Psychology Trends to Watch in 2014

As humans vary, so do psychologists. There are countless perspectives on human behavior, and while the early psychologists were more apt to move as a bloc from one dominant school of thought to the next, today’s psychologists have a long and rich history to draw from when studying their patients’ feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Over the past 60 years in particular, the profession has flourished as new schools have emerged, converged, and splintered. In no particular order, here are five psychology trends to watch in 2014:

Changes in the manual fuel changes in practice

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and provides a common set of standards for the classification of mental disorders. On May 13, 2013, the APA published the fifth edition of the DSM—the first major update since 1994—which contains alterations to the definitions of diagnoses, broadening them in some cases and narrowing them in others, as well as adding listings for “new” disorders. For example, the new, 947-page edition broadens the definition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) while narrowing that of autism. The new edition also provides paths for people who overeat or hoard to be diagnosed with mental disorders. In general, the new DSM shifts from categorization of disorders to a spectrum perspective: while the previous edition provided separate symptom profiles for substance abuse and substance dependence, now the symptoms are all listed together and depending on what a patient exhibits, they’re given a diagnosis of mild, moderate, or severe.

As pointed out by the New York Times, these changes “can affect which services children receive in schools, what treatments patients receive from doctors and even how people are viewed by society.”

Beyond being a tool for mental disorder professionals, the DSM affects diagnostic medical codes, which in turn determine whether certain people can access social services and whether health insurance will cover the payment for treatment. Paired with the massive rollout of the American Affordable Care Act (ACA) at the beginning of the year, the new DSM means that the industry is in for major changes in the treatment and billing of mental disorders in 2014.

The incorporation of Eastern philosophy

Many modern psychologists are taking cues from the tranquilizing practices of Eastern philosophy. More and more therapists are using meditation and related practices, like yoga and mindfulness, in conjunction with more traditional therapies. And it makes sense; the underpinning of these techniques is the pursuit of living a happier, healthier, and more joyful life.

In Buddhism, human beings are understood to be complete, whole, and perfect just as they are. Some traditional models of psychology assume the opposite perspective: that humans need to reach a state of wellness, that we lack something to be whole. Psychologists who endorse this mindset work with their clients to awaken and embrace themselves as they are, to empower them to address whatever challenges come into their path.

Of course, this isn’t just words and intentions—there’s science to back it up. Anecdotal evidence and some research has shown that meditation really does have both physiological and psychological benefits, changing how you approach life, how you interact with others, and how you create a sense of calm. In a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, patients who practiced mindful meditation “reported that they were significantly less depressed, anxious, angry and confused than the control group, which hadn’t practiced meditation. The meditators also had more energy and fewer heart and gastrointestinal problems than did the other group.”

Increasing accountability to insurance

Lurking on the horizon of patient care is the need for psychologists to justify their work to insurance companies. Psychologists will be increasingly required to prove the effectiveness of their treatments. If they can’t prove it worked, the insurance company may refuse to continue (or start) paying for the treatment. This hasn’t manifested quite yet, but given the rising importance of insurance in paying for increasingly expensive treatments, it could be right around the corner.

Using psychology to not only treat illness, but also improve organizations and teams

A growing subset of the field is involved in industrial and organizational psychology, as many practitioners are starting to work as consultants for businesses. As the global marketplace grows more and more competitive, many companies are turning attention inward in an effort to retain top talent, streamline processes, and increase profits and market share. The focus of an organizational psychologist is to contribute to an organization’s success by improving performance, satisfaction, and well-being of the employees. Even the U.S. government is getting in on the action; according to the Washington Post, branches that have hired organizational psychologists include the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Personnel Management, and Department of State.

The growing use of technology in treatment

As with every industry in the 21st century, psychology has been greatly affected by technology, from using video games to treat ADHD and schizophrenia to reaching rural patients through online videoconferencing.

Of course, as the Internet continues to change the way we live our lives, one hand is also kept on the brakes to prevent a leak of confidential medical information. The United States remains divided over whether to create a national database of medical information. That debate will heat up as we begin to see the initial impact of the ACA in 2014 and its mandate (picked up from a piece of legislation passed under President George W. Bush) that requires a move toward an entirely electronic treatment of medical records.

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