New to Psychology? Familiarize yourself with this science and its treatments.
Table of Contents
Before seeking psychological assistance, you need to understand some important aspects of psychology. People see psychologists for many different reasons and what ails you is just as important as the psychologist's field of focus.
Origin & Evolution of Psychology
The science of Psychology has its roots in philosophy and religion. During the Age of Enlightenment, Psychology began to distinguish itself from religion and philosophy. This differentiation with Psychology from religion and philosophy corresponds with the use of the scientific method and the growth of many sciences.
Psychology was rooted in examinations of the body and researchers started theorizing about the connections between the mind and body. Early researchers would create theories focused on showing connections between how the body moved and acted and how this action corresponded with the brain and nerves. As more researchers studied the connections between the mind and body, connections began being applied to behavior. This application slowly distinguished the field of psychology from anatomy and other fields.
The evolution of Psychology would lead to subfields study. These subfields would become the dominant fields study in Psychology including psychodynamics, behaviorism, and cognitive psychology. These schools offered independent views of how the mind and body worked. While each view offers a comprehensive view of human psychology none of them are fully complete.
Each of these theories provides a view of psychology that attempts to explain behavior and thought processes from different points of view. Each of these views takes into account different aspects of human behavior and touches on the concept of nature vs nurture. Nature vs nurture is the debate over how much thought and human behavior is driven either by environmental forces or by genetics or nature. This point is important to understand concerning psychology since the this argument has fundamentally been redefined such that behavior is now considered in three parts genetics, experience, and current perception.
Within this framework, nature and nurture are inseparable forces and therefore the idea of each being distinct or causal by themselves is no longer a valid theory. In this light, the all theories of psychology must take into account the idea that environment and genetics are inseparable. As such, the evolution of psychology continues to expand into more robust theories of human cognition and behavior that are multifactorial and multidiscipline.
Sigmund Freud & Psychodynamic Theory
Psychodynamics is a field of psychology which interprets human behavior and thinking based on internal relationships of separate areas of the mind: the psychodynamic model. This theory was developed by Sigmund Freud and is one of the earliest theories of psychology which provides a means for understanding how and why humans behave as they do. Within this theory the mind is considered to be composed of three different areas known as the ID, Ego, Superego. Each area of the mind performs a different function such as the ID being the primal emotional thinking while the Superego is the heightened controlling rational portion of the mind. These areas of the mind work together to create behavior and thought processes.
The psychoanalytic theory posits that personality and behavior are a function of the interaction of these three functional areas by sexual, aggressive, unconscious drives and conflicts arising from day to day life. This model of personality and behavior is based almost entirely on the underlying forces and conflicts between the id, ego, and superego. This position is problematic because it is based on an enormous amount of assumptions.
Psychodynamic Therapy Issues
Most troubling about Psychodynamic therapy is the amount of time consumed, the cost, and the fact that success rates are difficult to determine. These problems arise because much of psychodynamic theory is based on a large amount of conjecture from Freud. Freud’s theories are founded on highly speculative and subjective reasoning. Mostly this work is based on a case study analysis of his patients. Because Freud formed his ideas of the mind based on observations of patients and as a result, there is no empirical evidence to support that the Id, ego, and superego even exist. For a theory that has gained so much attention, and still used today, the psychodynamic model offers little evidence to support its efficacy.
Another troublesome area in the psychodynamic model is the fact that psychoanalysis is an extremely subjective practice based on loose sets of methods. The idea behind psychoanalysis is that by discussing one’s issues, the unconscious conflicts can be uncovered thereby leading to a solution for the individual. For example, if a person who is homophobic discusses his feelings (with a counselor who is leading the person through questions) the patient may find that he is harboring homosexual feelings. This would be considered a breakthrough in psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis is difficult to measure and quantify. To test it, specific practices must be taken into account but these can change depending on the professional in question. Most studies of psychotherapy typically focus on symptoms rather than the problems of personality such that problems continue to manifest themselves but in different personality and behavioral aspects. As such, that psychoanalysis may not have the efficacy that it shows in trials since it is only treating the symptoms such as cognitive errors or distortions, such as deflecting or lying.
Therapy should not simply alter the manifestation of the disorder but should treat it directly. Without some form of standardization for treating the primary issue of personality or behavior, this leaves a broad area of interpretation for professionals. If psychoanalysis is going to be a primary tool in psychology, then it would stand to reason that it should be standardized more in order to identify its levels of efficacy.
Behaviorism is another primary area of study in psychology which attempts to explain behavior through environmental forces. Behaviorism is often categorized as first and second wave. First wave behaviorism, founds on the idea that human behavior is impacted or learned through what is known as classical and operant conditioning. Conditioning is a form of learning that occurs when a human is exposed to stimuli such as flame and learns to associate flame with danger or being injured.
Second wave behaviorism introduces Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a psychological treatment that takes into account the individuals thoughts and beliefs and their impact on behavior and emotional responses. CBT incorporates conditioning in its focus on identifying negative or irrational thoughts.
It is important to understand that CBT, though under the umbrella of behaviorism, is not the same as other forms of behavioral therapy. Therapy based on conditioning are generally referred to as behavioral therapies but this includes many different therapies rooted in the principles of behaviorism. Here are some examples of behavioral therapies:
- Aversion Therapy: Aversion therapy is a form of behavioral therapy designed to help individuals break a habit or behavior by linking it to something unpleasant. It is commonly used to address addictive behaviors such as those associated with alcohol use disorder. The therapy functions by disrupting the brain's reward system, replacing positive feelings with negative experiences. For instance, chemical aversion therapy for alcohol use disorder involves administering a drug that induces nausea or vomiting upon alcohol consumption. While the effectiveness of aversion therapy is a topic of debate, it is generally not the first treatment option, and should be supervised by a qualified mental health professional.
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA therapy is a treatment approach utilizing positive reinforcement to enhance behavioral, social, communication, and learning skills. It is considered the most effective treatment for improving social skills, adaptive behaviors, language abilities, and cognitive skills in autistic children, as well as reducing aggression and anxiety in children and adolescents. Despite its proven benefits, ABA therapy remains controversial due to its use of consequences (punishment or negative reinforcement).
- Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is a form of behavioral therapy designed to help you face your fears. It involves exposing you to the source of your fear in a safe environment. According to EBBP.org, about 60 to 90 percent of people have either no symptoms or mild symptoms of their original disorder after completing their exposure therapy. Studies show that exposure therapy helps over 90% of people with a specific phobia who commit to the therapy and complete it.
- Counterconditioning: Counterconditioning, or aversive conditioning, aims to eliminate a behavior by associating it with something unpleasant. It's a controversial therapy with mixed research findings. It's not commonly the initial treatment choice, and other therapies are preferred. The therapy's duration has also been criticized, as relapse may occur after its completion.
In contrast to these therapies, research shows CBT effective when treating depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.
CBT is rooted in several core principles:
- Psychological problems stem from faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
- Psychological problems are also based on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- Individuals with psychological problems can learn better coping mechanisms to alleviate symptoms and enhance their effectiveness in daily life.
CBT treatment primarily focuses on altering thinking patterns, which may involve:
- Identifying and reevaluating distortions in thinking that contribute to problems.
- Gaining insight into the behavior and motivations of others.
- Using problem-solving skills to handle challenging situations.
- Cultivating confidence in one’s abilities.
Additionally, CBT treatment aims to modify behavioral patterns, which may include:
- Confronting fears rather than avoiding them.
- Role-playing to prepare for potentially difficult interactions.
- Learning techniques for mental relaxation and stress reduction.
CBT emphasizes empowering individuals to become their own therapists, encouraging the development of coping skills through in-session exercises and homework assignments. CBT therapists focus on the individual's current life circumstances rather than past experiences that led to their difficulties. Studies show that CBT outperforms other therapies and sometimes even medications.
Here are some of the key areas cognitive psychologists explore:
- Choice-based behavior
- Information processing
- Language acquisition
- Speech perception
- Visual perception
Cognitive psychology helps researchers understand the human brain and allows psychologists to help people deal with psychological and learning issues so the field is often utilized in other areas such as clinical psychology but also in "cognitive science, linguistics, and economics."
Which Therapy Works
Most psychologists employ a mixture of behavioral therapies depending on the client's needs. These professionals also list the issues they work with on their websites, which can make learning about them easier. Any form of therapy can take time but if you choose a psychologist and feel you are not making progress, you should discuss this with your doctor and even talk a different physician.