School in a Book: Psychology

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Psychology gives, then gives some more. If you haven’t read a good nonfiction book lately, you could do worse than to pick up a popular self-help book or a book on positive psychology. With recent developments in brain scan technology, we’re developing this field quickly, and much of what we learn is quite practical. Even if you don’t suffer from a mood disorder or some other mental health problem, you can find many ways to improve your sense of well-being that have nothing to do with career advancement or material gain. Self-improvement is satisfying, and good habits are self-reinforcing. Never underestimate the power of a good self-help book.


Psychology: The study of human thought, emotions and behavior, including the study of mental disorders; abnormal behaviors; personality differences; developmental stages; and more

Psychotherapy: Mental health counseling, during which a counselor works either one-on-one or in a group setting to help clients explore problems and goals related to mental health

Psychologist: A psychology expert who holds a PhD and might work as in a clinical or research setting

Clinical psychologist: A psychologist who diagnoses and treats mental disorders in a clinical setting

Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who specializes in mental disorders and can prescribe psychotropic medications

Mental health counselor: A licensed counselor with a Master’s degree who diagnoses and treats mental disorders in a clinical setting

Marriage and family therapist: A licensed counselor with a Master’s degree who diagnoses and treats mental disorders in a clinical setting and specializes in couple and family treatment

Life coach: An advisor without an industry-specific license or credential

Psychoanalysis: A method of psychotherapy that seeks to bring unconscious knowledge into conscious knowledge through dream interpretation, Rorschach tests, free association and more. It was developed by Sigmund Freud and rests on the idea that early experiences shape personality.

Sigmund Freud: The founder of psychoanalysis who worked in Austria in the early 1900s and who is most known for his psychosexual theory of development and his theory of the unconscious

Carl Jung: A psychoanalyst who helped develop Freud’s theory of the unconscious while rejecting his sexual focus

Rorschach test: A psychological test that present ambiguous stimuli in the expectation that people will interpret it in ways that reveal their concerns, desires, feelings and possible mental disorders

Free association: A technique for uncovering a person’s subconscious beliefs by having them respond quickly to questions or prompts, without much thought

Freudian slip: An act or spoken thing that is close to the intended, but different, and reflects unconscious beliefs or anxieties

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: The Freudian theory of human behavior that states that there are three parts of human unconscious: the id, a childlike mind who has little impulse control; the superego, a parent-like mind who tries to direct our behavior rightly; and the ego, the more rational self that balances the other two

Freud’s theory of psychosexual development: The Freudian theory of human psychological development that states that it is analagous to human sexual development. It includes the idea of the perfectionistic and controlled “anal retentive” personality type; the idea of “penis envy,” and the idea that boys become sexually attracted to their mothers, which Freud called the “Oedipus complex.”

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.

Behaviorism: A psychological theory that explains human behavior and describes principles of behavioral conditioning, including stimulus and response and negative and positive reinforcements

Ivan Pavlov: A behavioral psychologist 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 behavioral psychologist, who performed experiments on animals that showed how their behavior could be modified through learning

Classical conditioning: A form of behavioral conditioning in which two stimuli become associated in someone’s mind through passive learning, such as Pavlov’s dogs and their dinner bell

Operant conditioning: A form of behavioral conditioning in which two stimuli become associated through active learning, such as monkeys who learn to obtain food by pushing a button

Positive reinforcement: The addition of a stimulus after a behavior is exhibited in order to increase the likelihood of the behavior being repeated

Negative reinforcement: The removal of a stimulus after a behavior is exhibited in order to increase the likelihood of the behavior being repeated. An example occurs when a beeping tone stops in your car after you put on your seatbelt.

Punishment: The addition or removal of a stimulus after a behavior is exhibited in order to decrease the likelihood of the behavior being repeated

Desensitization: A behavioral conditioning technique for weakening a strong, undesirable response (such as anxiety about airplane flying) by repeated exposure to the stimulus (airplane flying)

Extinction: The extinguishing of an unwanted behavior through lack of reinforcement. An example is the ceasing of temper tantrums that occurs after a care giver stops giving into them.

Jean Piaget: A developmental psychologist who created a theory of cognitive development that stated that 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 psychologist who created a theory of social development that stated that people progress through the “trust versus mistrust” stage as babies; the “autonomy versus shame and doubt” stage as toddlers; the “initiative versus guilt” stage as preschoolers; the “industry versus inferiority” stage as older children; the “identity versus role confusion” stage as adolescents; the “intimacy versus isolation” stage as young adults; the “generativity versus stagnation” stage as middle adults; and the “integrity versus despair” stage as older adults. 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.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: A pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs developed by Abraham Maslow, 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 (the realization of one’s full potential) at the top

Carl Rogers: A psychologist who helped develop a humanistic, client-centered approach to therapy that includes a strong client-therapist bond; unconditional positive regard for the client; and the favoring of listening over advice giving

Talk therapy: A type of therapy in which clients discuss problems and emotions with a trusted counselor

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of therapy developed by Aaron Beck and others that focuses on changing negative patterns of thoughts and behaviors and includes questioning and reframing unhelpful beliefs

Attachment theory: The psychological theory that holds that securely attached babies develop better physically and emotionally that those that are not securely attached, and that throughout their lives most people display one of three or four general attachment styles: a secure attachment style; an avoidant attachment style; an anxious attachment style; or (sometimes) a disorganized attachment style. These styles help explain their interpersonal behaviors and needs.

Positive psychology: The field of psychological research that is concerned with the behaviors and life factors that give people a sense of well-being. It was developed by Martin Seligman and others as a response to the traditional emphasis in psychology on abnormal behaviors and mood states.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): The basic text used by mental health professionals for diagnosis of psychiatric disorders

Types of psychiatric disorders: Mood disorders including depression; anxiety disorders; phobias; substance abuse disorders; psychotic disorders including schizophrenia; sex- and gender-related disorders; eating disorders; sleep disorders; personality disorders; dissociative disorders; and less common disorders

Borderline personality disorder (BPD): A mental health disorder characterized by impulsiveness, emotional extremes, interpersonal conflict and low self-esteem

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD): A mental health disorder characterized by an unusually great need for admiration, a sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others and a sense of entitlement

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD): A mental health disorder characterized by disregard for others’ feelings, violations of others’ rights, a lack of empathy, a lack of remorse, and possible impulsive and/or criminal behaviors of others.

Sociopath/psychopath: Commonly-used labels for a person with antisocial personality disorder. There is no official distinction between these terms, but the word “psychopath” might imply psychosis.

Psychosis: A severe mental condition in which thought and emotions are so affected that contact is lost with external reality

Gender dysphoria: Discomfort experienced because of the difference between gender and your sex, role or gender expression

Compulsion: A repetitive behavior that is used to relieve anxiety

Agoraphobia: The fear of crowds

The theory of multiple intelligences: A psychological theory developed by Howard Gardner that holds that there are eight different types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical; musical; spacial; bodily-kinesthetic; interpersonal; intrapersonal; and naturalist intelligence. Other theorists proposed different categories of intelligence, while others believe in a single general intelligence factor.

Crystallized intelligence: Mental power that is the result of skills and knowledge collected over time and that tends to increase with age

Fluid intelligence: Mental power that is the result of fast, agile thinking processes, and that tends to decrease with age after the age of thirty

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.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: An assessment tool designed to identify a person’s personality type along four dichotomies: extraversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. Results are represented as a four-letter code, such as INTJ.

Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences, learning, and injury

Catharsis: The release of tension that occurs 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

Negative sentiment override: A state in which negative thoughts, feelings, and interpretations dominate a person’s perception of their partner or relationship, leading to a pervasive negative bias. This can lead to increased conflict, decreased satisfaction, and decreased intimacy in the relationship.

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

Fundamental attribution error: The tendency to attribute other people’s behavior to their personalities or character, rather than to their circumstances

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 pattern of emotional insecurity leading to angry, suspicious or withdrawn behavior

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

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


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