A reflection about the history of Psychology and my hope for the future

 My father used to remind us when we didn’t want to participate in our traditional cultural activities or events: « To know where you are heading, you need to know first where you are coming from. » Growing up, this saying used to sound like something just an « annoying » father would say, but without realizing it, it informed how I approach learning in general. Because of that, I have a deep curiosity about history as a way to provide perspective and context. Learning about history, in general, helps me better understand the present time and sometimes provides insight into where we are heading. This is no exception to how I have approached Psychology. This essay reflects my thoughts on the history of psychology; who I think was most influential in the history of psychology and why? How has learning about the history of psychology added to my interest in the field? And my opinion on where I see the field of psychology going. 

It was clear to me from the start that learning about history would be critical to understanding the field. And the lecture did exactly that. Studying the history of psychology has allowed me to know how the field began and developed over time. I have found it insightful to learn the origin of the field of Psychology with ancient Greek philosophers, the shift from the « soul » to the « mind, » and the influence of Greek philosophers on the development of personal reasoning. 

It was interesting to see how the field of psychology has moved from art to sciences, from ideas or reflection to experimentation. First, Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener initiated structuralism with the concept of identifying the structure of the mind. Then, through experimentation and introspection, they tried to study mental processes. Studying structuralism reminded me of the importance of going to the end of our theories. 

« Learning starts with failure; the first failure is the beginning of education . » (John Hersey) 

Indeed, there is no absolute failure; there is only learning. Despite the decline of structuralism, research on mental processes has influenced the rise of new thoughts, like functionalism. By rejecting the concepts of the mind’s structure, psychologists could focus on the function of the mind and how this could help people improve their lives. Seeing one theory leading to more information and even more new ideas was instructive. Functionalism led to applied psychology, with the field starting to apply psychological theories to real-life situations. Then we saw the rise and influence of behaviourism, psychotherapy, humanism, and Gestalt, emphasizing humans as a whole. Recognizing different contributions to the fields brought perspectives. I have also found it essential to learn about past mistakes to avoid making them in the future. It makes me curious and excited to see where the field is heading. 

Speaking of contributions, Kenneth Bancroft Clark, in my opinion, was the most influential in the field of psychology. He was a pioneer when it came to applied psychology. His Doll study helped change policy regarding the desegregation of public schools (Dr. Marcella Chiromo, Ph.D. 2022). 

Indeed, the doll study was key because it pioneered work on pointing out prejudice, discrimination, and segregation of children using scientific reasoning. The finding in this research has allowed the Supreme Court to rule that school segregation is psychologically damaging to minority and majority children. Bancroft Clark has succeeded in placing psychological research as a legitimate science that could inspire and influence public policy. (Dr. Marcella Chiromo, Phd 2022) 

« Through his public platforms and writings, he helped transform the fight for equality and racial justice into a meaningful movement. He put his beliefs and writings as an intellectual into practical applications » (John Hope Franklin,2004) 

To me, Clark’s work is a tangible example of how psychology could help improve people’s lives. As I was reflecting on the nature of humans and our vulnerability to bias, I am grateful for the work of pioneers that helped change harmful policies to protect the most vulnerable. 

Kenneth Bancroft was also remembered for his integrity and dedication to equality and justice (John Hope Franklin, 2005). And because he was doing so when it was hard to make those choices out of survival, I find that his work was not only inspirational but even more impactful. 

Learning about the history of psychology added a lot to my interest in the field. I have found it insightful to understand how ancient philosophers promoted other ways of approaching or reflecting on life. By questioning the authority of religion and culture, they have encouraged people to start reasoning to develop thoughts and thinking of their own. I believe the ideas ancient Greek philosophers promoted back then are still valid in today’s world. Religion, culture and government still have a significant influence on people. Learning that aspect of the history of psychology was a reminder to use critical and analytical thinking, especially in these days and age of propaganda and influencers. I find that, in many ways, we are still trying to grasp some of the questions of early philosophers. It is interesting to see how some old ideas and questions from early field development, such as the old debates on free will, and nature VS nurture, are still relevant today. 

Moreover, learning about the early ancient philosophers and psychologists’ curiosity, and their willingness to follow through with their questions especially given the time, have been inspiring to me. I have found it fascinating to learn what arises when psychologists ask questions and follow through to find answers; how one question or contribution leads to more questioning and discovery. Sometimes more important than the answer is what unfold after research or a study, how one contribution widens the scope of possibilities. When other psychologists react to another researcher, whether they find their research inspiring or reject it, it is not what seems to matter the most. What matter is how this dynamic of approval or rejection of one theory will generate new school of thought, new views, new contribution to the field. As already written earlier, the fact that Wundt and Titchener had this idea of wanting to identify the structure of the mind through introspection was one of the undeniable contributions to the field of psychology. Even though most of the concepts of structuralism were rejected, rejection or opposition also led to new ideas such as functionalism, behaviourism, and Gestalt. 

Knowing and recognizing this openness of the field gives me permission and trust that my questioning will also be valid when the time comes. It gives me the freedom to go to the end of my questions, to test my hypothesis, to focus less on the search for specific answers and to surrender to what arises from my research, what my research or questions would inspire in others, and how their approval or rejection would contribute to the field. 

Learning about psychology has also allowed me to identify where my reflections, questions and overall thinking fall so far in the field. For example, I have realized that I am very sensitive to humanistic psychology. Other areas of psychology have also sparked my interest. These are social psychology, behaviourist psychology and cognitive psychology. Overall, learning about the history of psychology has brought me even more curiosity about the field; it encouraged the thinker in me, raised my enthusiasm for the field of research, and to think ahead about the directions I would like to pursue. I am excited to see how this journey will unfold. 

Now thinking about the future of psychology, I think the field will continue to attempt to answer or solve the most significant issues our society faces and to help improve human life just as it founders. We will continue to see ideas and more theories developed as attempts to predict behaviours, explain why people act the way they do and help decision making, motivation, find the meaning of life, help cure mental diseases and so on. Because psychology is a very rich and dynamic field in this regard, and the possibilities are immense. This translates into how psychology has developed into many different approaches in psychology. I see the coexistence of these approaches as they interconnect in some ways. For example, I see its practitioners using a holistic approach as a foundation of their practices to support and see the individual as a whole. 

I believe applied psychology will continue to develop and significantly impact our lives. Psychology theories will be used in other fields and everyday life situations, as is already the case. I also believe more findings and more theories will develop with the progress of 

technologies, especially in clinical psychology and neurosciences. As technologies invention progresses, we will also gain more insight and develop more accuracy in predicting behaviours. 

My hope for the field of psychology is that we continue to emphasize ethics and character as modelled by great pioneers like Kenneth Bancroft Clark. That the field positively impacts society, cultures, and policies. I hope to see fewer studies being used to manipulate thoughts, serve harmful and selfish economic goals, or justify questionable and harmful policies. I hope to see the field being used for the betterness of humanity. Finally, because of my interest in diversity, equity and inclusion, I believe the field of psychology will help explain and promote human diversity and hopefully helps to lessen the negative impact of discrimination. 

Rachel-Diane EPOUPA

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