The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Freudian Psychology, Pop Psychology and Real Psychology

Putting Psychobabble in its Place

 

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Pop psychology and psychobabble must be separated from empirical research (yes, dare I say, real psychology)! Lay people need to know the difference. And, (I can see the light), the public will be able to take psychology seriously when this happens!

Back in the early days of psychology, people like Freud and his predecessors made statements about whatever they wanted and in many ways, it was accepted as fact. Never mind they had little if any evidence to support any of their claims. And if you bothered to question them, they said the magic words, "ah, but this is so complex it cannot be tested."

Then a new wave of psychologists came around (the behaviorists). They claimed that psychology must be based on actual data and observation and not on whatever some group of people happened to think, that may or may not be true. They were missing the picture too in many ways, but they had this correct.

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Since then, psychology has slowly pulled away from un-testable ideas and theories when attempting to explain the human mind (ah the light is approaching). But sadly, in many ways, Freudian types still haunt psychology. We hear all about repressed sexuality and all these complexes in any type of pop culture reference to psychology. Ah, and the public believes it. Have a problem? Come sit on the psychologist's couch and let him analyze your dreams.

This is not how modern psychologists operate primarily (or even mostly). In an era where we have testable ideas and theories, and means to test even implicit (subconscious) processes, we don't need people "representing psychology" by passing of Freudian thought as the end all facts of psychology or humanity.

Also to blame for psychology not being taken seriously (there are many more reasons, but I don't have all day) are the famous pop psychologists. Walk to any grocery store, and you will find many "self-help" books that are not based on any real empirical data (and even if they are, it is mostly selective use of the data to fit someone's point). But what does that matter? I mean, why would people want to TEST their ideas to see if they actually make a hill of beans difference for those we want to help? For the authors, it feels so awesome to just blindly think these books are helping. And if they were tested, then shucks, we could find out the ideas don't help. How sad that would be for the person who wrote it.

Bottom line is that there is real psychological research being done every day around the world testing people's ideas. And the beauty of science; there is research attempting to replicate and extend these findings. If something is wrong, then science can correct it.

We can start endorsing ideas that have been supported, or we can hash out ridiculous explanations and advice that is not based on any evidence. Hmm, I wonder what the responsible, progressive, better choice is.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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