Updated: Sep 13, 2020
- by Praharshini Kumar
With the establishment of the first psychology laboratory by Wilhelm Wundt, in 1879, psychology became a discipline of its own, distinct from philosophy and physiology. It now celebrates having distinct sub fields and branches, a feat that seemed impossible not too long ago. Studying human behaviour and mental processes objectively is an overwhelming undertaking, and the subjective nature of the discipline is reflected in the versatility of the discipline.
While we are aware of more mainstream psychological fields like Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, there are sub fields which are lesser-known. Let us take a look at some of the lesser appreciated specialized sub fields of psychology and their scope.
Psycho-Oncology: Psychology in cancer healthcare
One of the most groundbreaking cross-disciplinary researches was the integration of psychology in cancer treatment. Around the 1970s, Jimmie Holland worked with a few colleagues to establish the first psychiatric service for cancer patients. She was the founder of the field.
Psycho-oncologists receive special training, holding a range of degrees from diplomas to Masters of Philosophy. They attend to healthcare, specific to the needs of cancer patients.
A 2008 study by Chida et al. demonstrated that stress-related psycho-social factors are highly associated with cancer in initially healthy populations. Treatment for stress is a vital part of healthcare for cancer patients. The realization, thus, that mental health professionals have an integral role to play in the field of oncology and cancer-care is rapidly gaining traction.
Talking about cancer can be difficult and emotionally taxing for patients. The mental preparedness for cancer treatment is incorporated into psycho-oncological care. Mental health concerns for such patients require more specialized techniques. For instance, Wayne Gordon and his collaborators used a quasi-experimental research design with repeated assessments for a psycho-social intervention for newly diagnosed melanoma, breast, and lung cancer patients. The intervention consisted of education (knowing about cancer, treatment side effects, etc.), counseling (relaxation techniques, hypnosis, etc.), and environmental change (additional services for health care). The outcome of the study found that post the intervention, the patients adjusted more efficiently to living with cancer, there were comparatively reduced negative feelings and they could successfully incorporate a more realistic outlook to their lives.
Psycho-oncology practice also brings to light that each person who suffers from a different type of cancer, goes through different issues and mental struggles. Hence, integration of psychology in oncology studies have been proven to greatly assist cancer healthcare.
Feminine psychology is a subfield which focuses on the issues that women have to face in different areas of life, namely- in political, economic, and social fields.
This is a notably important field within the purview of gender as women have constantly struggled for equal rights throughout history, pushing through sexism and misogyny. It is crucial to understand the need for such a field by educating ourselves on the problems that women go through – be it domestic abuse, sexual assault, and workplace inequality to name a few. For instance, the glass ceiling effect is the enduring non-acceptance of women’s and minorities’ efforts to reach the top leadership positions in organizations. Since such struggles are rooted in the gender of the population it affects, the emergence of a sub discipline dedicated to exploring this with nuance and objectivity has long been warranted.
Karen Horney was one of the first to talk about Feminine Psychology in the then male-dominated Victorian Era. She clapped back with “womb envy” in response to Freud’s infamous concept of “penis envy”. The former talked about inferiority feelings that men go through as they cannot give birth to children and the latter states the supposed envy of the male’s possession of a penis which is experienced by females.
Although Horney founded feminine psychology, there have been other significant contributors to the field: Mary Whiton Calkins, Anna Freud, Barbara Fredrickson, Angela Duckworth, and many others. The discipline largely revolves around the key concept of feminism addressing the need to specifically curb gendered problems that women face, and differentiating such problems from non-gendered problems that affect everyone non-uniquely.
Feminine psychology also addresses the mental health of women. WHO’s Division of Mental and Family Health issued its first publication on “Psychosocial and Mental Health Aspects of Women’s Health” in 1993. In 2000, WHO released an evidence-based review of the first publication by adding updates on the status of women’s problems.
Police psychology is an area majorly involved in forensics, law and enforcement.
Degrees in police psychology include law-enforcement and forensics. Studies by Loftus made notable contributions to the field by studying how the language used in eyewitness testimony can alter memories.
The job of a police officer can be dangerous, as they might get exposed to traumatic situations during their work. Naturally, they too require mental health services. The job of the psychologist is to provide mental health services to police. Additionally, knowing about psychology can also aid in various operational processes in the police workplace.
An important contribution of psychology to forensics was the realization that some of the tactics that are used in interrogation can lead to false confessions. Understanding the psychology of criminals, psychology of language which may include the art of phrasing questions that are more likely to elicit accurate answers during interrogation, body language cues that aid in identifying suspects, etc. can help them in their investigations.
Psychology in Emergency Care: Understanding the need for Psychological First Aid during the Pandemic
Merriam Webster dictionary defines first aid as - “Emergency care or treatment that is given to an ill or injured person before regular medical aid can be obtained”. In the same way that physical pain demands immediate treatment, mental suffering must be given equal attention.
The psychological outcomes of pandemics like the COVID-19 are that of distress, anxiety, uncertainty, and other unhappy consequences. Crowd panic thrives, leaving no one feeling safe or healthy. Naturally, mental health may not be at its best and it is crucial to direct our attention to the surge that this may bring for mental health professionals.
The assistance provided to people in pandemics is different from the help they are otherwise given. Understanding psychological first aid (henceforth PFA) helps us specifically work out the aftermath involved in unforeseen circumstances. PFA aims at mitigating acute distress as quickly as possible. While therapy caters to a more long-term approach in equipping the client with tools that aid in adaptation of change, fighting challenges, and living life more efficiently, PFA focuses on the problem at hand. It caters to a state of emergency, with the end goal being to minimize discomfort or anguish.
Listening is a key factor involved in providing PFA to a person, one has to be supportive by truly listening to the problems of the person going through the issues. Providing unsolicited advice without listening to a person in distress may prove counterproductive as it can lead them to feel like they aren’t being understood in the way they should. According to the WHO, psychosocial support training is integral to emergency first responders, who in the aftermath of a crisis, are usually the most readily accessible to those affected. PFA training should thus be provided to non-psychological professionals as well, and as long as they adhere to WHO’s guidelines. Johns Hopkins University, too provides specialized PFA training module using the RAPID (Reflective Listening, Assessment, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition) Model developed by George S. Everly Jr.
Note: Please know that short term certificate courses are useful to acquire knowledge and information but insufficient by themselves to impart the skills used in professional counseling or psychological aid set-ups. Taking these courses will not qualify you to impart psychological aid as a psychological professional.
Praharshini Kumar is a research assistant and mental health advocate with Nolmë Labs. Her interests include positive psychology and academic research. She wishes to contribute to these fields in the future in the capacity of an academician.