Is Psychology really Scientific

This is really an interesting question and with a number of different schools of thought, a question which can evoke a number of different responses.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and the dean of our department would say the answer to the question was an unequivocal yes.  Of course, he was a hard-core Skinnerian Behaviorist.  The behaviorist’s view is that psychology is nothing but a science.  A behaviorist doesn’t care about things like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or, even, some of the axis 2 diagnoses such as borderline personality disorder.  If it can’t be sensed and it can’t be measured, it isn’t relevant, according to the behaviorist.

Skinnerian Behaviorists do nothing but try to explain behavior (typically, human behavior).  They do this by using true scientific methods in which they run experiments which can be duplicated by others.  Based on the results of any given experiment, if the behaviorist can see a statistically significant pattern, he can make some sort of conjecture about predictability of human behavior.  Ideally, his/her experiment will be duplicated and similar results recorded.  This is what behaviorists do.  They run experiments, make predictions about behavior and try to publish results.  To a Skinnerian Behaviorist, psychology is nothing but a science.

Ah, but what of those pesky humanists?  Followers of Rogers and Adler and Jung and, gasp, Freud.  Would these people consider psychology a science?  Actually, most of them probably would.  Now, the behviorist may disagree that the humanist’s view is scientific.  After all, humanist’s think about nebulus things like “abnormal” behavior, “instincts,” etc.  You would never hear a behaviorist refer to instinct.  Again, behaviorists won’t say that things like instinct don’t exist.  They would merely say that instinct doesn’t matter-it can’t be seen; it can’t be measured, so it isn’t relevant.

The difference for a humanist is, (s)he believes in observing behavior, much like a behaviorist, but (s)he also believes that things like talk therapy, hypnotherapy and social stories can help change or shape behaviors.  While the humanist’s observation of behavior may be scientific in nature, some would argue that his/her methods were less-than-scientific.  The behaviorist would say that “talking about one’s feelings” may make someone feel better, but that the method is not science and any positive results would be happenstance and not the result of scientific methodology.  The humanist would say, “I’ve done this more than once with positive results.  The replication of something with similar results is science.  Therefore…”

So, is psychology really scientific?  Again, it depends on who you would ask.  Most would agree that theoretical psychology in which experimentation/duplication, measurable results and statistically significant conclusions are a foundation, would certainly qualify as a science.  Others would say that the study of psycholgy is little more than voodoo.  I was a psychology major, but never thought of myself as a “scientist” per se.  So, perhaps it is a science and perhaps it isn’t.  More than anything it is an interesting topic to discuss.