Generally, the term means a more or less scientific study of behavior or mental processes. The field is very large, diverse and complex and does not constitute any single school of thought or homogenous entity. An overview of even the main branches of psychology is beyond the scope of the present work. Therefore we shall address the matter of modern academic psychology only from the perspective of how it stands in relation to esoteric studies as seen by the QFS. Since psychology is not a single doctrine or school of thought, what is said cannot be rigorously exact or applicable across the board. Still, such a discussion is at least partly meaningful because both pursuits claim to shed light on man’s inner nature and possibilities.
Psychology has emerged as an independent science relatively recently, only in the late 1800’s. Naturally, philosophy, theology, medicine and esoteric studies to mention only a few, have always spoken of matters that fall in the scope of psychology, even though this were not their principal focus.
The paradigm of psychology is by an large uniformitarian and positivistic. Psychology today seeks to make itself close to an empirical science of human behavior, making extensive use of statistics and more or less controlled experimental protocols. Also there is exchange with fields such as neurology, specially in the context of clinical applications.
Psychology seeks to develop standards and metrics of human behavior and performance and in many cases means of influencing these. Some applications are therapeutic, aimed at treating various disorders, at which point psychology touches on psychiatry, the branch of medicine concerned with mental processes.
The principal differentiating factor between psychology and esoteric studies is the fact that psychology is generally not concerned with “soul” or experience transcending the normal human range, nor with the possibility of qualitative evolution from the human estate. Transpersonal psychology has developed classifications of mystical experience and C. G. Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology had a lively interest in humans sharing a common pool of consciousness, thus we cannot categorically say that psychology denies the esoteric but presently this is not mainstream. Parapsychology studies various effects sometimes relating to the higher potentials of man but again suffers from applying a mechanistic paradigm to elusive effects that cannot be modeled within such, leading to poor repeatability, ignoring observer effects in the theory and so forth.
4th Way studies make a large number of statements directly pertaining to psychology. Generally, all statements to the effect of man being a machine reacting to outside stimulus, composed of multiple little I’s and programs fall in the field of psychology. Allowing for a difference of terminology, these statements are even quite compatible with modern psychology. We do not have space here to establish a dictionary of exact parallels.
A key difference however is that that which psychology considers the attained state of adult normalcy, esoteric studies consider to be an even rather bad starting point for a long journey.
Also, many applications of psychology are geared towards defining normalcy, to placing bounds of appropriate and allowable on human development. The whole area of developmental psychology seeks to formalize human development, specially in childhood and to devise means of “correcting deviations.” Also various psychological metrics, personality type and intelligence tests are increasingly prevalent throughout society. Psychology relying on various statistical methods has developed generally effective means of opinion making and trend setting, almost universally in use in politics and advertising. See sources on neurolinguistic programming (NLP) for many examples. We will note here that these are not generally geared at furthering any development of higher potential but most often towards strengthening and playing on primitive impulses such as fear, envy, desire for acceptance, competition and sex.
Psychology has a very large but not always immediately discernable impact on modern culture. We may only note the frequency of terms such as “anal retentive” or “subconscious” in everyday conversation. Quite often psychology is concerned with defining what is normal and with enforcing this idea by various techniques. There is also a notable trend towards medicalization of everyday life, where most everything is classified as a disorder requiring some specialized intervention. Psychology and psychiatry are quite prominent in this, by on one hand creating impossible standards and then selling solutions to such problems. This is specially true as applies to children, only consider the frequency of psychoactive medication use by children. The shapers of the Western, specially American education system and later of the entire mass culture have shown remarkable psychological expertise, only not used for furthering the development of the public’s free will. Thus psychology is in large part a science of manipulation, or at least very often applied as such.
The Cassiopaea material comments on psychology as follows: “[Psychology is] physiologically directed study of the mind […] It is half, where spirit is the missing half [… ] Psychology as you know it has nothing to do with spirit […] Complete restructuring of theory is needed [to encompass spirit,] is too complex to express.”
For practical navigation in today’s world, some knowledge of psychology is important, were it only because of its ubiquitous use in all aspects of mass communications, in the educational system, in the workplace and so forth. As a means of self-knowledge, psychology has some value but people when attempting to self-diagnose will more often than not confuse matters which are none to clear even in the psychological profession itself. Some idea of the more dangerous disorders is useful, specially psychopathy and narcissism since most are likely to come in contact with them and can come to great harm in the process. Actual mental illness is more rare as well as often more obvious.
The esoteric student should not deny the results of psychology, nor should he or she take these as absolutes or as limits to the possible. We could say that psychology is the science of the man-machine, of the inner and outer workings of the lower intellect and emotion and sometimes the relevant physiology. We are near constantly under its sway, yet seek to be free.
From the esoteric standpoint, we could say that the true psychology is the study of that which man may become, of the growth of the soul. Ouspensky uses the word in this meaning. From this perspective, what today is called psychology is the study of an esoterically abnormal or underdeveloped state or the study of the absence of soul.