Critical Psychology Essay

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Critical psychologists consider society unjust for many and want to do something about it. They believe that psychology has the potential to bring about a significantly better world in keeping with its ethical mandate to promote human welfare, but it has failed to do so. Critical psychology is a movement that calls upon psychology to work toward emancipation and social justice, and it opposes the use of psychology for the perpetuation of oppression and injustice.

Thus, critical psychology is an alternative approach to the entire field of traditionally practiced psychology. It can be understood as a met discipline that urges the field of psychology to critically evaluate its moral and political implications. It differs from traditional psychology in fundamental ways. Generally, critical psychology emphasizes social justice and human welfare while holding that the practices and norms of traditional psychology obstruct social justice to the detriment of marginalized groups. It highlights the need to critically reflect on largely accepted psychological theories, methods, concepts, and practices and aims to transform the discipline of psychology in order to promote emancipation in society. This entry examines the field’s values, beliefs, and practices and discusses implications of educational policy.

Values And Beliefs

Critical psychology considers certain values primary, mainly social justice, self-determination and participation, caring and compassion, health, and human diversity. Values such as these guide critiques of current social structures and inform proponents’ visions of a better society. They direct attention beyond individuals toward institutional barriers that maintain oppressive practices. From a critical psychology perspective, the underlying values and institutions of psychology and modern societies reinforce misguided efforts to obtain fulfillment while maintaining inequality and oppression.

Critical psychologists view the good society as based on mutuality, democracy, and distributive justice. They define problems holistically in terms of psychological and social factors related to disempowering and oppressive circumstances. Health status or wellbeing is viewed as being embedded in collective factors in society, not just individual factors. Collective factors such as social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental conditions are thought to have a powerful influence on the well-being of individuals. Critical psychologists believe that social and political conditions free of economic exploitation and human rights abuses determine quality of life.

Critical psychologists also have distinctive views about the nature of the world and the people who inhabit it. Mainstream psychology’s focus is on individualism and a belief that the individual is the proper object of study. Critical psychology views the individual and society as so fundamentally intertwined that they cannot be separated from one another in any way that makes sense.

Critical psychology critiques the presuppositions and perceptions of knowledge in psychology. Adherents view knowledge as infused with political uses and embedded within subjectivity of its creators. Knowledge is seen not as an objective reflection of reality but as dependent on varying historical social arrangements. Critical psychologists ask: Whose interests are supported by knowledge and its application? Who has the power to legitimize a particular form of knowledge over others? Liberation psychologist Martin-Baro suggests that psychology should be looking at issues from the point of view of the dominated—a psychology from the oppressed. The task for critical psychology is to question knowledge, to understand how it arose, and to demonstrate whose interests are served and whom it oppresses.


Given these values and beliefs, critical psychologists promote transformative ends—structural changes that benefit the powerless—while also considering the means used to achieve those ends. From a critical psychology perspective, these values and beliefs require alternative methodologies. Proponents believe that methods should be chosen based on the ability to create findings that are practically relevant in the real world and benefit the powerless. Critical psychologists depend mostly on qualitative approaches, as qualitative methodologies have several distinct features that facilitate critical analysis: an open-ended stance, reflection on subjectivity and bias, concern about relationships, and complex, open-ended questioning and analysis. It has been argued that the progress in statistics and experimental design is in reverse proportion to being able to apply results to real-world contexts. As researchers and practitioners, critical psychologists reflect on their existing practices and scrutinize their efforts. They try to understand how their own power and subjectivity influence what they do and feel and study.

The structural phenomenon of power has widely been neglected in traditional psychological discourse and research. Critical psychology defines power as the capacity and opportunity to fulfill or obstruct personal, relational, or collective needs. Practitioners make explicit the pervasive influence of power in all they do as psychologists. Particular forms of knowledge are supported by particular societal and psychological practices. These practices are in turn reinforced by particular distributions of power. Critical psychologists believe that power should be shared equally and that legitimacy comes through a democratic process that professional psychology, community and educational settings, and society at large generally lack. Mainstream psychologists and others whose activities depend upon psychology’s status quo often have a personal and professional interest in maintaining and supporting particular forms of knowledge. Critical psychology is about understanding how power pervades what psychologists do and help to transform that awareness into practices that promote liberation and well-being.

Implications for Policy Studies


An educational science influenced by critical psychology would involve students, parents, teachers, and school administrators in the tasks of critical analysis and transformation of educational situations. It would develop research partnerships to decide the means and ends of the investigation and utilize participatory action research approaches because transformation cannot be achieved without engaging the wisdom of the social actors affected. It would ask citizens and stakeholders what they would change in their settings, while promoting participants’ self-determination and democratic participation in the research project. It would create a climate of collaboration and foster a sense of collective ownership to ensure that there is follow-up of research recommendations.

It would rely on qualitative approaches because these are more suited to understanding the differing perspectives of people and groups whose voices have not been adequately heard. Following this model, researchers should attempt as much as possible to accurately hear what their informants are saying. They have a duty to analyze informants’ voices, but that they must do so in a way that remains accountable to them.

Focus Of Research And Action

Quite possibly, the most difficult thing for researchers and practitioners to confront is the misguided belief that their work is entirely apolitical. All educational research is generally interested in educational policy, or how the educational system is organized and operated. An educational discipline influenced by critical psychology would be concerned with these questions: Does the field of education promote social justice or injustice? Do educational policies and procedures promote the status quo or equitable reform? Can research, teaching, and practice be redesigned to advance the interests of powerless groups? For whom is educational research directed? Whose interests will be served? Is there an awareness of the societal repercussions of the field’s theories and practices, or is the field oblivious of its potential negative effects? Do researchers, theorists, and practitioners declare their values or do they assume that what they do is value free? What are the cultural, moral, and value commitments of the field? Researchers in the field must be well grounded in a critical perspective, aware of their own values, politically astute, interpersonally skilled, and passionately committed to the issue under study.

A critical psychology–influenced field would study content at different ecological levels of analysis and be concerned with identifying and exposing those aspects of social policies that frustrate the pursuit of empowerment, human development, and social justice. Beyond mere identification of those aspects, critical actors in policy studies would be oriented toward transforming the unjust conditions that place obstacles in the way of achieving educational goals. They would frame research topics and questions in action-oriented terms of how they will advance the interests of the vulnerable groups under study. Even at the individual level, they would examine individuals in their cultural, organizational, community, and macrosocial context. They would go beyond seeing problems in education only as technical problems to be solved with technical solutions. Thus, a critical educational science, as described by Wilfred Carr and S. Kemmis, has the aim of transforming education, not just explaining or understanding its different aspects.


  1. Carr, W., & Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming critical: Education, knowledge, and action. New York: Routledge.
  2. Fox, D. R., & Prilleltensky, I. (1997). Critical psychology: An introduction. London: Sage.
  3. Prilleltensky, I., & Nelson, G. B. (2002). Doing psychology critically: Making a difference in diverse settings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  4. Sloan, T. (Ed.). (2000). Critical psychology: Voices for change. London: Palgrave.
  5. Teo, T. (2005). The critique of psychology: From Kant to postcolonial theory. New York: Springer.
  6. Annual Review of Critical Psychology:
  7. Psychologists Acting With Conscience Together (Psyact):

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