“Studying psychology? So tell me, what am I thinking?”
Many people think that psychology enables you to read minds, but this is one of the common myths about psychology. Psychology is the study of human behaviour and the mind. It allows you to understand why and how a person behaves in certain situations, and maybe what are the underlying brain processes. However, it does not tell you exactly what someone thinks.
Studying Psychology does not make you a psychiatrist
“You’re studying psychology, so you’ll become a psychiatrist one day?”
A common misperception that I have personally come across is this one. A psychiatrist is basically a medical doctor who focuses on the biological basis of psychological disorders, like schizophrenia and depression.
To become a psychiatrist, you need to have a basic medical degree first, followed by a psychiatry masters and years of supervised training. This is not the case for becoming a psychologist.
Studying Psychology does not make you a psychologist either
Okay, to be more precise, you cannot become a psychologist with just a bachelor’s degree. Unlike a psychiatrist, psychologists focus on the cognitive and behavioural aspects of psychological disorders and use therapy to help those with mental illnesses.
You need to have a masters in psychology, which includes supervised training to become one. Following that, register yourself with the psychology society in your country (it is a requirement in some countries before you can practice); for instance, in Singapore, it is the Singapore Psychology Society.
And before going on to masters, you need to have a fourth year, because the master’s course requires research experience which the fourth year provides. The fourth-year can be either a graduate diploma in psychology or honours, depending on the university. Having work experience related to your desired master’s course improves your chances of getting in as well.
So if you want to become a psychologist, your pathway could be something like this:
Bachelors in Psychology + 4th year (4 years) à(work experience)à Masters In Psychology (generally 2 years)
Besides being a psychologist, there are other career options too. e.g. Teacher, Social Worker, Counsellor, Researcher, Human Resources Professional, Special Needs Educator, Psychotherapist, Speech Therapist, Audiologist etc. (Some of the careers require additional training beyond a bachelor’s in psychology)
Psychology is a science subject.
Psychology may be different from the hard sciences like physics and chemistry. But it does have the qualities of a science subject. For instance, like other hard sciences, experiments are conducted to test hypotheses. Similarly, experimental evidence plays a major role in psychology too!
But for me, I find it like a subject that includes aspects from both science and arts. Some of my friends feel this way too. As for the arts, you read up and write essays, whereas for the science, you conduct research and write lab reports.
Psychology has Statistics!
This is one thing I wish people had told me about studying psychology. Luckily, I managed to find out early on in the course. I had to take statistics modules (three of them) because they were my core subjects. You may be wondering, why is there statistics in psychology?
As I mentioned before, psychology involves research, thus studying psychology includes learning about research. And to understand and make sense of the research data, statistics is needed.
Studying Psychology may improve your knowledge on mental illnesses
You may or may not take modules on abnormal psychology during your studies, but every introductory to psychology module covers psychological disorders. The symptoms and treatments of those disorders are covered in that lecture/chapter.
Physical illnesses, like cancer, have symptoms that can be seen. But mental illnesses are different in this aspect. Some of the symptoms are within the individual and are not noticeable to others. As such, knowing about psychological disorders enhances your knowledge; for example, what to look out for in a person who might be suffering from a psychological disorder.
Given that mental health is become an increasingly important issue, posessing knowledge on the types of disorders can be vital.
Clinical Psychology is not the only field in Psychology
Many people know about clinical psychology as it is the field that deals with mental illnesses. Before starting my bachelor’s programme, I only knew about the field of clinical psychology as well. But later on in my course, I was exposed to the other fields in psychology, which are as equally interesting.
Some of the fields are:
Forensic Psychology (I liked this one!): The use of psychological principles in the legal system, e.g. forensic psychologists are involved in expert testimony, child custody, training officers and rehabilitation of prisoners
Social Psychology: Study of feelings, thoughts, and behaviours of individuals in social situations
Developmental Psychology: Concerned with how human beings change over time in areas like cognitive and psychological development
Health Psychology: Studies the psychology of how people stay healthy, why they become ill, response to illnesses and illness prevention
These are not the exact definitions, but a general description of what the field does.
The opinions above are based on my own experience.
By Sri Valli Chidambaram