The decline of psychology

As a psychology major at Colby College, I feel like I have far too often felt the burn of pure skepticism when I tell people that I am a Psychology major.  The first question is often something like, “Well, what does a psych major really learn anyway?” or the even more hurtful “So you were trying to take the easy road through college?”  These embarrassing moments in my life have left me wondering simply, where is the love?  Specifically, where is the love for psychology?

When people think of “science,” their minds readily find the words “biology,” “chemistry,” or maybe “physics.”  But why does psychology never seem to readily enter the picture?  One explanation for this was a discussion point raised during class.  All three of the aforementioned intellectual genres are taught in most high schools throughout the country.  They are taught to people with the distinction of being sciences.  Thus, when these individuals continue on into college they have never been exposed to actual bodies of work associated with psychology.  In fact, their only exposure to and education of what a psychologist even does might be no better than late night observations of B.D. Wong profiling deranged killers in Law and Order.  Psychology is misrepresented on television and not taught at all in many high schools (including my own.)

In “Psychology and Neuroscience: Making Peace,” Miller and Keller (2002) shed light on the origins of this bias.  During the very late 1800’s William James, Sigmund Freud, and Ivan Pavlov forged the pillars of what would later become modern psychology.  Their outstanding work propelled a vast public interest in the topic of behavior as a result of the mind.  In the midst of the swingin’ 60’s, society discovered a new focus.  Not only did there exist fascinating dimensions of the mind yet to be explored, but also they found that there are a variety of ways that these realms can be altered completely and predictably, namely psychoactive drugs.  The  discovery that one’s mood can be altered and an increased understanding of the drugs that influence such changes diverted public interest away from behavior psychology and towards the new frontier known as neuroscience.  Since then, biology has been treated as a more salient facet in treating psychopathology, while psychology has taken a step out of the limelight.

This interest may be explained in other ways as well.  Often America seems to be a society that promises a pill that can treat everything; we promise an easy way out.  One point that Jen drew in class was that people are more likely to accept the reality that their problem is due to uncontrollable elements of biology than the reality that their problems may be a result of poor methods and strategies of observing and processing the world around them.  Sadly, this focus on the easy way out might not be ultimately beneficial at all. The article points out a study that suggests that medication and counseling have equal success rates in curing depression.  Other researchers even suggest that the two may be most effective when used together.  Yet, it is becoming more and more acceptable that the halls of schools and colleges across the country are being flooded with amphetamine derivatives, the purses of self many conscious girls are overflowing with diet pills, and most Major League Baseball records today are set on steroids.  The decline of psychology may be influenced, at least in part, by our societal desire to swallow a pill that can ostensibly solve all of our problems while simultaneously enforcing a deep disdain for actually confronting them ourselves.

4 thoughts on “The decline of psychology

  1. Just like most of the posts, I am almost in full agreement with ya Michael. And just as Sara mentioned they pharaceutical companies seem to be winning over the nation. However, I don’t think this overmedicated country is due to a preference for biological treatment options over psychothereuptic treatment. I think that society drives people to work harder in less amounts of time. For that reason, some individuals may feel the time commitment of counseling is too great. Furthermore, society has a stigma about going to see the psychologist. It seems taking 2 seconds in the morning to discretely pop a pill is preferable to taking a half hour every week at therapy (which doesn’t generate affects as fast as an anti-depressant)with people thinking you may be mentally instable for doing so.


  2. Great entry, Mike. Really wonderfully written. Lia I like your point a lot too… let’s pay more attention to how our behavior (working too much etc) is contributing to the decline in our health, mental or otherwise!


  3. Nice post, Mike. I share your concern with how obsolete psychology is in high school classrooms (and really, even in college–unless you are a psych major). When I was in high school, we had one “psychology” class. I use quotation marks because, after taking many courses on psychology here, I am left wondering whether the course was actually even relevant to psychology. The climax of this course was watching the Wizard of Oz….and trying to relate it to some sort of psychological construct (seriously Goffstown High? sometimes I wonder how I even got into college…).


  4. When I tell people I’m a Psych major I get a lot of, “So you know what I’m thinking right now?” And actually yes, I could have predicted they would say that. I feel like when I add on the “Neuroscience concentration” to my major it impresses people. Especially in Maine, a school like Colby with an official sounding major wows a lot of people. Then I tell them I’m going to get my Masters in Social Work and they are probably pretty confused. Psychology has very little presence in modern society and I hope that changes soon.


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