School in a Book: Basic Psychology

For me, the fascinating parts of psychology are the specific anecdotes and examples. What happened when that married couple showed early signs of apathy? Did they separate? How did that executive miss that seemingly obvious right move? Was he misled by his confirmation bias? How come that addict recovered while his friend did not?

That said, a few basics on the history of this field are nice, as they’re definitely part of our ongoing cultural conversation. For more in-depth, practical stuff, I highly recommend reading books on positive psychology and marriage books by John Gottman.

Basic Psychology

Psychology: The study of emotions and behavior and emotions. Psychologists attempt to identify normal, healthy behaviors and distinguish them from abnormal or unhealthy behaviors; to explain why these behaviors occur; and to alter undesired behaviors

Psychotherapy: Counseling with a counselor or psychologist. It usually takes place one-to-one in the therapist’s office (though group therapy is also common). The counselor and client work together to identify problems and goals related to the client’s emotional, mental, relational, vocational or spiritual well-being.

Psychologist: A counselor with a PhD

Mental health counselor or therapist: A counselor with a Master’s degree

Life coach: A counselor without an industry-specific degree

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who specializes in mood disorders and drug treatments for these disorders

Clinical psychologist: A psychologist who diagnoses and treats mental disorders

Forensic psychologist: A psychologist who studies criminal behavior

Developmental psychologist: A psychologist who studies behavior over the lifespan

Cognitive psychologist or neuropsychologist: A psychologist who studies how the brain (neuroscience) affects behavior

Evolutionary psychologist: A psychologist who studies how human behavior has evolved over time

Other types of counselors and psychologists: Career counselor, school psychologist, occupational psychologist, marriage and family therapist, marriage counselor,industrial-organizational psychologist

Psychiatric disorders: Substance abuse disorders; psychotic disorders like schizophrenia; mood disorders like depression; anxiety disorders; dissociative disorders such as dissociative amnesia; phobias; sexual- and gender-related disorders; eating disorders; sleep disorders; impulse control disorders; adjustment disorders; personality disorders; disorders due to a medical condition; physical-seeming conditions that are not diagnosed, such as hypochondria; and falsely reported disorders by people seeking attention. (There are also some less common categories.)

Basic text used by psychologists for diagnosis of psychiatric disorders: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, often referred to as “The DSM”

Common treatments for mental disorders: Talk therapy, group therapy, family therapy, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, dialectical therapy, existential therapy, psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapy, hypnosis, meditation, medication, EMDR

Psychoanalysis: A method of psychotherapy that seeks to bring unconscious knowledge into conscious knowledge through dream interpretation, Rorschach tests, free association and more. (Rorschach tests present ambiguous stimuli in the expectation that people will interpret it in ways that reveal their concerns, desires, and feelings.)

Behaviorism: A method of psychotherapy that seeks to change a person’s behavior through behavioral conditioning. This includes the use of negative and positive reinforcements. In classical conditioning, two stimuli are learned to be associated, such as Pavlov’s dogs and their dinner bell. Salivation, here, is the conditioned response. In operant conditioning, someone must perform some sort of task for their reward. Extinction happens when, by contrast, there is a lack of reinforcement leading to a weaker response. Desensitization is a technique for weakening a strong, undesirable response (such as anxiety about airplane flying) by repeated exposure to the stimulus.

Cognitive therapy: A method of psychotherapy that seeks to change a person’s negative or unhelpful beliefs by analyzing and questioning them. First, the counselor discovers the person’s schema, their belief system through which they interpret the world. Then the counselor and client identify automatic thoughts, fleeting thoughts that, if negative, need to be questioned in order to change one’s beliefs. Finally, those negative thoughts are disputed, logically questioned with the goal of finding more helpful thoughts to replace them.

The ten most well-known psychologists: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, B.F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow; Ivan Pavlov; Carl Rogers, Martin Seligman, Aaron Beck

Sigmund Freud: The founder of psychoanalysis. He is most known for his psychosexual theory of development; his id/ego/superego theory; and his theory of the unconscious. He is also known for his identification of the Freudian slip, an act or spoken thing that is close to the intended, but different, and reflects unconscious beliefs or anxieties, as well as his technique of using dream analysis and stream of consciousness/free association therapy (a way of discovering one’s subconscious beliefs by having them respond quickly to questions or prompts.

Freud’s theory of the unconscious: Most of what ails us psychologically resides in the unconscious or subconscious and must be coaxed out through various therapies.

Freud’s theory of the id, ego and superego: Freud believed that in our unconscious there is an id, a childlike mind who has little impulse control; a superego, a parent-like mind who tries to direct our behavior rightly; and an ego, the more rational self that balances the other two.

Freud’s theory of psychosexual development: A theory that explains human psychological development through human sexual development. Freud coined the term “anal retentive” to describe people who are too perfectionistic and controlled. He also believed boys become sexually attracted to their mothers, which he called the Oedipus complex, and that all women have “penis envy.”

Freud’s ego defense mechanisms: Denial; displacement (making an unrelated party the object of your anger or blame); intellectualization (to avoid emotion); avoidance; rationalization; projection (placing your own quality or desire onto someone else); regression; repression, sublimation (acting out impulses in a socially acceptable way); reaction formation (taking the opposite stance); suppression.

Carl Jung: A friend of Freud’s and also a psychoanalyst who focused on the unconscious and rejected Freud’s sexual focus. There are still many Jungian analysts today.

Jean Piaget: A developmental theorist who created a popular theory of cognitive development. According to this theory, children progress through the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage and the concrete operations stage before they arrive at the formal operations stage, at which they have an abstract and nuanced view of the world.

Erik Erikson: A developmental theorist who focused on the social development of children on their way to maturity. According to him, babies are in the “trust versus mistrust” stage; toddlers are in the “autonomy versus shame and doubt” stage; preschoolers are in the “initiative versus guilt” stage; children are in the “industry versus inferiority” stage, adolescents are in the “identity versus role confusion” stage, young adults are in the “intimacy versus isolation” stage, middle adults are in the “generativity versus stagnation” stage, and older adults are in the “integrity versus despair” stage. The names of these stages reflect the dominant goal of each and the positive and negative results if the goal is achieved or not achieved.

Abraham Maslow: A humanistic psychologist who created a hierarchy of needs, with warmth, rest, food, oxygen and water at the bottom; security and safety one step up; belongingness and love after that; prestige and the feeling of accomplishment after that; and self-actualization at the top. (Self-actualization is the realization of one’s full potential.)

Ivan Pavlov: A behaviorist who studied conditioned reflexes in the body, such as saliva secretions in dogs after hearing a bell stimulus.

B.F. Skinner: The most well-known behaviorist, who performed experiments on people that showed how their behavior could be modified through learning

Carl Rogers: The founder of person-centered therapy who believed that the therapist should not offer advice, but instead guide the internal processes of the client. He emphasized the importance of forming a strong client-therapist bond and the therapist having sincere positive regard for their client.

Martin Seligman: An early proponent of positive psychology, the study of what makes people happy.

Aaron Beck: The founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of cognitive therapy that also includes behavioral elements

John Gottman: A couples therapist and researcher who studies and writes about couples he observes in real time. He is possibly the most well-known couples therapist.

Other Useful Psychology Terms

Theories of intelligence: Some researchers believe that there is a general intelligence factor (the “g factor”) which underlies all intellectual processes. Others believe there are many types of intelligence, such as componential intelligence, experiential intelligence, contextual intelligence and emotional intelligence. One researcher proposed the idea of eight types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical; musical; spacial; bodily-kinesthetic; interpersonal; intrapersonal; and nature.

Crystallized intelligence: Collected skills and knowledge acquired over time. Increases with age.

Fluid intelligence: Ability to deal with totally new problems. Decreases with age.

Type A personality: A high-energy personality type characterized by competitiveness, impatience, and an achievement orientation.

Type B personality: A lower-energy personality type characterized by relaxed and easygoing behavior.

Attachment theory: The idea that securely attached babies develop better physically and emotionally, while others do not.

Dialectical reasoning: A therapeutic process involving identifying and analyzing opposing points of view in order to find the most helpful and rational perspective.

Existential therapies: Therapies that help clients find meaning and purpose in their lives, even in the absence of strong religious faith.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): An evidence-based therapeutic technique in which a client makes rapid back-and-forth eye movements while their counselor guides recollection of traumatic memories.

Systematic desensitization: A therapeutic technique in which the client is suddenly, rather than gradually, exposed to their fear in order to become desensitized to it.

Neurotransmitter: A specialized nerve cell in the brain that receives, processes and transmits information to other cells in the body. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin and endorphins are involved in creating emotions and other states of mind, like appetite and alertness.

Amygdala: A part of the limbic system of the brain that is involved in regulating aggression and emotions, particularly fear

Parasympathetic nervous system: Part of the autonomic nervous system that helps the body maintain calm

Etiology: The cause or origin of a disorder

Histrionic personality disorder: A disorder characterized primarily by attention-seeking behavior

Narcissistic personality disorder: A disorder characterized primarily by a desire to be admired

Antisocial personality disorder: A disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy

Avoidant personality disorder: A disorder characterized primarily by social withdrawal

Borderline personality disorder: A disorder characterized primarily by impulsiveness, emotional extremes and low self-esteem

Agoraphobia: The fear of crowds

Catharsis: The release of tension that results when repressed thoughts or memories become conscious

Cognitive dissonance: A tension inside someone who has two seemingly conflicting beliefs that they are trying to resolve

Compensation or overcompensation: A striving to rid onesself of feelings of inferiority in one area by striving harder in another

Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors that are used to relieve anxiety

Confirmation bias: The tendency to accept evidence that supports one’s pre-existing beliefs and to reject evidence that refutes those beliefs.

Egocentrism: The tendency to ignore others’ points of view in favor of one’s own

Fundamental attribution error: The tendency to attribute other people’s behavior to their (flawed) personalities though similar behavior in onesself is often attributed to circumstance.

Learned helplessness: The tendency to give up too easily, often due to a past pattern of failure

Placebo effect: The improvement of a physical or mental condition in people who believe they’ve received a treatment, but have not

Self-concept: The sum of the beliefs and feelings one has about onesself

Self-serving bias: The tendency to attribute one’s successes to internal factors and one’s failures to circumstance

Inferiority complex: A condition in which a person becomes angry or withdrawn because of feelings of insecurity. This concept was identified by Alfred Adler.

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