Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour. This is a simple definition, but the applications of psychology are extensive. Ergonomics, self-help and mental health are just some of the disciplines that are associated with the field, which aims to better understand emotions, thoughts, personality and social behaviour.


sigmund_freud_quote_3The study of psychology can be traced back to the times of the Ancient Greeks. As far back as 600 BC, many Greek cities erected temples dedicated to Asclepius  – a god of medicine in ancient Greek mythology – in order to provide cures for psychosomatic illnesses. Psychology was considered a branch of philosophy until towards the end of the 19th century when academics in Europe and North America began to establish psychology as a scientific field of its own.


Scientific experimentation relating to psychology began in earnest in 1879 when German professor Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory dedicated to scientific psychological study in Leipzig.


Experimental psychology was soon followed by the emergence of applied psychology. This trend took many forms with the 1890s witnessing the creation of the first program of mental testing by American James McKeen and the development of psychoanalysis by an Austrian neurologist called Sigmund Freud.


Further progress was made throughout the 20th century with the emergence of behaviourism and the eventual rise to prominence of cognitive science, a field dedicated to the study of the mind through a range of disciplines.

Modern-day applications of psychology

Modern-day applications of psychology are numerous and have led to the emergence of distinct specialisations. However, the birth of the information age has ensured a level of standardization in techniques and practices in developed countries around the world. In the 21st century a psychologist in Brisbane, for example, will recommend very similar forms of assessment and treatments to a psychologist in London or Paris.


One of the more prominent fields is clinical psychology. Typically based on a formal relationship between the psychologist and their patient, clinical psychologists work with patients suffering from behavioural and mental disorders. This can range from short-term problems related to depression and substance abuse through to conditions that require the patient to be institutionalized. Patients are diagnosed based on assessment methods including observation, interviews and psychological tests. Once diagnosed, treatment usually involves therapeutic methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy rather than prescription of drugs.


Other well-known applications include counselling psychology, educational psychology, environmental psychology, evolutionary psychology as well as forensic and legal psychology.


Knowing when to visit a psychologist, and which type to go to is a complicated process. The first step is to identify that there is a serious enough problem to warrant further investigation. Symptoms such as a prolonged sense of helplessness or sadness, struggling to carry out everyday activities, prolonged difficulties with concentrating on regular tasks and excessive day-to-day worrying and negativity are typical signs of potential mental illness. Extreme compulsive behaviour such as drug abuse, regular aggressiveness and drinking too much alcohol are also common indicators.


Once potential symptoms have been identified, it is important to visit a qualified healthcare professional such as your local General Practitioner who will perform the initial analyses. Based on this, they will decide whether to refer you to a psychologist for further assessment and which type would be the most appropriate.


In many cases, people suffering from mental health issues avoid seeking the appropriate support due to perceived stigmas associated with mental health in modern-day society. Many people are reluctant to talk openly about their experiences or even admit that something is wrong for fear of being labelled as ‘crazy.’


Thankfully, attitudes are changing. Better understanding of the brain has led to greater levels of tolerance and empathy towards people suffering from mental health problems. People in the public eye suffering from mental problems of their own, such as British comedian Stephen Fry, have done much to improve the situation by sharing their experiences and giving others the confidence to get help. However, fear of the stigmas associated with mental health remains one of the major remaining obstacles to be overcome in the advancement of psychology as a medical discipline.