Psychology is probably one of the most misunderstood fields of study among lay men. A new kid on the block, it only separated from Philosophy roughly about 146 years ago and established itself as a scientific entity after the establishment of first psychology laboratory by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, Germany on 1879 A.D. The other possible reason for the misconceptions about psychology might be the fact that it deals with the complex idea about mind and behavior. E might not always be equal to MC^2 as it does in physical science. Dealing with each individual psyche requires more than generalizations, through years and years of scientific study has propagated Psychology from mere introspection to a modern scientific entity with its premises based on scientific research and experimentations.
Every idea is prone to change as change is the only constant entity. As American psychologist Robert S Woodworth quotes, “First psychology lost its soul, then its mind, and then its consciousness, but it still has some behavior of sort’.For now, psychology is defined as the scientific study of mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context. Much like the definition suggests the current dominant approach in Psychology is the eclectic one. We not only look at the mind (psychodynamic approach) and its functions (cognitive approach), but its relation with the observable behaviors (behavioral approach) in a given context (socio-cultural approach). Also the goal of psychology is to not only study mind and behavior but understand the human potential for positive change (humanistic approach) and bring about such changes. Study of the roles of heredity, neurons and various brain chemicals in shaping human behavior and mind functions (biological approach) has also gained prominence with the latest development in the field of science and technology. So it is safe to say that we are in an eclectic era of Psychological study. Talking about all the scientific developments in Psychology, the fact cannot be understated that the wave of positive changes has mostly incorporated the more developed countries in comparison to developing and least developed countries of the world.
General perception regarding Psychology
Though psychology is still looked upon as a ghost territory that only a few people would dare to venture in both developed and underdeveloped countries, it holds a firmer ground in undeveloped and developing countries like Nepal. The awareness about the field of Psychology and mental health is little less to none in Nepal (but the prospect looks good in the near future, this can’t be denied). Though various efforts from government and non-government sector and tragically mother nature (the great earthquake of April 25, 2015) has in some degree helped sensitize the issues of Psychology and mental health, a lot has yet to be done. It is a hopeful time for us all, as the new generation of Nepalese people is becoming gradually aware about the importance of psychological well-being and mental health through exposure to technical advances like the Internet. But there still seems to be a slight misconception about what psychologists do (but as I said earlier, our Western counterparts are no different, a little less but nevertheless, when it comes to matter of what Psychology really is). When I told my friends that I was studying psychology, the most common and instant reaction would be- “ok then, read my face and tell me what I was thinking”, “don’t try and read my mind huh!” or even in some rare cases- “so can you hypnotize by looking into people’s eyes”. (Now that I think about it, it might have been part of a common psychological joke, rather than blunt misconception. I don’t know how to feel right now, to laugh with them or at them). Not only me but all of my friends also faced similar inquiries in a similar situation.
Our Nepalese culture and traditions are dominated by religion. We are religious people, with our roots based on traditional methods of healing and belief on gods, demons and spirits. (I don’t mean to say that our belief is faulty, because I too am a believer in gods, spirits, and religion. A lot of times, religion and beliefs have found answer where science got stuck in questions. And I believe if we look into religious beliefs and practices in a scientific manner it will make more sense than science itself. For that we need diverse and tiring scientific studies into the religious and spiritual claims.)This religious base (beliefs that psychological problem is due to spirits, bad karma and curse) might be the reason that Psychology and Mental Health has been overshadowed in Nepalese society. Looking at a broader prospect, this might be applicable to the entire world, as no corner is devoid of religion and religious beliefs. But the key hurdle for desensitization of psychological and mental health misconceptions has been the stigmatization associated with it. This stigmatization has been a major problem for both developed and undeveloped and developing countries.
The stigmatization of psychological and mental health issues is so profound that having a mental health problem is believed to be the sin of your previous life and untreatable. But this is not true, mental health problem is treatable. The prognosis (chance of full recovery) for psychotic cases (severe mental health problems) might be less in comparison to neurotic cases (mild mental health problems) but isn’t that the same case for physical illness? Some physical diseases can be cured and some can’t. Having a psychological problem is just like having a physical illness – you find out the cause for the problem, go through certain treatment module/therapies, and resume your normal life after recovery. But this idea is not taken as simply as it is by the general mass. It’s OK to have Diabetes and take lifelong medication but it’s NOT OK to have Depression. The part and possibly the major reason for such stigmatization might be the generalization of all psychologically/mentally ill people as ‘Mad People’.
Madness if usually associated with all types of psychological problems. It is a common belief that psychologists deal with Mad People. This notion is not correct. Only specialists like clinical psychologists deal with people having psychological/mental problems. And even then, they can’t be termed as ‘Mad’. All other field of psychology deal with people going through normal day-to-day problems and work in areas like industries, schools, organizations dealing with human resources. Madness is generally referred to as a loss of control over oneself and one’s ability to function properly. Though this scenario is similar to those people with severe mental health problem (Psychosis), the term ‘Madness’ is considered derogatory and thus the term ‘Psychotic’ is used to describe them. But the people suffering from mild mental health problems (Neurosis), fit nowhere in the category of being ‘Mad’. Though with some areas of dysfunction, they are fully capable to function properly and lead a normal life. These people experience difficulty in some part of their life, just like a person suffering from cold experiences difficulty in throat while other body parts function properly. With some professional help and emotional support or medications in severe cases of neuroticism, they can duly return to their day-to-day life and expect full recovery in the areas of dysfunction.
The generalization of all psychological problems as madness has prevented individuals from seeking professional help in cases where their condition is perfectly treatable. Lack of timely intervention due to the fear of stigmatization leads to deterioration of mental health condition and even the easily treatable neurosis might turn into severe case of psychosis.
Study of Psychology in Nepal
Psychology was first taught in intermediate level at Tri Chandra College, Kathmandu starting from 1947 A.D. However, master’s level study only started from 1980 A.D. at Tri Chandra College. It later shifted to the central department of psychology, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur. So psychology can be considered a fairly new subject in comparison to other subjects being taught in Nepal. Even today, Bachelors level psychology is taught in Tri Chandra College and few other private colleges like Golden Gate International College and K and K International College. Master’s Level course is offered at Tribhuvan University Central Department of Psychology, Trichandra College and Padma Kanya College, Bagbazzar. Therefore, there are limited options for psychological study and even more limited specialization courses available in Nepal. As of now, specialization courses are available only in Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology and Industrial and Organizational Psychology. The lack of choices for specialization has forced Nepalese students to go abroad for the higher educations.
The lack of exposure to Psychology due to limited number of institutions offering the subject might be one of the reasons for the drawback of Psychology in Nepal. The recent trend shows that number of Psychology enthusiast students has increased. Until now, the few institutions have been able to hold the student load but in near future more such institutions are needed with more specialization options if field of Psychology is to develop in Nepal.
The necessary reformation in higher level education is not only quantitative but also qualitative. The course taught in psychology has gone little or no update from where it began. Psychology and every other field of science are ever-evolving with new studies and findings providing new ideas and new approaches. Old theories and techniques in psychology might not be relevant and useful in present context. New ways of dealing with human behavior and mental health have surfaced and already become a new wave in the West (meaning the more developed countries). We need to keep ourselves and our students updated about the latest developments of Psychology if we are to develop a competent global citizen.
For us to be competent in our field, we not only need to keep ourselves updated about the latest developments but should also participate in new research and findings. The sorry state of research based study in Nepal can be evident by the fact that most of the researches conducted in Nepal come from foreigners. There are only a few prominent researchers in Nepal and that number is even less in the field of Psychology. Nepal is an untapped resource for new findings in the field of Psychology and we, the Nepalese people, need to be the first on the summit.
The exposure to Psychology is needed not only in higher level educations, but the exposure needs to start from the school level. Just as Health and Population is taught in school level, Psychology and Mental Health should also be included as a choice subject for the students. Early introduction to principles and basics of Psychology might help develop a new generation that is sensitive and has the right approach towards psychological and mental health issues. The first and perhaps the major goal of such effort should focus on eradication of stigmatization and generalization of issues concerning Psychology and Mental Health. This can be termed as a grass root approach, where the goal is to create an informed generation of people rather than focusing on people already with a set of beliefs and attitudes. Thus a national level educational policy for the sensitization of Psychology and Mental Health seems to be the need.
Psychology has a lot of scope and the horizon seems promising. A better future for psychology demands a rigorous effort on the part of psychology professionals. A healthy population is a healthy country and being an integral and perhaps the most important aspect of health, psychology and mental health needs to be prioritized from both public and national level. As the new generation puts it, “psychology needs to be the buzz in town”.
About this Author
Ashish Kafle is a graduate of Psychology and currently doing masters in the same subject. He is committed and passionate for Psychology. He is also a member of PNN.