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5 Reasons Why Psychology Matters

Understanding behavior is no longer just nice; it's essential.

Key points

  • Millions of students around the globe study in the field of psychology.
  • These days, studying psychology has all kinds of critical applications and it leads to various career options.
  • Therapy has demonstrated not only its importance, but, over the past several decades, it has also demonstrated its efficacy.
geralt / Pixabay
Source: geralt / Pixabay

A lot has happened since I first started teaching courses in psychology in 1994.

At that time, studying in the field of psychology was considered nice, but only partly practical. Jobs related to therapy were difficult to get, and they often required doctoral-level degrees. Research experience in statistics and in the behavioral sciences was considered to essentially be nice transferable skills, with few career paths sitting there at the ready.

Research on the efficacy of therapy, which is a primary career goal of people who major in psychology, was mixed at the time. And large-scale, societal implications for the work of behavioral scientists were somewhat difficult to pinpoint.

When it comes to psychology education, a lot has changed since 1994. Having been immersed in the field of behavioral science since that time, I've come to see an increasing need for people with education related to the applied and research-focused areas of psychology.

At this point, there is little argument regarding the utility of an advanced education in psychology (as I discuss in detail in my book, Own Your Psychology Major!).

Below are five reasons that, in the current day and age, psychology matters.

1. There is a mental health crisis in the industrialized world.

The proportion of people in industrialized nations, such as the United States, who are diagnosed with any number of mental health problems has increased dramatically in the past few decades (see Twenge, 2019). Disorders related to depression, anxiety, and mood instability, for instance, have increased significantly in prevalence over the past decade—and this increase shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

This trend is particularly common among adolescents and emerging adults, but it's a problem that affects all of us. The field of psychology is nothing short of necessary when it comes to this problem.

2. Therapy is often extremely helpful.

When I was a college student studying psychology in the '80s and '90s, the textbooks and cutting-edge research at the time tended to speak to ambiguity as to whether therapy was, on average, across various populations, helpful for people. The amount of research and work that has gone into understanding the efficacy of various forms of therapy since that time has been nothing short of profound (see Munder et al., 2019).

In short, based on extensive scientific data collected over the past several decades, it's clear that, in general, on average, psychotherapeutic treatments of various kinds tend to be helpful when it comes to addressing depression and other issues related to mental health. The advances in such fields as clinical psychology, psychiatry, and mental health counseling in the past few decades have, simply, been extraordinary.

3. Modern technologies often have unintended adverse outcomes when it comes to psychological well-being.

A good deal of research in the modern behavioral sciences is rooted in the evolutionary perspective, which largely focuses on how the ancestral conditions that surrounded the evolutionary history of our ancestors are extremely mismatched with modern, industrialized conditions that surround so many of us. So many modern technologies, such as social media platforms, are strongly mismatched from ancestral conditions, often leading to a broad array of psychological problems.

One pronounced example pertains to cyberbullying, which is largely an outcome associated with advances in social media technology and, in the same breath, is strongly related to adverse mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults today (see my and Nicole Wedberg's book, Positive Evolutionary Psychology, for a detailed summary of this topic).

4. The internet age requires experts in the behavioral sciences.

It used to be the case that getting an advanced education in behavioral science was considered nice and something that would help someone in some abstract sense. Wow, have times changed.

These days, some of the most notable companies that host products used by so many of us (Google, Instagram, Facebook, Tinder, Spotify, etc.) have their products rooted in human behavioral science. These companies desperately need experts in research design, survey development, data analysis, data interpretation, research translation, and the presentation of research in the behavioral sciences. As an example, Instagram needs behavioral-science-based statisticians and researchers to help figure out algorithms that affect what you will see in your feed when you check your Instagram after you read this post.

Behavioral science has arrived. And it is going to become only more important with time. A degree in behavioral science is no longer a that's nice degree. It is now a degree in a critical body of skills that is strongly needed by some of the world's top corporations and organizations.

5. Understanding our evolved psychology sheds light on many problems of the modern world.

The field of evolutionary psychology, which surrounds my particular area of interest, has proven to shed dramatically important light on such critical issues as physical health, mental health, education, politics, religion, warfare, love, relationships, and prosocial behavior. And more (see Geher & Wedberg, 2020). Understanding the evolutionary processes that surround our psychology has extremely important implications regarding the entirety of the human experience. And only the surface of this profound area of psychological science has been scratched.

Bottom Line

Millions of people around the globe spend years of their life earning an advanced education in psychology. For a broad array of reasons, this is a good thing. Applied psychology has led to dramatic improvements in therapy and in the helping professions in general. The behavioral sciences now provide foundational skills for some of the world's most important industries. And the field of evolutionary psychology provides us with a framework so that we can understand how our ancestral past has profound implications for understanding all aspects of our lives today.

For a variety of reasons, at this point in our history, the field of psychology matters. And it will only matter more moving forward.

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References

Geher, G. (2019). Own Your Psychology Major! A Guide to Student Success. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Geher, G. & Wedberg, N. (2020). Positive Evolutionary Psychology: Darwin’s Guide to Living a Richer Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Munder, T., Flückiger, C., Leichsenring, F., Abbass, A. A., Hilsenroth, M. J., Luyten, P., Rabung, S., Steinert, C., & Wampold, B. E. (2019). Is psychotherapy effective? A re-analysis of treatments for depression. Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences, 28(3), 268–274. https://doi.org/10.1017/S2045796018000355

Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005-2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128, 185-199.

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