psychology class, for example. Cognitive psychology is the study of higher mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, and thinking.
It’s important to figure out what aspect of psychology you’re getting into, as you may end up studying something you didn’t expect. Check out this list of careers in psychology to get an idea of the different fields!
2. Be careful when self-diagnosing
If you decide to take a social psychology class, abnormal psychology class, or any class that has to do with the human mind and its possible disorders, it’s possible you will try to self-diagnose. However, it’s important to be aware of your own confirmation bias.
The psychology dictionary defines confirmation bias as the tendency to “collect proof that verifies preexisting anticipations, generally by stressing or going after proof that upholds such and at the same time, throwing out or declining to look for proof that contrasts such.”
When you first learn about concepts such as “attachment style,” you will tend to try and fit yourself into the categories you learn about. Of course, there is no one who knows yourself better than you, but try not to get carried away. Many psychological concepts or theories hinge on the fact that they significantly impact and impede your ability to function on a daily basis. You may very well have symptoms of a mental illness, but those symptoms will not always indicate a diagnosable issue.
That being said, if you are in a psychology class and you do find yourself agreeing with many symptoms of certain disorders, you should definitely seek counseling. While you may begin to have a better understanding of your own mind through studying psychology, you are far from a professional.
3. You don’t learn therapy techniques
This tip connects to the last one. In your first few psychology classes, professors will not teach therapy techniques. As a student of psychology, you will definitely learn about mental illnesses and what influences them, but you will not be able to professionally diagnose or treat them.
It is very possible that learning about psychology could help you cope with a preexisting mental illness. Knowledge and understanding can often be helpful. However, it is important that you do not try to act as a therapist for your friends. If anything, being a psychology student should encourage you to help others seek professional counseling and help if they are struggling with a psychological disorder.
This isn’t meant to discourage and/or put down those who are self-diagnosed or those who cannot afford professional help at the moment. However, it is a strong suggestion to not take on a professional role when there is a lot more you need to learn beyond a couple psychology courses.
4. Try not to “psychoanalyze” people
Similarly, taking one or two psychology classes will not give you the ability to read minds. In my experience, most people perceive the study of psychology to be a sort of mind-reading science. Psychiatrists depicted in the media, like Dr. Molly Clock from the series “Scrubs,” seem to be pseudo-Sherlocks. Somehow, Dr. Clock has the ability to single out a person’s deepest insecurity. In one scene, she reduces another character to tears with just the word “eyebrows.”
Psychology is a field designed to study the human mind in order to improve the world in what ways it can. It should not be used for parlor tricks or for personal satisfaction. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being excited about knowledge. You will be able to recognize certain motivations and desires behind behaviors that you may not have been able to before. However, remember to respect others. In general, people don’t like to have their brains probed and examined without consent.
On a related note, psychoanalysis is strongly associated with Sigmund Freud’s study of the subconscious. The practice generally has to do with analyzing people’s subconscious desires to find explanations for their conscious behavior. This involved analyzing dreams and the well-known ink-blot testing. The idea was that patients would reveal their latent desires.
Unfortunately, Freud’s theory of the subconscious is not testable or falsifiable. That means that the scientific method cannot evaluate the theory, which makes it unreliable. So, while “psychoanalyzing” people may be amusing and may hold some truth for particular people, the scientific method does not support the concept.
5. Remember psychology is a science
That might seem obvious, but it is not always readily apparent. Psychology, like any science, hinges on good research methods and well-defined variables. Everything you will learn about psychology is likely from several well-conducted and reproduced experiments. It is important to backup your knowledge with sources and it is important that those sources have been designed properly. In a Psychology 101 class, you might be surprised to find that a lot of what you learn has to do with how studies are designed and how to evaluate whether a study is a good study or not.
Experiments do not always establish infallible principles or theories. Future experiments can change or debunk any previous experiments. Similarly, a lot of psychology experiments use correlational research. Correlational research simply indicates what kind of relationship there is between two variables. While more advanced correlational techniques like path analysis (a statistical technique) can strongly imply causation, correlation does not confirm causation.
Ready to Hit the Books?
I hope these tips helped you learn something you didn’t know! Psychology is a wonderful field of study, but often misunderstood. Are you ready to pick your first class? If you’ve already taken a few classes what do you think about these tips?
If you enjoyed this article, check out these ones:
Science of Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.apa.org/action/science/index.aspx
Glossary of Psychological Terms. (2002). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/research/action/glossary.aspx?tab=3
Careers in Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017 from https://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers.aspx
Nugent, P. M. (2015, June 29). CONFIRMATION BIAS. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://psychologydictionary.org/confirmation-bias/
McLeod, S. (1970, January 01). Saul McLeod. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychoanalysis.html
Cherry, K. (2017, May 15). How Do Correlational Studies Work? Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.verywell.com/correlational-research-2795774
Crossman, A. (2017, March 2). What is Path Analysis? Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.thoughtco.com/path-analysis-3026444
Edited by Viveca Shearin