Next week, I will receive my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, an achievement that I take enormous pride in earning. This degree encompasses years of growth and learning in many disciplines, dozens of research papers and textbooks, and lectures on every topic from Sigmund Freud to Barack Obama, to arranged marriages to sexual fetishes, to infant behavior to the process of death. Psychology is a popular college major, and it seems like everyone has taken at least an introductory class, simply because, hello, the subject is exciting! So, if you want to become a psychology major or are just curious what we actually learn/do, I will recap!
1. YOU SELF-DIAGNOSE: Just like any other trade, psychology students often take on the role of an indirect psychologist. When you start learning about all the mental disorders and symptoms, it’s very easy to automatically assume you have A,B or C. Then, bam, you’ve suddenly diagnosed yourself as clinically depressed or anorexic. Moreover, you may start doing this with your family and friends, because you began noticing their habits and behaviors with a scientifically trained mind. This can be dangerous, because, as a student, you are just learning the fundamentals of mental illness, and you are not adequately prepared to diagnose or treat such adversities.
2. YOU CHALLENGE ANYTHING THAT SAYS “ACCORDING TO ONE STUDY“: Most, if not all, undergraduate psychology programs require several statistic and research-based methods courses. This is to help train students to understand how clinical data is obtained and interpreted. This clinical data is vital for understanding EVERYTHING, from how cocaine affects the brain structure to how a new reading program works at a school. This data IS NOT easy to analyze, because there is SO much to take into consideration, such as the type of people in the sample, the environment, other unaccounted variables, how long the study has taken, and the list goes on and on. That’s why when we open a magazine that says, “75% of women agree that buying new clothes makes them feel happy,” our minds tend to wander to: what kinds of women did they survey, what were their social classes, their race, etc.!
3. YOU REALIZE THAT THERAPY ENCOMPASSES FAR MORE THAN LYING ON THE COUCH AND TALKING ABOUT YOUR MOTHER: That’s because therapy takes place EVERYWHERE. There are therapists who will fly with people who are terrified of airplanes, therapists in schools to help with students facing academic or mental challenges, therapists in corporate offices to assist with personnel analysis, therapists on football fields who focus on exercise science and well-being. You may NEVER have to talk about your mother! In fact, most of the popular therapeutic techniques today focus less on your childhood and parents and more on your current events and lifestyle.
4. YOU WILL STUDY SOMETHING THAT HITS HOME…HARD: Maybe it’s the lecture on Alzheimer’s. Maybe learning about alcoholism. We’ve ALL been impacted by mental illness at some point in our lives, whether it be indirectly with family and friends or directly with ourselves. In fact, at any given time in your life, you likely know SOMEONE suffering from SOMETHING that you are studying. In a way, this reality-check can be good. For some, it creates a sense of purpose. They realize that they have chosen this path for a reason, and that is to perhaps, focus on this type of problem in research/therapy/etc. Just like when people lose others to a physical illness (cancer, heart disease, etc.) and set up a charity foundation in their honor, psychology students often take a keen interest in a topic related to something that they’ve suffered from or have had someone close to them suffer from.
5. YOU WILLCONCLUDE THAT THE HUMAN POPULATION IS BLESSED, COMPLEX, SIMPLE, OR COMPLETELY SCREWED UP (OFTEN ALL OF THE ABOVE, AT DIFFERENT TIMES, DEPENDING ON TIME OF DAY/CLASS/ETC.): Psychology is a fascinating science because it teaches the dynamic of human behavior related to our genes and biological mechanisms, while at the same time, demonstrating our vast differences from one another. It doesn’t take a college degree to understand that humans act differently, but it is interesting to note just how much the SAME we actually are, too. In fact, addiction is a key example. Whether it’s cigarettes, gambling, or pornography, addiction “feels” the same, in regards to the preoccupation, guilt, shame, bingeing affects, anxiety, and withdrawal symptoms. Yet, obviously, people are addicted to many different things! It is also common for students to either feel blessed (especially when learning about all the abnormal disorders there are out there are!) or extremely jaded (where did the human race go wrong?!!)