Is pop psychology helpful?
- ‘Popular (pop) psychology’ is a term used to describe any psychological idea, self-help trends, or quick fixes that are made popular through media, books, and popular culture, which may or may not be scientifically validated.
- Some of the top influential psychologists include Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), also called the “father of modern psychology,” Jean Piaget (1896-1980), who championed the theory of cognitive development, B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), who was an advocate for behaviorism, Albert Bandura (1925-2021), who stressed the importance of observational learning, and more.
- Verywell Mind credits Freud with being a first example of pop psychology affecting society when his “psychoanalytic theories being published for the masses in his self-published book titled The Interpretation of Dreams,” which created “a huge surge in interest.”
- According to Statista, by 2021, “around 41.7 million adults in the United States received treatment or counseling for their mental health,” up from 40.2 million in 2019.
- Forbes Health reports that young adults in the US (ages 18-25) “have the highest rate of experiencing any mental health concerns (30.6%) compared to adults aged 26 to 49 years, and the highest rate of serious mental illness (9.7%)”
It is challenging to differentiate pop psychology and self-help, and that is precisely the problem. Pop psychology can be too simplistic, generalized, and often, a money-making scheme based on 'junk science.' Valeria Sabater writes in Psychology Today, 'Pop psychology is a field that promotes concepts and approaches that aren't always based on science. This phenomenon has been reinforced by the huge number of publications by 'non-experts' as well as social media, for more than a decade.' On Instagram, especially, there is potential for this pop psychology to harm a person's health.
Further, pop psychology perpetuates many surprising myths, such as smiling more, which will make you lead a happier life. According to Betterhelp, there are many dangers in believing pop psychology myths, such as 'letting your anger free,' which can make you even angrier. These myths that pop psychology has produced over time have harmed many, even leading people to dangerous decisions in health and wellness and increasing public ignorance.
Moreover, something else to consider is that pop psychology can lead to self-diagnosis, which can also be dangerous. According to the Spectator, the problem with pop psychology is we often get it wrong. In the article, Martha Gill explains, 'Psychology and psychiatry are perfectly respectable fields and the terms I've just listed all refer to real things, but what bubbles to the surface, through non-scientists and on social media, are pet theories and cherry-picked studies, wielded by people with no idea what they're talking about.' The main takeaway is this: pop psychology's major issue is that it often presents lies as fact, leading to more harm than help.
Popular psychology has several merits that deserve to be highlighted and seen as a redeemable public interest. Pop psychology influences people to examine themselves from an analytical but also objective standpoint. It shows us that reaching a place of awareness is possible through a concerted and sustained effort. Studies have shown that certain forms of popular psychology have helped to reduce depression in people. Seeing as stress and depression are major factors in premature death, it's inarguable that pop psychology can have a positive effect.
Pop psychology initiates and normalizes the subject of mental health. It allows people to feel more comfortable, accepted, and open to discussing what had formerly been stigmatized by society. They are free to now share what has often been repressed and internalized. By bringing mental health to the forefront of mainstream society and even entertainment, we emphasize its importance. Millions and possibly even billions often feel unseen and unheard when it comes to mental health issues. Pop psychology is an effective icebreaker when expressing a subject that has often been marginalized or outright ignored.
People often look to the most ubiquitous sources regarding subjects they have a limited scope of knowledge. Television, film, podcasts, and radio have a strong presence in many people's lives. Therefore, it's fitting that it would advocate and explore relevant subject matter. Pop psychology can create a greater sense of empathy and understanding for everything related to psychology and mental health. We are a society working to normalize things that were once shunned and disenfranchised. It's time to give pop psychology credit for helping so many.