Psychology Articles

Choose An Orientation

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A lot of psychology students wonder if it’s better to invest their time learning one theory really well or to take an eclectic approach and learn about many different theories. Although we will be speaking in the context of psychology you can apply these ideas to pretty much any discipline.

What we are talking about is breadth of knowledge versus depth of knowledge, knowing about many subjects horizontally or really knowing one subject vertically. If you choose breadth of knowledge, you will necessarily be choosing the superficial. It’s like learning the rudiments of many languages, where you might be able to get by in various countries but you will never thrive in any of them and you will never truly know what it’s like to be a native there. If you choose depth of knowledge you will be confined to one area for awhile.

My advice is to spend some time gaining a general understanding of the various theories and then choose to devote all of your energy mastering the one that calls out to you. If you can gain mastery in this one area you will have a compass that you can come back to time and time again as you wander through the vast wilderness of psychological thought.

Learning a psychological discipline is learning a language. I know because I speak Spanish and Portuguese fluently and the process of learning various psychological theories mirrored my process of learning those foreign languages. What happens is that once you have mastered one, you have a really good idea of what it takes to master another and you have gained many skills that you can use for the endeavor, so it goes much faster on the second round and so on as you add more theories to your bag of tricks.

If you can become fully fluent in one psychological discipline, you won’t lose your bearings while you are learning a new one and you will be able to see parallels between the two systems of thought, which will also lead you to new insights that synthesize the two. If you don’t start with a very deep understanding of one discipline then you will be doomed to skirt along the surface forever and never really reach those profound insights that are waiting for you underneath.