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‘Can you read my face or mind right now?’ Understanding what Psychology is as a field

Anwesha Bhattacharya
@Anwesha-Bhattacharya

24th March 2024 | 28 Views
Milyin » 585150 » ‘Can you read my face or mind right now?’ Understanding what Psychology is as a field

Disclaimer from Creator: The articles posted here are not replacement for therapy, diagnoses or other clinical interventions. They are meant to encourage discussions about Psychology and mental health. In case you wish to talk about your experiences to a psychologist, feel free to reach out for 1:1 sessions. For emergencies, please also reach out to your closest healthcare providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.)

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 Since I started studying Psychology, I have been asked many questions, most out of curiosity. But one question that always stuck with me was, – “So, you are a psychologist; can you read my mind or my face right now?”. The question first made me laugh, then frustrated, dejected, and finally, after going through this roller-coaster of emotions, I look at this question with curiosity. The thing is, Psychologists do observe facial expressions, but they combine it with observing actions, understanding the thoughts and emotions, and other influences behind them. Reading facial expressions become a minuscule part of this field that on its own, is not always accurate (especially among neurodivergent people). 

Being a therapist by profession, I have had people unfamiliar with this field ask me questions that were mostly unrelated to psychology itself, and more akin to sorcery; and I know that I am not the only Psychologist to have heard this. One of the most common misunderstandings psychologists write about in their blogs when sharing personal experiences is that we can read minds. This supports the simple but unfortunate fact that there is still a gap between what Psychology is and what people believe it to be. People also start getting nervous around psychologists thinking we might read their deepest thoughts when they don’t want us to. What makes me sad is that it might stop people from exploring such a wonderful field as psychology; it might also stop people from reaching out for psychological help even if they need to.

My brother recently suggested that it is best to explain the basics first before doing deep dives and detailed discussions. So, before anything else, I think there should be a need to talk about what psychology is- the barebones of it. So, here it goes.

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What is Psychology?

Before understanding Psychology, you need to understand the history of it all – the details of it. So, here is how it all began

Back in the 1800’s people believed that anything related to…… Just kidding… I won’t repeat things written in books here. There are multiple source materials written by brilliant Psychologists that you can check out. (I have mentioned some sources at the end of this article). If it sounds intimidating, you can also look at free resources (I have mentioned a few articles at the end) or watch YouTube videos by psychologists; but many have written books to make them palatable to us all.

But all my ramblings aside, we still need to know what Psychology is…

It’s simple, Psychology is a field that understands the “bricks and cement” that create the building that is a person, then it goes a step further and tries to understand the person as a whole. Let me break it down more. I think one of the definitions we regurgitated throughout my education is that psychology is the study of mind, behavior, thoughts, and emotions. But Psychology has become so much more than that over the last century of its existence. We try to understand people (including ourselves) with respect to their thoughts, emotions, attitudes, memories, motivations, upbringing, social experiences, beliefs, personality, and even the effects of physical health. This is the oversimplified version of the gargantuan field that is Psychology.

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But I want to give another example to explain Psychology… so stay with me. Let’s understand it using something that is an indispensable part of our lives- no, I am not talking about our phones (although where is the lie in that) – I was talking about language. I know in India we have 122 languages and many that don’t have a script but here will take one that does. For the sake of consistency, I will take English. We know that the English language has 26 alphabets, these alphabets come together to form words, which then can be used to form sentences – both simple and complex using grammar. We get to read, write, and listen to beautiful poems, songs, and stories because of language- the foundation of which are alphabet. When we look at Psychology the same way- Our alphabet is a way of understanding genes, the anatomy of the brain, hormones, and the nervous system as a whole. The “grammar” of psychology is understanding how we are affected by our upbringing, family, school, society, culture, economic status, and faith.

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We also try to form “words” i.e., study the influence of biology, genes, society, etc. on behavior, motivation, personality, memories, identity formation, emotions, the connection between health and behavior, and many more. We finally get to understand why we make certain choices, our beliefs, our attitudes toward things, our abilities, and our aptitudes. We understand similarities and dissimilarities between people based on age, culture, and other individual and collective uniqueness (social and economic influences, etc.). Looking at the field this way might give us an understanding of the things that make us… us.

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Like many scientific fields, psychology creates these theories through research and also checks how applicable they are to us. So, can psychologists read faces or minds? Not really…. but here are a few things that they can do-

  1. Look at patterns in our actions/ our behavior, thoughts, and emotions and help us change them if needed or understand our actions/ thoughts more.
  2. Psychologists can get further training to work as therapists who can help with stress management, career guidance, or other mood issues
  3.  They can work with companies and other institutions to provide support that can help improve the overall well-being of people.
  4.  They work in schools, colleges companies to provide career, and mental health support whenever necessary.
  5. They can also work in unrelated fields and use their knowledge to reach out to people such as business owners, mentors, writers, etc.
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References and Extra Reading Resources:

1. Books on Psychology   

 a. Psychology- by Robert Baron and Girishwar Mishra. This is a textbook but it is an easy-to-follow book that covers many concepts of psychology

b. The Psychology Book- by Nigel C Benson.  This also is an easy-to-follow book.

2. Free articles/resources on Psychology

a. By The Ohio State University- https://psychology.osu.edu/about/what-psychology

b. By NCERT- https://www.ncert.nic.in/ncerts/l/kepy101.pdf

c. By University at Buffalo- https://arts-sciences.buffalo.edu/psychology/about/what-is-psychology.html

3. Writings on common misconceptions in Psychology

a. By Psychology India Magazine- https://psychology.net.in/common-misconceptions-about-psychology/

b. By LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/misconceptions-psychology-myth-menka-nebhnani

4. Image Credit: Photo by Tara Winstead: https://www.pexels.com/photo/illustration-of-a-head-and-butterflies-around-the-scalp-and-inside-the-brain-8849272/ from Pexels

5. Illustration 2: Created on Canva

 



Anwesha Bhattacharya

@Anwesha-Bhattacharya

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