Psychology is defined as the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. Note: the scientific study. Psychological science has been designed to observe, describe, explain, and predict behavior. Other sciences have the same goal: observing, describing, explaining and predicting. The only thing that is different is what is being examined in a scientific way. Both psychology and other sciences use the scientific method in scholarly inquiry.
Given that, psychology is, admittedly, a “soft science”. This is in contrast to “harder” sciences, like biology and physics, which can be more directly observed, described, explained and predicted. Psychology does study the directly observable behavior, but also deals with covert mental processes, which are vastly more difficult to study, as they cannot be seen.
Psychology has its roots in natural science and philosophy. Throughout the centuries, people told myths in order to explain our complex world, which eventually gave way to philosophy. In part, Psychology owes its natural science roots to Charles Darwin, the founder of natural selection, and Johannes Muller, who was concerned with how the brain integrates sensory input into motor responses. The father of modern Psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, is deemed so because he was the first to assert that people’s mental processes, could, in fact, be measured.
I am a professor and a student of Psychology. In becoming a Psychologist, I have taken statistics, research methods, conducted research, and analyzed data. I have generated observable hypotheses and predicted how these hypotheses will manifest on a data spreadsheet. As a therapist, I have generated hypotheses on clients based on theories and empirical investigation and critically examined them. I have examined the utility of theories of therapy based on empirical data.
That said, I think the source of the soft science label must be examined. As I stated before, Psychology studies things that cannot be objectively measured. But the soft label, in my opinion, goes beyond that. Psychology is delivered at times to the public, in my opinion, explaining only half of the story. Often, popular articles make it look as though things that are merely related exist in a causal relationship. In more cases than not, this is simply not true. The science aspect is boiled out of the information delivery, and can be presented at times as some kind of wizardry, especially Clinical Psychology. When I explain some of Freud’s ideas I am careful to mention that his ideas are not accepted as fact, but as a group of ideas that got us started thinking about and moving towards some of the conclusions we have made or are working toward today. Psychology, like other sciences, accepts nothing at face value, and is always changing in light of new evidence. Psychologists do not repackage common sense or subscribe to weird and esoteric methods to generate and develop knowledge.
The human psyche is a mystery, but the way it is studied is in the same way that any other science builds and develops knowledge. It is a science.