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What is Pop Psychology?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pop psychology (short for popular psychology) is a term used to describe various types of mental strategies that may or may not be scientifically proven, but are purportedly designed to improve one’s psychological well-being and promote a healthier life. Pop psychology includes a wide and ever-changing set of theoretical practices popularized by general public acceptance. Such practices are typically dispensed through self-help books, seminars, talk radio, syndicated columnists, and celebritized self-help gurus. In some cases the term is used in a derogatory sense to imply that a source or a theory is junk science.

While financial success doesn’t necessarily prove credibility, many self-help books have gained enormous success in the halls of pop psychology. Chicken Soup For The Soul (1993), The Road Less Traveled (1979), Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (1992), You Can Heal Your Life (1984) and Awaken The Giant Within (1992) are just a handful of examples.

L. Ron Hubbard’s (1911-1986) Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950) spawned not just a pop psychology craze but a worldwide religion known as Scientology. While Scientology and Dianetics have tremendous support among its followers, which include a handful of top celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, controversy over its founder and practices eventually pushed it from mainstream popular psychology.

Many self-help gurus give seminars designed to jump start people’s imaginations and attitudes about themselves and their capabilities. This may be to attain better success or overcome panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Anthony Robbins and Lucinda Bassett are two examples, respectively. Some self-help gurus obtain celebrity status, as in the case of “Dr. Lara” and “Dr. Phil.” Even the Dear Abby syndicated newspaper column, started in the 1950s, dispenses common-sense advice that can be classified as pop psychology.

Popular psychology can, in some cases, provide a rich field of opportunity for personal growth and self-realization. For those looking to adjust their bearings in life, overcome personal phobias, insecurities or anxiety disorders, answers may be a book or seminar away. Greater self-confidence and even financial success might also be achieved by removing self-placed barriers.

However, it should also be mentioned that not all pop psychology is considered healthy. Some forms actually seek to break down the personality through highly stressful means which usually takes place at a seminar or retreat. While many people that have undergone such practices found it beneficial, it isn’t for everyone.

Critics also warn that serious mental or emotional disorders should be diagnosed and treated by a qualified doctor, and may require medication. Though emotional ups and downs are part of life, anyone suffering from chronic depression or thoughts of suicide should also seek professional help.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon167535 — On Apr 13, 2011

Pop psychology gurus give advice that is based on general observation evidence. That's why people believe in them. They help people, but that cannot always be the case. They are not scientific, whereas, psychologists are those guys with qualifications, who after cramming books, all of a sudden wake up to the real world and then start helping others using their stupid, unreal bookish knowledge.

So, there is very little yet a translucent difference between these two species. do not try any of them. Simply have faith in yourself, because no one in this world can be a better judge of your situation than you.

By sunshine31 — On Sep 18, 2010

Cafe41-Often people think that stay at home moms sit in front of the television and eat chocolate all day, but that is not true.

Dr. Laura has a large following. She has even written children’s books that teach values to children and make it easy to discuss issues with your child.

I love the book, “Why Do You Love Me?” It really talks about how the parent may show frustration with the child but that does not mean they don’t love the child.

She uses the analogy that a parent’s love is like the sun in the sky and no matter if the day is cloudy or not the sun is always there.

This book demonstrates to children that parents have unconditional love for their children. It is a really positive and powerful message to send to kids. Her pop psychology books are really the best behaviorist psychology available.

By cafe41 — On Sep 18, 2010

Sneakers41-I listen to her show every now and then. What I like about her is the validation that she gives stay at home moms. In fact her latest book, “In Praise of the Stay at Home Mom” really is an uplifting motivational book to inspire more women to make the choice.

Her advice is child-centered. She also was once a stay at home mom, so she could and does relate to stay at home moms really well.

She makes people accountable and does not let her callers wallow in self-pity. She instead tries to empower them to make better choices in their life.

She is brutally honest and some people find it refreshing while others may consider it a bit harsh.

I personally appreciate her honesty. Confronting your problems head on is really the only way you will be able to make positive changes in your life.

By sneakers41 — On Sep 18, 2010

Mutsy-I agree with Dr. Laura on just about everything. She feels that many children get the short end of the stick when parents choose to remarry and even have additional children with the new spouse.

She also counsels women from the husband’s perspective and gives them insight as to how the relationship can be improved. I think that people don’t like her direct no-nonsense approach.

Many people live selfish lives and do not like to be confronted with that fact. I love reading her pop psychology articles.

By mutsy — On Sep 18, 2010

Psychology counseling by many of these pop psychologists can often give us insight as to how to improve our lives.

Dr. Laura has a successful syndicated talk show along with a series of best selling books. She is a staunch advocate for children and offer advice based on strong family values.

She encourages women to stay home with their children and make the necessary sacrifices in order to do so.

She counsels single parents to remain single until their children are 18, so that another marriage and possible children do interfere with the child’s relationship with the parent.

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