What is Critical Psychology?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Critical psychology is a branch of psychology — the study of the mind and behavior — based in critical theory. Critical theory involves the critical examination of society and culture with the aim of discovering the nature of problems afflicting society. Critical theory draws from many different disciplines, such as sociology, literary theory, and other subdivisions of the humanities and social sciences. Critical psychology is used to apply critical theory in two different ways. It is intended to critique traditional psychological practices and theories and to apply psychological theories to understanding and solving problems in modern society.

This type of psychology is different from conventional psychology in several ways; these differences are many of the defining aspects of this branch of psychology. While traditional psychology is, generally speaking, neutral toward society and only concerned with society as far as it affects a given individual, critical psychology is not so accepting. Critical psychologists tend to look for societal causes for psychological problems while conventional psychologists generally seek problems in the individual or in the individual's life. Critical psychologists believe that conventional psychologists pay far too little attention to differences in power between individuals and groups. This ideology extends to the relationship between psychologist and patient; the critical psychologist generally tries to minimize the power difference that typically exists between a psychologist and his patient.


On a whole, critical theory is an examination and inquiry into the reasons behind the nature of society. As a branch of critical theory, critical psychology has many aspects that are based in inquiry rather than in clinical treatment. Critical psychologists seek to discover how conventional psychology fits into the power structures of society. The field is also concerned with comparing different psychological theories in an attempt to see which ones support the present social power structure and which ones attempt to overcome it.

Despite its broad application and multidisciplinary nature, critical psychology is a relatively small field that is mostly restricted to academia. Few academic institutions actually have programs in critical psychology and it is seldom applied in clinical settings. There are, however, some scientific journals devoted to the field and some psychologists who take a strong critical approach to their work.

Several other subfields of psychology have branched off from critical psychology. Ecopsychology, for example, suggests that there is a powerful relationship between the well-being of Earth and the psychological well-being of its inhabitants. Another loosely connected branch is referred to as transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal psychology is focused on the spiritual or transcendent aspects of humanity.


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Post 1

This kind of reminds me of a class I had in college called “anthropological psychology.” We studied how different cultures came to develop and hold practices and belief systems because of the situations surrounding them.

It is amazing how the vast differences between cultures let them develop individual ways of being that are accepted by everyone in that society. If you live there, you think and behave a certain way.

By studying about the thought patterns and traditions of all these different cultures, we came to see how vast differences in power between groups affected behavior and feelings. Every culture has their own psychology and their reasons for it.

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