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What Are the Pros and Cons of Pop Psychology?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2016
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Popular psychology, often referred to as pop psychology, is defined as any psychological idea that is made popular in the general public via self-help books, the media, or by psychologists who spend a significant amount of time conducting seminars or public interviews. It is believed to be especially beneficial for those going through a life transition and it can provide the public with a better understanding of what friends, family, and even strangers face on a day-to-day basis. It can, however, also be detrimental, especially when a person aims to use it to self-treat himself or herself in lieu of working with a doctor. It is also common for pop psychology to over-estimate the effects of the techniques and ideas offered.

Bookstores around the world are lined with self-help books. These are believed to be most effective for people going through life changes, such as a divorce, adding a child to a family, or changing jobs, rather than those facing more serious issues. While many of these books offer a plethora of self-treatment ideas, they also often provide readers with a general idea and understanding of what they are going through, and what they can expect during that stage in their lives. This can be beneficial in preparing a person for what lies ahead, and aid him or her in processing what has happened in the past.

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As pop psychology brings somewhat common mental health issues into the public spotlight, it can allow for a better understanding of those facing different issues by the people around them. This can lead to increased research for certain mental health issues, as well as remove a lot of the stigma often associated with disorders or illnesses. As information about mental health issues is made public, it can also lead to more individuals facing these issues to seek treatment, or encourage their family members or loved ones to suggest treatment.

While there are several benefits to pop psychology, it can also have detrimental effects on individuals. A person suffering from major depression who thinks that a self-help book or taking a seminar conducted by a high-profile psychologist will make them feel better will typically be disappointed, and delaying treatment could potentially make the issue worse. On the opposite end of the spectrum, pop psychology can often lead people into believing that they have a problem when, in fact, they most likely do not. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment are one of the most detrimental effects of pop psychology, and are often the primary reasons that traditional psychologists view this subsection of psychology in a poor light.

In many cases, pop psychology, whether through print or media, can provide valuable self-help tools for individuals facing common or unique issues. Despite this, due to marketing, some of these tools are often over-sold. In general, any type of pop psychology that provides a specific timeline for the proposed “treatment” or tools to work can cause more harm than good.

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