Advanced training in psychology creates unique and valuable expertise. In the hands of well-trained people, the methods and theories of psychology provide powerful insight into the human mind and behavior. With a rich tradition and history on which to build, natural connections with numerous other disciplines and the ability to fuse science with application, psychologists offer unequaled capability to address the greatest challenges of society.
Those who are engaged in the science of psychology offer an important perspective, one that is not commonly found among those who are trained in other disciplines. We transcend levels of analysis, from neurons to society. We draw from a vast array of research methods-experiments, quasi-experiments, modeling, simulations, observational and field work, and qualitative analysis. We are a hub discipline-connecting in some way to most of the social, behavioral, biological and mathematical sciences.
The work of research psychologists can be highly theoretical. It can also be extraordinarily practical. The science of psychology enjoys application in the clinic, the workplace, the military, courts, governments, athletics and businesses. The need for psychology-and for psychologists-is vast.
Titles and identity
Most of us are proud to call ourselves psychologists. Yet some among us-and the number seems to growing-want to be called something else. Indeed, the titles appear to convey some distancing from the discipline of psychology: cognitive scientist, neuroscientist, behavioral scientist, developmental scientist, forensic scientist, and the list goes on.
The beauty and power of advanced training in psychology is that it permits identification with so many other disciplines of science. Yet, I wonder about the motivation of those who seek distance from the discipline of their own training.
In some cases, one's work may be clearly more aligned with other disciplinary approaches. Adopting a different title is a sensible way to convey information about one's avocation. In other cases, one's work setting may require adoption of a title other than psychologist. Examples include military settings and government agencies, where the title psychologist is reserved for certain specializations.
I suspect that some, however, deliberately seek to shed their identities as psychologists. Perhaps some regret having earned their degrees in psychology, wishing they had pursued different training paths. Others may simply wish to avoid the inevitable need to explain the differences among psychologists who focus on science and those who focus on practice.
Whatever title is used, it is one's training in psychology that carries the special value. We can change titles, as we do clothing, but it does not change who we are or what we have to offer. And so it would seem that a psychologist by any other name is still a psychologist.
Yet, shedding the title carries important consequences. One is that psychology-as a distinct discipline-may soon become extinct. With fewer academics calling themselves psychologists, it is no wonder that psychology departments are changing their names and the degrees they confer. In some colleges and universities, training in the discipline of psychology is no longer available. That may be acceptable for those who have already acquired the expertise, but it does great harm to the discipline's future.
Another consequence bears on the relationship between the science and the practice of psychology. Researchers and college professors can change their titles whenever the mood strikes. Practitioners-clinicians, counselors, health-care providers-do not enjoy the same liberty. Indeed, it is their identity with the science of psychology that gives them respected standing in the health-care professions.
The scientists of psychology should worry about the health and viability of the practice of psychology. In the public eye, in the halls of Congress, and in federal agencies, psychology is appreciated as a health-care profession. That's a good thing. It brings added value, public support and federal funding to the discipline. It only serves to enhance our science.
Those who enjoy the privilege of advanced training in psychology have earned the right to call themselves psychologists. Shedding the title and the identity may satisfy some personal needs, but also carries undesired outcomes. Once you are a psychologist, you will always be a psychologist. Wear the title with pride!