What Are the Goals of Psychology

Psychology is the study of the human body and mind. In other words, it focuses on how people think and behave in various situations. Psychology, originally developed in the 1900s, has advanced past its original concepts to include a variety of theories, approaches, techniques and methods. Today, psychology plays a role in a myriad of industries from customer service and sales to marketing and human resources. So, what are the goals of psychology? Well, it depends on the field of psychology.

In other words, psychology encompasses a variety of approaches – all of which have different goals. However, ultimately the universal goals of psychology are: to examine the relationship between thoughts and behaviors and help people resolve their issues and achieve mental health and psychological well-being. If you are thinking of entering psychology, but aren’t quite sure what the goals are – you have come to the right place. This article will teach you the general goals of psychology so that you can determine if it is the right field for you.

Listed below are questions that will help identify the goals of psychology:

• Why is it Important to Classify Psychological Disorders and Mental Illnesses in a Standardized Manual?

Well, it is important to classify psychological disorders and mental illnesses in a standardized manual because that is how psychologists and other mental health professionals determine healthy and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. In other words, it is a diagnostic tool. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is used by mental health professionals (i.e. counselors, psychologist, psychotherapists, clinical social workers, psychiatrists, marriage and family therapists, etc.) to classify psychological disorders and mental illnesses. This manual describes, in detail, the signs and symptoms associated with a variety of mental health conditions. Without a standard description of psychological disorders and mental illnesses, many people would go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

• How is Psychology Explained?

Psychology is often explained in a variety of ways. Some mental health professionals refer to psychology as the study of thought processes and behaviors, while others explain it as the interaction between thoughts, behaviors and the environment. Yet, others explain it as the examination of childhood experiences on the adult psyche. In other words, there are many different explanations on the purpose, approaches and goals of psychology. In fact, the founders of psychology – Jung. Freud, Skinner, Maslow, Beck, Bowen and Rogers all offer distinct theories when it comes to psychological issues, mental illnesses, “the unconscious,” personality, human motivations, the ability to change, emotional and social development, relationships, sex and thought processes. It is important to note that what is considered “normal” and “healthy” thoughts and behaviors in one culture may be considered “abnormal” and “unhealthy” in another one.

• Does Psychology Predict Behaviors?

Yes and no. Psychology attempts to predict future behaviors, but it is not a perfect science. Just like the field of medicine, the field of psychology is not foolproof. The purpose of psychology is to make an educated guess of the future behaviors of others. In other words, psychology tries to predict whether or not a person will make “healthy” or “unhealthy” decisions based on his or her past behaviors.

For example, a psychologist may predict that a studious high school student will do well in college. The psychologist can make that prediction by observing the student’s learning patterns (i.e. studying, completing assignments on time, earning good grades, paying attention in class and asking/answering questions), testing the student (psychological and college-based assessments) and interviewing the student on his or her career goals. Although psychological predictions aren’t fail-safe, they can help businesses, courts and educational institutions determine if an individual is emotionally and psychologically healthy.

• Can Psychology Help People Change Their Behaviors?

Yes, psychology can help people change their behaviors, but only if they allow it to!

One of the goals of psychologists is to help people change unhealthy, negative and maladaptive behaviors. In other words, the function of psychology is to help others permanently alter (change) their behaviors so that they can enjoy a happier and more productive life. Psychological theories differ on the best way to achieve behavior modification (i.e. behavioral changes). Some psychologists believe the best way to effect change is to encourage honest discourse (discussions), while others believe that constant reinforcement is the way to go. The approach to behavioral change depends largely on which psychological approach you follow.

• Are There Limitations Associated with Psychology?

Yes, there are limitations associated with psychology. As mentioned previously, psychology is not foolproof. There is a possibility that a prediction, diagnosis or assumption is wrong. Let’s use the example above, in which a psychologist has predicted that a studious high school student will do well in college based on his or her learning patterns. Although the psychologist has predicted the student will do well in college, several factors may discount this prediction. In other words, this student may get to college and become influenced by the freedom of college, drugs and alcohol, new friends, sororities and fraternities, etc.

These factors can affect whether or not that student will do well in school. Moreover, these factors, which were not present during high school, can cause the psychologist’s prediction to become invalid. The field of psychology is not “perfect” but it does enhance the lives of others. It has the ability to thwart dangerous situations, alleviate mental anguish and emotional distress, improve the quality of life, help schools and businesses choose the most qualified employees and students and put criminals behind bars.

***So what are the goals of psychology? The goals are: to delve into the human mind in an effort to understand and alter behaviors, reframe thought processes, relieve psychological and emotional distress and improve the lives of others.


American Psychological Association. (2014). DSM-5. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/Pages/Default.aspx

American Psychological Association. (2014). DSM. Retrieved from http://www.psych.org/practice/dsm

Dweck, C. S. (1992). Commentary: The study of goals in psychology.
Psychological Science, 3(3). 165-167. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40062778?uid=3739912&uid=2129&uid= 2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21104271580353

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