Psychology - what kind of science is it, what does it study and by what methods?

Posted by Evgeniy on 03/10/2013. Published by Fundamentals of Psychology Last updated: 10/29/2017

There are a number of independent branches (sections) of psychology that consider the issues and problems of psychology from their own unique point of view. Find out more about the most basic and relevant ones.

Despite the fact that each branch of psychology has its own view of psychological problems, they all still pursue one common goal, namely: the study and explanation of human thinking and behavior.

Behavioral psychology

Behavioral psychology, also known as behaviorism, is a learning theory based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through what is called conditioning. Although this branch of psychology dominated the first half of the 20th century, it became less prominent in the 1950s. However, the methods of behavioral psychology remain a mainstay in therapy, education, and many other fields today.

Treatment methods (therapy)

Psychoanalysis (Freud)

Psychoanalytic theory is largely based on the theory of neurologist Sigmund Freud. These ideas often represented repressed emotions and memories from the patient's childhood. According to psychoanalytic theory, this repression causes the disturbances that people experience in their daily lives, and by finding the source of this disturbance, a person should be able to eliminate this disturbance. This is achieved through various methods, with free association, hypnosis and insight being popular.

The goal of these techniques is to produce catharsis or emotional release in the patient, which should indicate that the source of the problem has been identified and can then be helped. Psychosexual stages also played a key role in this form of therapy, as Freud often believed that the problems a patient was experiencing were due to being stuck in a particular stage. Dreams also played an important role in this form of therapy, as Freud saw dreams as a way to gain insight into the subconscious.

Patients were often asked to keep dream diaries and record their dreams so that they could be discussed at the next therapy session. There are many potential problems associated with this style of therapy, including resistance to a repressed memory or feeling, and a negative transference of the therapist. Psychoanalysis was carried out by many after Freud, including his daughter Anna Freud and Jacques Lacan. These and many others developed Freud's original theory and added their own perspective on defense mechanisms. While psychoanalysis has fallen out of favor with more modern forms of therapy, some clinical psychologists still use it to varying degrees.

Behavioral therapy (Wolpe)

Behavior therapy draws on principles of behaviorism such as classical and operant conditioning. Behaviorism emerged in the early 20th century through the work of psychologists such as James Watson and B.F. Skinner. Behaviorism states that all human behavior occurs because of incentive and reinforcement, although this reinforcement is usually for good behavior, it can also occur for maladaptive behavior. From this therapeutic perspective, the patients' maladaptive behavior was reinforced, which will lead to the repetition of the maladaptive behavior. The goal of therapy is to reinforce less maladaptive behaviors so that over time these adaptive behaviors become the patient's core behaviors.

Humanistic Therapy (Rogers)

Humanistic therapy aims to achieve self-actualization (Carl Rogers 1961). In this style of therapy, the therapist will focus on the patient himself rather than on the problem the patient is suffering from. The overall goal of this therapy is that treating the patient as a “person” rather than a client will help to find the source of the problem and solve it effectively.

Humanistic therapy has been on the rise in recent years with numerous positive results. It is considered one of the key elements necessary for therapeutic effectiveness and a significant contribution not only to the well-being of the patient, but also to society as a whole. Some say that today all therapeutic approaches are based on a humanistic approach and that humanistic therapy is the best way to treat a patient.

Humanistic therapy can be used for people of all ages, however, it is very popular among children in a variant known as play therapy. Children are often sent to therapy due to an outburst they are having at school or at home, the theory is that by treating the child in an environment that is similar to the area in which they are having disruptive behavior, the child will be more likely to learn lessons from therapy and have an effective result. In play therapy, therapists will “play” with their client.

Play is a typical behavior of a child, and therefore playing with a therapist is a natural response to the child: while playing together, the therapist will ask questions of the patient, but because of the setting, the questions no longer seem intrusive and therapeutic, more like a normal conversation. This should help the patient understand the problems they are facing and admit them to the therapist with less difficulty than they might experience in a traditional counseling setting.

Developmental psychology

Developmental psychology, as a branch of psychology, is designed to study the characteristics of human development throughout his entire life cycle, from the stage of childhood to the stage of maturity. The scientific study of human development seeks to understand and explain how and why people's behavior changes across the lifespan. This applies to all aspects of human development, including physical, emotional, intellectual, social, perceptual and personality. This area of ​​psychology studies a huge range of topics, ranging from fetal development to Alzheimer's disease.


Supernatural traditions

Over time, societies have offered several explanations for abnormal behavior in humans. Beginning in some hunter-gatherer societies, animists believed that people who exhibited abnormal behavior were possessed by evil spirits. This idea was related to trepanation, the practice of cutting a hole in a person's skull to release evil spirits.

A more formalized response to spiritual beliefs about abnormality is the practice of exorcism. Performed by religious authorities, exorcism is considered another way of releasing evil spirits that cause pathological behavior within a person. In some cases, people exhibiting unusual thoughts or behavior have been ostracized from society or worse. For example, witchcraft was punishable by death. Two Catholic inquisitors wrote the Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for "Hammer Against Witches"), which was used by many inquisitors and witch hunters. It contained an early taxonomy of perceived deviant behavior and proposed guidelines for prosecuting deviants.


The act of confining mentally ill persons to a separate institution dates back to 1547, when King Henry VIII of England established the asylum of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London. This hospital, nicknamed Bedlam, was known for its deplorable conditions. Such institutions remained popular throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These early institutions were often in terrible conditions. Patients were considered a "burden" to society and were locked up and treated almost like animals to be dealt with rather than patients in need of treatment. However, many of the patients received useful medical care. There was scientific curiosity about abnormal behavior, although it was rarely investigated in early institutions.

At the end of the 18th century, the idea of ​​humanitarian treatment of patients received great support through the work of Philippe Pinel in France. He insisted that patients should be treated with kindness rather than the cruelty they were subjected to, as if they were animals or criminals. His experimental ideas, such as removing circuits from patients, were met with reluctance. The good experiments proved to be very successful, which helped lead to reforms in the way mental health institutions would operate.

Institutionalization would continue to improve throughout the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to the work of many humanists such as Dorethea Dix and the mental hygiene movement, which promoted the physical well-being of the mentally ill. This movement raised millions of dollars to build new facilities to house the mentally ill.

Important! The number of mental hospitals began to increase significantly during the 20th century as they provided increased care for the mentally ill.

By 1939, there were more than 400,000 patients in US state mental hospitals. Hospital stays tended to be quite long for patients, with some people being treated for many years. These hospitals, although better than the institutions of the past, still lacked the resources to effectively treat patients. Although the reform movement occurred, patients often still faced cruel and inhumane treatment.

This began to change in 1946 when Mary Jane Ward published an influential book called The Snake Pit , which became a popular film of the same name. The book draws attention to the conditions that mental patients face and this has raised concerns among the general public for more humane health care in these overcrowded hospitals.

That same year, the National Institute of Mental Health was created to help train hospital staff and study the conditions affecting patients. During this period, the Hill-Burton Acts were also passed, which funded mental health hospitals.

Important! Along with the Public Health Act of 1963, the Hill-Burton Acts helped create outpatient mental health clinics, inpatient general hospitals, and rehabilitation and community counseling centers.


However, at the end of the twentieth century, a large number of mental hospitals were closed due to lack of funding and overcrowding. In England, for example, only 14 of the 130 mental health institutions that were established at the beginning of the 20th century remained open at the beginning of the 21st century. In 1963, President John Kennedy founded the public health movement in the United States as a "bold new approach" to mental health care, aimed at coordinating citizen mental health services in mental health centers.

Important! Over the course of 40 years, the United States saw a decline in the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals by approximately 90 percent.

This trend has been observed not only in England and the United States, but throughout the world: in countries such as Australia, there are too many mentally ill people and not enough treatment facilities. Recent studies have shown that the prevalence of mental illness has not decreased significantly over the past 10 years, and has actually increased for specific conditions such as anxiety and mood disorders.

This resulted in a large number of patients being released but not fully cured of the disorder for which they were hospitalized. This became known as the phenomenon of deinstitutionalization. This movement had the noble goals of treating people outside of an isolated psychiatric hospital by placing them in communities and support systems.

Another goal of this movement was to avoid the potential negative adaptations that may occur during long-term hospital stays. For example, many professionals were concerned that patients would find permanent refuge in psychiatric hospitals, which would admit them when the demands of daily life became too difficult. However, patients who move into the hostel do not usually fare well, as they often report feeling "abandoned" by the doctors who previously treated them.

Important ! Placing these people in hostels makes a big difference to their well-being, as the added stress of living on the streets does not help a person recover from the particular disorder they are suffering from.

Health Psychology

Health psychology is a field dedicated to the study of how biology, psychology, behavior, and social factors influence human health and illness. Sometimes, along with the term “health psychology,” the terms “medical psychology” and “behavioral medicine” are also used. This field aims to study interventions to promote human health and prevent and treat diseases and illnesses.

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