We must give psychology away

George Miller was one of the founders of cognitive psychology and psycho-linguistics. He reached fame with his article The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, in which he showed that the capacity of human short-term memory is limited to the capacity to remember roughly 7 elements. When Miller became president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1969, he made a statement that appealed to me.

Psychology must be practiced by non-psychologists

Miller made the following statement:

Psychology must be practiced by nonpsychologists. … the secrets of our trade need not be reserved for highly trained specialists. Psychological facts should be passed out freely to all who need and can use them. … There simply are not enough psychologists, even including nonprofessionals, to meet every need for psychological services. The people at large will have to be their own psychologists, and make their own applications of the principles that we establish. … Our responsibility is less to assume the role of experts and try to apply psychology ourselves than to give it away to the people who really need it. (Miller, 1969, pp. 1070-1071)

Everything has a psychological component

Everything we experience in our lives, every task we do, every conversation we have, has a psychological component in it. That psychological component exists because of our individual psychology alone. He are we looking at the situation? Do we feel pressure? Do we think we can perform the task? Do we feel insecure? Do we enjoy what we do? Do we know how best to approach the conversation?

But the psychological component is also there because almost everything we do involves other people who are also psychological beings. How do these people see us? How do they interpret what we say and do? How does this affect their actions?

The psychological component is never fully determinative of our well-being and effectiveness. In whatever we do, there are always other factors that are also important for our well-being and functioning. But the psychological component always plays a role and often an extremely important role.

Knowledge about psychology can help us

As humans, we all have a fair amount of psychological intuitions that strongly influence how we look at and act in situations. These intuitions, which have come about largely through how we evolved as an organism, are often useful and important. They help us to assess situations quickly. But they are also often flawed. This is where psychological science can help us.

Through scientific research, we can gradually develop robust psychological theories that can help us to better understand ourselves and situations and to act more effectively. Some pieces of psychological knowledge will apply almost universally, other pieces apply specifically to certain types of individuals and specific types of situations.

Psychological knowledge is for everyone

Psychology concerns us all. It is not that psychology only becomes interesting when something has gone wrong in a human life, such as during a depression or after a trauma. Psychology is constantly relevant. It is therefore a misconception that the application of psychological knowledge can ever be reserved for experts. This is Miller's important insight.

The dissemination of psychological knowledge is essential. In this article I say that one of our goals within the progress-focused approach is to help bridge the gap between theory and practice. Many people we meet, such as educators, teachers, managers, social workers, etc., are constantly doing things in which the psychological component is substantial. 

Psychological knowledge could be very helpful to them. However, they themselves often have few opportunities to keep track of what is available in terms of psychological knowledge. And of course this does not only apply to adults. Children can also benefit greatly from learning psychological knowledge.

We must give psychology away

Therefore, psychologists have to work hard to make this knowledge available to everyone. In Miller's words, we must give psychology away.