Psychology is a very complex, rich, and diverse field, and this is reflected in the many types of psychologists including, but not limited to, school psychologists, biopsychologists, clinical psychologists, and cognitive psychologists. There are also many different ways of examining the human psyche, which can involve analyzing their dreams, testing their memory, searching for unconscious memories, or even examining their hormones and neurotransmitters.
It's because of this complexity that 5 categories or “perspectives” of psychology were created: Biological, Behavioral, Cognitive, Psychodynamic, and Humanistic. A psychological perspective is what the name suggests: a different way of analyzing the psyche of patients and interpreting behavior. These perspectives all possess common assumptions and approaches that make them unique from the others.
1. Biological Perspective
The biological perspective believes that all thoughts, feelings, and behavior can be explained biologically. This branch concerns itself with the physical dimension of psychology including the brain, nervous system, hormones, neurotransmitters, and genetics. The way that they would interpret a patient’s malady might be thorough testing of their hormonal levels or neurotransmitters such as dopamine. They might attribute a patient’s fatigue to dropping testosterone levels, or a gambler’s addiction to irregular levels of dopamine.This field has a few drawbacks in that there’s a limit to how much you can solve a patient’s issues biologically. Treating someone by affecting their hormones or neurotransmitters can be seen as treating the symptoms rather than the issue. However this field is critical for the development of effective antidepressants or antianxiety medications.
2. Cognitive Perspective
Cognitive psychology is about studying the way humans “think” or utilize mental processes. The best analogy for this is a computer. The human brain receives stimuli, interprets it, transforms it, and creates an output. It's the job of cognitive psychologists to analyze how this mental computer works.This can involve analyzing someone’s memory, perception, attention, problem-solving, etc. Some experiments can include testing an individual’s ability to store a string of numbers in their head, or ability to pay attention to objects on a screen while performing a math problem. Another example of a cognitive approach is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It functions as a treatment of anxiety, bad thoughts, or neuroticism. The patient undertakes a conscious effort to recognize the triggers for their bad thoughts and change the way they interpret the event to create productive behaviors. This treatment reflects the perspective in that it's mainly about the input the human computer receives and the modification of the output.
3. Humanistic Perspective
The humanistic perspective takes a more holistic view of the person. It sits at an intersection between science and philosophy. The goal of this field is to enable patients to achieve their full potential and well-being. This state of full potential is called self-actualization. This is the complete realization of one’s potential, abilities, and creative power in the world.The humanistic perspective is less about treating a specific ailment and more about treating a patient’s feelings of self-worth and free will. This is when it takes a page from existential philosophy in assuming that humans possess free will, and that they are all-powerful in dictating their lives and happiness. It is the goal of humanistic psychology to help patients achieve this. Some examples of treatment can include interviewing a patient’s feelings of self-doubt, listlessness, or dissatisfaction in life, and then prescribing a course of action to help them heal from past traumas and realize their own potential. However, the humanistic perspective is difficult in that it is mostly qualitative, with no measurable quantitative aspect to measure. This makes this field very dubious in research and treatment.
This is perhaps the most known perspective in psychology, and is usually what people think of when they consider “therapy” or treatment. The psychodynamic perspective operates on the assumption that the ailments of patients stems from a conflict between the unconscious and the conscious. This conflict comes from repressed memories, childhood traumas, and sexual instincts. It's the goal of the psychologist to identify these unconscious memories and resolve them through therapy. Perhaps the most famous example is Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. Which states that the brain possesses 3 facets: the id, superego, and ego. The id reflects our subconscious primal desires, the superego reflects the logical part, and the ego reflects our reality where we try to resolve the conflict. The best way to imagine it is the “id” as the devil on our right, the “superego” the angel on our left, and the “ego” as ourselves in the middle. Additionally, in Freud’s psychodynamic therapy, he would engage in talk therapy. The patient would be relaxed on a couch and encouraged to speak freely and let the unconscious mind bubble up. Freud would write notes about the patient’s subconscious, identify the patient’s issue, and suggest to them a course of action.
However, the psychodynamic perspective can be very unscientific. While it is proven that we do have subconscious thoughts, many of Freud’s theories such as psychosexual development, death instincts, or Oedipal complexes are false. Nevertheless, this perspective is influential in starting the field of psychology.
Behavioral psychology is all about how the environment influences our actions. The behavioral psychologist would favor the “nurture” over “nature” view, and suggest that most human behavior is explained by the stimulus of the environment and our reaction.The behavioral perspective operates on the ideas of Classical conditioning and Operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is best exemplified by Pavlov’s dogs. Associating a ringing bell with serving food causes dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Operant conditioning can be explained as a carrot and stick approach. It's a combination of rewards and punishments that drive our behavior. A patient afflicted with a phobia of swimming would be explained by their conditioning toward them. A distressing event where they almost drowned or witnessed someone drowning may be the cause. The psychologist would explain that it's their association of swimming with the event that causes their phobia. The psychologist would then prescribe a treatment where the patient is exposed to swimming gradually until they recognize that swimming is dissociated with drowning or dying. An issue with this perspective can be the way it oversimplifies behaviors into a cause-and-effect stance. Not all behaviors can be explained by conditioning, and can stem from biological causes beyond the environment.
None of these perspectives are more “right” or “true” over each other. Some may be harder to be proven scientifically while others may be more subjective or qualitative. However, they all have a unique position in evaluating the human psyche and treating ailments and most importantly, they help condense the broad fields of research and study into 5 comprehensible fields. As more research and development continues, new perspectives may come into being. Some minor perspectives like the “Socio-cultural” or “Evolutionary” can bring forth an even better understanding of ourselves. However, despite the growing amount of research, we can still come to understand the field of psychology through its 5 major perspectives no matter how complex it can get.