If you're curious about human behavior and you have a passion to help people thrive, these are exciting times. The field of psychology is expanding -- often into unexpected areas -- and opportunities for psychologists are growing. If you want to make a real difference in the lives of others, psychology offers many rewarding paths.
For psychologists, there are never any easy answers. Never any quick fixes. Human behavior -- a fantastically complex and varied set of phenomena -- is governed by something even more complex: the human brain. Neuroscientist Ravi Menon has said that we probably know more about "what is happening in the universe than between our two ears." Our brains form over one million new connections every minute. There will never be an easy explanation for neural activity.
That's why there's a lot more to the psychologist's role than heady Freudian theorizing or nodding along as patients confess their secrets. It's a collaborative process between patient and therapist to unwind deeply layered psychological stories, where single issues rarely manifest without other underlying corollaries.
For those wary of such intensity of intimacy, psychology also offers hands-off alternatives that involve a more critical, objective approach. For example, in an age of constant technological development, studying the effects of new stimulus on the human mind is a high-demand field. Psychologists are producing studies on the effects of multimedia, what we love about viral videos, and reality TV.
Forensic psychologists work at profiling criminals for court cases. Disaster psychology brings cognitive scientists to Sudan and Libya to examine survivors of catastrophic events.
In every field, whether directly working with patients or conducting observational research, the psychology professional must be a relentlessly curious thinker who thrives on exploring human behavior.
For students interested in culture, the psychologist's work can be a form of investigative journalism that contributes to a more nuanced cultural discussion. For example, a recent study found video games can positively speed up a child's ability to process visual information, while other research has revealed that children's grades go down when there's a video console in the home. Studies like these can influence government policymakers, guide parents, and inform the business community.
With new and exciting applications for psychology, professionals will have more opportunities to share their research. People are hungry for more insight into their own minds: Witness the explosion of psychology-based best sellers like Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and Barry Schwartz's Paradox of Choice. The competent storyteller will find a ready audience via an ever-expanding avenue of media.
In addition to providing poignant commentary on technology, psychology itself is becoming tech savvy. A new field of telepsychology is emerging: It uses technologies such as Skype, voice-recognition, and language translation software to counsel clients who speak different languages. Elsewhere, researchers are helping autistic kids form relationships and learn job skills through SketchUp, Google's 3D-modeling software.
No matter what the specialty, the psychology profession requires extraordinary rigor. It's for those who never stop asking questions. It requires lifelong learning and a fierce drive to understand emerging research about the human brain.
Across every dimension, psychology is a fluid, expanding field. It has seen a major shift from Freud's fascination with history and childhood. The past still holds clues to the psyche, but most psychologists today are concerned with questions of the present: the way technology is influencing our minds, how aging impacts mental processes, and how a patient can recover from past trauma.
The brain's mysteries will continue to challenge the mental health field, but the psychologist keeps moving forward, motivated by a love for people, dedicated curiosity, humility amidst complexity, and an unbending courage. Their efforts have moved the profession into mainstream culture, and now everyday people seek out therapeutic support. Seeking help is losing its stigma as everyone begins to understand we're all working our way across a difficult landscape of issues -- and that the trusted, well-trained psychologist can guide us through this challenging territory.