Across the world, psychology is consistently ranked as one of the top fields of undergraduate study. As an academic discipline, psychology provides insight into why people think, feel, and act the way they do. The discipline is unique as it covers virtually every facet of human life, including one’s education, occupation, and relationships. Over the past few decades, India has seen an upsurge of demand for the subject, with over 1,100 universities and colleges currently offering psychology courses. Its growing popularity can be attributed to the strong knowledge base and critical thinking skills acquired by students, coupled with excellent employability prospects across a wide range of careers and industries.
An interdisciplinary approach is essential in the education and training of psychology students, providing relevant information related to disciplines such as medicine, economics, and philosophy. Crossing disciplinary boundaries encourages students to examine problems from different perspectives and helps them integrate learning across subjects. Beyond knowledge acquisition, a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association, reveals that students who earn a psychology degree acquire many versatile workplace-ready skills including analytical thinking, effective communication, data analysis, ethical decision making, creativity, and empathy. Studying psychology is advantageous for aspiring sociologists, lawyers, businesspersons and other professionals keen on understanding the vagaries of human behaviour.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused worldwide disruptions, it has also underscored the vital importance of psychology as a field of study and practice. This is especially true in India where, even before the current crisis, a 2017 Lancet study estimated that one in seven Indians suffer from some form of mental distress or illness. The ability to effectively assist such individuals has been hampered for many reasons, including lack of access to mental healthcare services. Indeed, the number of psychologists in India is significantly lower than the number recommended by the World Health Organization. Clearly, there’s an urgent need to educate and recruit a larger number of clinical and counseling psychologists.
While important, focusing solely on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness presents a narrow view of the career opportunities for psychology graduates. There is immense scope for graduates to engage in research, including how mental processes and behaviour change over-development or the biological underpinnings of psychological phenomena. Such findings add to the ever-evolving body of knowledge that informs psychological principles and practices. The latter, in turn, can be applied to the broader world, such as the education system, criminal justice system, government, business, and industry. In this way, applied psychology provides the understanding and expertise to solve diverse problems related to human experiences.
While the future of psychological education and practice in India looks bright, several challenges remain. One major concern relates to the gender imbalance of students signing up for psychology study programmes. The 2018 Cambridge International Global Education Census revealed that only 8.8 percent of Indian boys aspired to become psychologists. Psychology is too often perceived as appropriate for daughters only based on various socio-cultural and economic concerns.
In many parts of contemporary India’s lower income households, individuals are reticent to even acknowledge psychological disorders. Social taboos and prejudices surrounding mental illness prevents the masses from seeking help, turning instead to family, community, or religious leaders.
It will require multiple generations of Indian psychologists to spread awareness of the importance of mental well-being and to combat stigmatization of mental illness.
A final issue relates to the nature of modern psychological theory and practice, which is largely rooted in Western concepts and methodologies. In response, many psychologists are working to ground psychological accounts in an India-specific context, as manifested by the growing interest in cross-cultural psychology, ethnopsychology, and indigenous psychology. Such work aims to accurately portray the sociodemographic realities of India and rectify the cultural biases prevalent in the psychological literature.
With job opportunities expected to multiply over the next few decades, an interdisciplinary psychology education offers the freedom and flexibility to secure a wide range of careers inside or outside the purview of the psychological sciences. Students can be confident that receipt of a psychology degree will prepare them to become socially responsible and productive members of society.