Psychology is a subject that encompasses a wide range of scientific, philosophical, sociological, and medical pursuits. In fact, many would argue that the field of psychology is for the modern world what the fields of philosophy and theology have been for previous generations. In this article we will discuss the role of psychology in the lives of individuals and societies, and consider some of the potential roles for psychology professionals in present and future scenarios.
In terms of theory, psychology is philosophical. It is the modern tradition of moral evaluation. Using psychology principles, we determine was is appropriate, normal, natural, and acceptable. We also determine what types of thought and behavior are unacceptable in our present social environment. This is to say that psychology is essentially the new morality. These evaluations are the intersection between common sense and political enforcement; they have typically been the domain of priests.
But psychology is also a practical and pragmatic field. An entire science of happiness has developed over the past thirty years, particularly in the field of Positive Psychology. In this area of inquiry, psychologists have set out to determine what it is that constitutes a "good life." We have begun to examine and systematize the causes and implications of happiness, joy, satisfaction, love. We have begun to encode a new set of laws governing the engagement of persons in the basic tasks of life: work, family, community, spirituality.
These are all jobs that have been left empty with the widespread abandonment of organized religions among highly developed communities. As the enlightenment has spread gradually through the generations, the has arisen both a need and a fulfillment of that need for a new priesthood. And that priesthood is the psychological community.
There is another matter to be discussed which is integral to this argument, and that is the issue of psychotherapy. In psychotherapy we find an applied form of the philosophies and evaluations which we have discussed so far. The psychotherapist's job is to apply these new moral guidelines directly to the lives of individuals.
Many psychotherapists would strongly reject this notion. It is common within the mental health professions to hear an express rejection of the notion that a therapist is in any way influencing or imposing values on their clients. It is a matter of moral purity for these therapist, much as the priests of previous ages would have argued that they professed only the word of God, and not any opinions of their own.
However, the science of psychology has soundly established that it is not possible for any interaction to take place without the expression of the cultural and personal values of the individuals involved. Every communication is essentially a persuasive act, which transmits values from one individual to another. In the psychotherapeutic situation, the power differential between therapist and patient ensures that the client is there to receive the therapist's values.
Psychological diagnoses, after all, are little more than judgments about what forms of thought and behavior are acceptable in the current cultural climate. These norms vary by culture, and change over time within each culture. The behavior that is now accepted was once shunned, and behaviors that are currently considered normal will one day be pathologized.
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Marcus Maybourne is a Chicago psychotherapist who write on a wide variety of mental health topics over on Chicago Psychology . org, a community site for psychological professionals.
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