Psychology and the scientist-practitioner
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
Psychology is a very broad field that is represented by a wide variety of people, some with degrees in Psychology or related fields of study and others who have come to their knowledge in less formal ways. Psychology, as a scientific field
of study, is more intellectually accessible (i.e., easier to understand), inherently interesting, and far more relatable than other sciences, likely due to its heavy focus on human behavior. For example, I'm not sure you'd ever hear people without training in organic chemistry discussing the topic. In contrast, people without specific training in Psychology feel comfortable discussing Psychological topics (e.g., communication, decision-making, leadership, personality, child development, human performance, and mental health). This comfort with Psychology has benefits and drawbacks.
The benefits of broad interest in Psychology
It is highly beneficial that people are more comfortable with Psychology because many aspects of the field can be used to help people live better lives! Passing on well-studied principles, theories, and methods that are derived from Psychology is important and represents the bulk of the work done by applied Psychologists, like Clinical and Counseling Psychologists (and other mental health professionals), Sport Psychologists, Career Counselors, and Industrial/Organizational Psychologists.
Potential drawbacks to broad interest in Psychology
People's comfort with Psychology can also be a drawback, as some information that sounds like it was derived from Psychological principles and facts is nothing more than one person's ideas or unfounded beliefs. Some of these ideas spread quickly and easily, as people are drawn to the allure of simplicity or to the fame or fortune of individuals proposing them. While some pseudo-science is entirely harmless and others buoyed by the placebo effect, the risk of harm or just wasted time, effort and money remain. One way to guard against pseudo-science is to share the customs and procedures of scientific communities with the public.
The allure of pseudo-science
Outside of scientific communities the general public is not often accustomed to applying scientific principles, processes, and customs. Today, you can read entire books that present "facts" with no scientific resources to anchor the information. Still worse, some include as their sources personal experience, extreme case examples, and/or otherwise distorted data. We are all natural theorists, as evidenced by our musings about why certain things happen in our lives (e.g., why are you more or less successful than your sibling, coworker, or neighbor?). Human beings are sense-making beings. We like to draw connections and conclusions as we plan out our next steps. Without subjecting our individual theories to the rigors of scientific study, we simply can't say whether or not our theories hold any real merit or if they are generalizable to other people. A classic example of a theory that did not hold up well to scientific study was that of Sigmund Freud (more on him later, if you're up for it). Scientific research is not perfect, but its rigorous pursuit of truth and multiple safe-guards make it arguably a better source than the untested ideas of pseudo-science.
The important role of Scientist-Practitioners in Psychology
In scientific communities (e.g., college campuses), the work of Psychology is primarily disseminated by Psychologists, each experts in their sub-domains. In academia (aka, higher education), citing one's sources is considered paramount, as it allows learners to seek out the sources of information and to verify that the facts were represented accurately. The results of scientific studies are subject to scientific rigor, as they are vetted by expert-paneled research journals and scrutinized by entire communities of scientists who may attempt to replicate or refute the findings of a study. To even be considered for publication, the authors of a study must demonstrate that the scientific method and ethical principles were followed, sources of bias contained, and their methods of study explicated to allow for any dubious researcher to attempt to replicate the original results of the study. Though scientific communities are not immune to the occasional distortion or mistaken outcome due to the slim chance (i.e., 3-5%) of random error, it is often short lived and harshly refuted once discovered.
My promise to you
As both a scientist and a practitioner, it is my objective to integrate the customs and practices of the scientific community into this small sliver of the public domain. I hope, through the use of this blog, to engage you with scientifically-derived information and opinions. I promise to be as transparent as my own awareness allows me to be regarding my biases and to introduce my opinions and ideas as such. I hope that you find my well-meaning endeavor helpful.