Critical psychology is a multidisciplinary field based upon critical theory, which is a collection of radical theories used to assess and critique society and social norms. Critical theory applies knowledge from the social sciences and humanities to help enhance the freedom of the individual, while preserving social justice.
Critical psychologists critique traditional psychological theories and apply psychological principles to understanding and solving problems in modern society. They strive to bolster individual freedom and they promote individual rights above traditional cultural values.
Traditional psychology, on the other hand, remains neutral toward society and social values, not attempting to change them. Traditionalist psychologists look at society only as it affects a given individual, believing that individuals need to conform to society.
Critical psychologists look for societal causes of psychological problems in individuals, believing that traditionalists pay too little attention to the balance of power between social groups and individuals. They try to minimize the gap between practicing psychologists and their patients. Critical psychology believes that traditional psychology ignores the fact that differences in power between social classes can impact the mental and physical well-being of individuals.
Critical psychology examines the role that psychology plays within the power structures of society, questioning whether psychology has traditionally been acting primarily as a tool for the present power structure. It calls for psychology to strive for social change and individual freedom instead of trying to induce patients to conform to the status quo.
Related: How to Become a Social Psychologist
Types of Degrees
Critical psychology is a small field, largely restricted to academia, and it’s currently probably impossible to find degree programs for it at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. Even at the doctorate level, you might have to design your own program. At the undergraduate level, the only current program for critical psychology is a minor offered by the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.
Students should opt for a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in social psychology; barring that, a degree in general psychology might suffice, particularly with a concentration in social psychology.
Here is a sampling of undergraduate critical psychology classes from the above school, to give you an idea of what to look for:
- Self and Society
- Culture and Community
- Integral Learning
- Social Change
- Global Studies
- Introduction to Critical Psychology
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Restorative Justice
- Lifespan Developmental
- Cross-cultural Psychology
- Cultural Psychology
- Dialogue and Community Development
Other recommended undergraduate classes include:
- Introduction to Social Psychology
- Stereotyping and Prejudice
- Theories of Personality
- Abnormal Psychology
- Sensation and Perception
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychology of Motivation
- Interpersonal Relationships
- Theories of Learning
- Culture and Human Development
- Social and Personality Development
- Culture and Mental Health
- Psychology of Gender
- Social Cognition and Perception
Few jobs are available in critical psychology with just a bachelor’s degree. Some jobs as a research assistant are available with a master’s degree, but independent researchers must have a doctoral degree, preferably a PhD.
At the master’s degree level, programs in social psychology are common. Try to find a program that emphasizes applying social psychological theories to a wide variety of social problems and social justice issues within a wide variety of social contexts. You might also try to design your own program in critical psychology.
Master’s degrees normally take an additional two years after the Bachelor’s degree. Doctorates normally require at least an additional two years after getting a master’s degree, plus a year of internship. You may accordingly also discover new career aspects and opportunities. In a doctoral program you may focus on areas such as depth psychology, existentialism, hermeneutics, post-structuralism, phenomenology, feminism and critical theory.
Because critical psychology is a fairly radical field, there aren’t a lot of jobs available in the field; but then again, there aren’t a lot of candidates for those jobs, either. Probably the best bets for jobs are for a non-profit research foundation or a university.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics website lists critical psychologists under its umbrella “psychologists, other” category. Psychologists in this category, as of 2019, earned a median annual wage of $98,230 with a mean hourly wage of $47.23.
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