For many people, their first experience with the field of psychology happens when they take an introductory course in the topic to fulfill a university general education requirement. No wonder that there are so many different misconceptions about exactly what psychology is and isn't! Here are just a few of the most common misunderstandings.
Myth 1: Psychology Is Easy
This misconception is perhaps the first one dispelled for many students as they struggle through their general psychology courses. Why do some people mistakenly believe that psychology is simple and easy? The reason might be because many tend to assume that since they have so much personal experience with human behavior, that they will just naturally be experts on the subject.
Obviously, no one would suggest that an English class would be an easy A just because you speak English. Just like English can be a challenging subject for any native speaker, psychology classes can be just as tough, particularly for students who have little experience with the subject or who have a limited background in subjects such as science and math.
Fortunately, just because psychology is challenging does not mean that it isn't accessible to anyone who might take an interest in it. While there might be a learning curve, you can definitely succeed in your psychology classes with effort and determination.
Myth 2: Psychology Is Just Common Sense
Often after hearing about the latest psychological research, people tend to have an "Of Course!" type of response. "Of course that's true! Why do people even waste their time researching stuff that's just common sense?" people sometimes exclaim.
But is it really? Pick up any book outlining some of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology and what you'll quickly realize is that much of this research refutes what was believed to be common sense at the time. Would you deliver potentially fatal electrical shocks to a stranger just because an authority figure told you to? Common sense might have you emphatically saying no, but psychologist Stanley Milgram famously demonstrated in an obedience experiment that the vast majority of people would do such a thing.
That's the thing about common sense – just because something seems like it should be true does not necessarily mean that it is. Researchers are able to take some of these questions and presumptions about human behavior and test them scientifically, assessing the truth or falsehood in some of our commonly held beliefs about ourselves. By using scientific methods, experimenters can investigate human issues objectively and fairly.
Myth 3: You Can Become a Therapist with a Bachelor's Degree
In order to become a practicing therapist, you will need at least a master's degree in a field such as psychology, counseling, social work, or advanced psychiatric nursing. There are many opportunities to work in the field of mental health at the bachelor's level, but these positions tend to be considered entry-level. You cannot open your own private therapy practice with just a bachelor's degree.
It is also important to be aware that the professional title "Psychologist" is a regulated term. In order to call yourself a psychologist, you need to earn a doctorate degree in psychology, complete a supervised internship, and pass state licensing exams.
Myth 4: Psychologists Get Paid Lots of Money to Listen to People Talk
Certainly some psychologists are very well compensated for their work. But the notion that they are just passively sitting back, doodling on a yellow notepad while their clients ramble on could not be further from the truth. The traditional talk therapy is only one technique that a therapist might use, and it's certainly not a passive process. Throughout these sessions, therapists are actively engaged in listening to the client, asking questions, providing advice, and helping clients develop solutions to put into daily practice.
Psychologists actually work in a wide number of professions and perform an enormous range of different duties. Salaries can vary just as dramatically. Some of the lowest paying psychology jobs start out in the $20,000 - $30,000 range, while the highest paying jobs can reach up in the $100,000 to $250,000 range. Factors such as specialty area, educational background, and years of experience are what determine salary.
Myth 5: Psychology Isn't a Real Science
Another common myth about psychology is that it isn't a real science. First, let's examine exactly what science is and is not.
Some key characteristics of a science:
- Uses empirical methods
- Researchers control and manipulate variables
- Allows for hypothesis testing
- Results can be replicated
- Finding allow researchers to predict future occurrences
As you can see, psychology relies on all of these methods in order to investigate human and animal behavior. Researchers utilize the scientific method to conduct research, which means that variables are controlled and operationally defined. Experimenters are able to test different hypotheses and use statistical analysis to determine the likelihood that such results are due merely to chance. Psychologists also present their findings in a way that makes it possible for other researchers to replicate their experiments and methods in the future.
Psychology might be a relatively young science in the grand scheme of things, but is indeed a real science. However, it is important to note that scientific psychology does have some limitations. Human behavior can vary and change over time, so what is true in one particular time and place might not necessarily apply in different situations, settings, cultures, or societies.
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the myths surrounding psychology, be sure to explore some of these articles with more information on the basics: