If you asked a number of professionals like psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors to define psychology, you would most likely expect them to give you the same answer. Fact is, that you will get at least a few different definitions of psychology for any group of psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors. These different definitions reflect the difference in how we should study humans.
A common definition made by psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors is that psychology is the science of behavior. According to this definition only directly observable phenomena, like behaviors (e, g, how I act and behave) are the study of psychology. Things that cannot be verified through our senses (e.g. seeing, or hearing), like thinking and feeling, cannot be scientifically studied.
Other psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors feel that the mental processes of thinking, perceiving, and feelings, and the like are so significant that they must be merged within the science of psychology. Although psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors recognize that mental processes cannot be directly observed, they maintain that careful inferences must be made about mental processes. It is therefore that the most comprehensive definition of psychology is: The science of behavior and mental processes.
Clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors learn to describe, predict, understand, and influence behavior and mental processes. In a clinical setting, during counseling and psychotherapy sessions, mental health professionals use science based insights to facilitate healing when their patients have symptoms of mental health disorders, such has anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, addiction, or any other disorder listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Behavioral scientists and clinicians work to develop evidence based treatment models (CBT, DBT, ERP, Seeking Safety etc.). This means that through the scientific process treatments are developed and data is collected to measure their efficacy. The scientific method differs from common sense. When we apply common sense to a particular situation, it often is based on personal anecdotes, i.e. ideas, stories, personal experiences or opinion. Scientific explanations are based on empirical evidence, by using experiments and observations to investigate theories and hypotheses. Studies are published and the replication of the study must consistently yield similar results for the theory to be confirmed and the approach to be considered an evidence based treatment method.
Within the field of psychology, psychotherapy and counseling there are a number of influential psychologists and schools of thought. All mental health professionals in their study of psychology learn about the major schools of thoughts and treatment modalities. It is in their training and practice that they can choose to adhere to a particular school of thought, or to use an integrated approach which draws on several schools of thought. To assure that a person seeking mental health care is in professional hands, psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors must meet stringent academic and internship requirements and sign on to a code of ethics to be given a license to practice. This assures consistency in education, training and professional conduct.
Approaches to psychotherapy fall into five broad categories:
Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies:
During psychotherapy and counseling problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts are focused on. Unconscious meanings and motivations are uncovered. The patient-therapist relationship is a close working partnership. It is through the relationship and interactions with the therapist that the patients learn about themselves. While psychoanalysis is closely associated with Sigmund Freud, it has been extended and modified since its origins.
During psychotherapy and counseling the therapist focuses on how learning takes a role in how humans develop both normal and abnormal behaviors. The therapist helps the client unlearn abnormal ways of behavior and learn more adaptive ways to take their place. Contributors to this school of thought were: Palov, Watson, Skinner, Thorndike, and Wolpe.
During psychotherapy and counseling the therapist emphasizes what people think rather than what they do. According to this school of thought, therapists believe that erroneous or dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. The focus is to facilitate patients changing their thoughts, which results in changing how people feel and what they do. Contributors to this school of thought include Ellis and Beck.
During psychotherapy and counseling the therapist emphasizes people’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their fullest potential. Unconditional regard, in the form of concern and respect for others are also vital themes. Contributors to this school of thought were, Satre, Buber and Kirkegaard.
Three types of humanistic therapy are especially influential.
- Client-centered therapy creates an atmosphere that encourages clients to discover feelings they are unaware of. Therapists help clients change by emphasizing their concern, care and interest.
- Gestalt therapy emphasizes what it calls “organismic holism,” the importance of being aware of the here and now and accepting responsibility for yourself. During psychotherapy and counseling the therapist takes an active role, questioning and challenging the client, to help the client become aware of his or her true feelings.
- Existential therapy focuses on free will, self-determination and the search for meaning.
Integrative or holistic therapy:
During psychotherapy and counseling the therapist blends elements from various approaches to create a treatment that best serves their clients’ needs.