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Hi, Doctor.

My name is Sharon and I am a undergraduate student at Chester University. I am in the middle of completing an assignment on the old question, "To what extent could Psychology be considered a science." I am hoping to have a couple of opinions from practicing psychologists regarding their views on this matter. Could you please take the time to reply, just a couple of lines, about how you feel about this question, and whether you agree or not, and why.

Thank you for your time in this matter.



ask dr-robert

Hello, Sharon--

Psychology is different from all other fields of study in that the object of study (the human mind) is also the instrument of study. This is a profound statement about which you should think as deeply as possible because it touches intimately upon the question you have put to me.

In some aspects, psychology is a science, or, at least, is conducted according to scientific standards. For example, someone might put forth a theory to be tested. Let’s say that the theory is an idea in the field of social psychology such as “people tend to vote more for tall, handsome candidates for office than for short, less good looking ones.” To examine this thesis, the techniques of statistics may be used to set up and conduct an experiment, and the results evaluated accordingly. This is classic science because it posits a theory and tests the theory according to the scientific method. [If you do not fully comprehend the scientific method and what it requires to be valid, please read about it before continuing with your project].

However, other aspects of the field called "psychology" are not scientifically verifiable. Take for example my own work in psychotherapy. Although I have read and understand the findings of the scientific side of psychology, and although these do provide some basis for my work, for the most part what I do is more an art than a science. In my therapy practice, which I say is more art than science, I may speak with someone about her problems in living. In the course of that conversation, I try to enter into her experience by means of what is sometimes called “vicarious introspection,” which means that I use my own inner experience as a background against which I can try to understand the emotional experience of my client. Then, in the course of our conversation, I communicate my understandings to the client in order to help the client to change her outlook and behavior in ways which I imagine will lessen her problems in living, and allow her more scope and wider horizons. My aim in all this is to use my vicarious immersion into the emotional and philosophical world of the client for the purpose of helping her to extend her self-awareness, increase her self-expression, and achieve greater self-possession. Since there is no way to test my understandings scientifically, nor to measure scientifically how well I have met my aim, what I am doing in my work in psychology is not scientific, but rather artistic.

Good luck with your project, and be well.

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page last modified November 8, 2008

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