Saturday, August 25, 2012

Getting Personal with Psychology

I love psychology, but I always found the college major a bit strange. Psychology is one of the most down-to earth, relevant-to-real-life subjects, but in the classroom, the subject often felt theoretical and removed.  Sometimes we talked about study strategies based on cognition and memory. But when we learned about more personal things like depression or parental neglect, we were always talking about "other people," as if nothing applied to any of us.  I've talked to several classmates who've experienced the things we discuss in psych class and are aware of that "other people" mentality.

I've always noticed that English, art, and music teachers have a reputation for being easy to talk to about personal issues. This is just a stereotype, but I wonder why psychology doesn't have that same warm-and-fuzzy reputation.  I think about all the personal things we shared in fiction and poetry-writing classes - when students said their work was true, when students shared true stories to determine whether something sounded realistic.  We never thought twice about whether sharing was "appropriate." I had always imagined that psych majors would have a deep connection because of all the personal topics we discuss, but there was something less welcoming in the way that we didn't speak personally about topics that were personal by nature.

To some extent, I understand why psych feel theoretical in the classroom. I like psychology, but I am not a people person; I never wanted to be a therapist, social worker, or anything where I'd work closely with people. And when you think about it, the people who teach psychology are probably the same way - they find it fascinating, but don't necessarily want to be counselors or psychiatrists or other go-to people.

I did have one psych class that was different. In my sex and gender seminar, we talked a lot about personal experiences.  For our project, my partners and I covered the school with questionnaire flyers about college suicide. Our plan was to organize a discuss group, but there were issues about having a real safe zone and not being required to report what people said. I wish we could have had the discussion group also, but I was so glad that we had actually used psychology to help people.  I think all psychology classes should have an applicable component, whether it's an interactive project or even just a class discussion about how these issues affect us personally.  Because regardless of how a class is taught, psychology is just not hypothetical.

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