Earning a psychology degree can help you improve the lives of others.

A psychologist speaking with his patient.As you earn a psychology degree on your way to pursuing a career in psychology, you’ll study the behavior of individuals and their mental processes and also learn about the importance of emotion. Emotions are a complex series of changes which occur when we react to a situation that we determine to be personally significant.

There are many theories of emotion, and the major theories of motivation can be grouped into three main categories: physiological, neurological, and cognitive. Physiological theories suggest that responses within the body are responsible for emotions. Neurological theories propose that activity within the brain leads to emotional responses. Finally, cognitive theories argue that thoughts and other mental activity play an essential role in forming emotions.*

For example, Charles Darwin proposed an evolutionary theory of emotion that suggests emotions exist because they serve an adaptive role in order to be able to respond quickly and improve chances of success and survival. In the James-Lange theory, psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange suggest that emotions occur as a result of physiological reactions to events and depend on how someone interprets his or her physical reaction. However, the Cannon-Bard theory says people feel emotions and experience physiological reactions simultaneously and that one does not cause the other. The Schachter-Singer theory proposes that people infer emotions based on physiological responses but that the situation and interpretation can result in different emotions. Supporters of the Facial Feedback Theory of Emotion suggest that emotions are directly tied to changes in facial muscles.*

While earning your psychology degree, such as a PhD in Clinical Psychology, you’ll learn that emotion is central to all forms of therapy, yet each has a distinct model for working with it. For example, in cognitive behavioral therapy, emotion stands with thought and behavior as one of the interacting elements that make up a person's inner life. Emotion-focused therapists view emotion as the primary meaning system and, as such, emotion is used as the path to greater awareness of what is important in any given situation by helping clients make sense of their feelings as well as transforming their core painful emotions.§ Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies see emotion as a gateway to meaning, and emotion serves as both a container of memory and as an experiential process occurring in the moment to help uncover recurring patterns and resolve issues.**

Regardless of the theory you subscribe to or therapy you administer, it’s important to remember that every individual experiences different emotions in a single day, and we can experience multiple and even contradictory emotions at the same time.†† Emotions, like people, are complex and involve physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behavior.‡‡ While clinical psychologists debate whether there are six or four primary universal emotions, most would agree they are all important—whether they’re innate or learned, positive or negative, or healthy or unhealthy emotions—because each has its own function that allows us to sort out what we really want and think so that we can become stronger and more resilient individuals.§§ Understanding the different theories of emotion and how therapy uses emotion to improve the lives of others can help you become a better psychology professional.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online psychology degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, including the PhD in Clinical Psychology and the MS in Clinical Psychology. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*K. Cherry, Theories of Emotion, on the Internet at www.verywell.com/theories-of-emotion-2795717.
†American Psychological Association, Comparing Models of Emotion in Therapy, Emotion in Psychotherapy Video Series, on the Internet at www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310973.aspx.
‡American Psychological Association, Working With Emotion in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Emotion in Psychotherapy Video Series, on the Internet at www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310972.aspx.
§American Psychological Association, Working With Emotion in Emotion-Focused Therapy, Emotion in Psychotherapy Video Series, on the Internet at www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310970.aspx.
**American Psychological Association, Working With Emotion in Psychodynamic Therapy, Emotion in Psychotherapy Video Series, on the Internet at www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310971.aspx.
††T. Langley, “Inside Out”: Emotional Truths by Way of Pixar, Psychology Today, on the Internet at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-heroes-and-villains/201506/inside-out-emotional-truths-way-pixar.
‡‡K. Cherry, What Is the James-Lange Theory of Emotion?, on the Internet at www.verywell.com/what-is-the-james-lange-theory-of-emotion-2795305.
§§L. Firestone, Should You Feel or Flee Your Emotions? Compassion Matters, Psychology Today, on the Internet at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201601/should-you-feel-or-flee-your-emotions.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.