“Know thyself”, was an encryption on Egyptian tombs; a reminder of the perils that lay ahead for someone trying to navigate the labyrinths protecting a Pharaohs’ belongings (see reading list ref.) The desire to understand others and ourselves has existed since our early ancestors (jacaranda) and still motivates students of Psychology today. When I ask my students, why did you choose Psychology? I get mixed responses. Some reply with, “‘cause I didn’t want to do Physics”, or, “ I want to become a Psychologist”, or, “I find it interesting and there is still so much to be learnt” but the most encouraging response I get is, “I think it will help me to understand myself better”. The value of Psychology to secondary school students can be highlighted with reference to recent research in schools and several case studies that show Psychology’s contribution to the understanding of relationships, behaviour in groups and personality.
The Importance of Well-being vs. Academic Excellence
Instead of schools using academic excellence as sole indicators for their success, more schools are now acknowledging the need to develop students in holistic way, with a stronger focus on psychological wellbeing. Recognising the early onset of many psychiatric illnesses occurs during adolescence, whole school programs have focused on supporting and sustaining a positive school climate and culture for whole school wellbeing. Programs like Buzz (Heron, ) are helping young students develop skills for building and maintaining friendships and resolving conflicts in a positive way. Other school programs have focused on a combination of positive psychology and coaching psychology to enhance wellbeing and optimal functioning. Research conducted by the University of Sydney has shown support for evidence-based coaching in educational settings for both students and teachers to increase wellbeing, goal striving, resilience and hope in both adults and adolescents (Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, 2007; Grant, Green, & Rynsaardt, 2010). These programs assist in the understanding and development of high levels of psychological wellbeing in students, staff and the school community and thus, hopefully reduce the incidence of mental illness that appears during the early stages of puberty.
Improving an Understanding of Relationships in School
Psychology has contributed greatly to our understanding of why people are attracted to one another and how adolescent relationships are formed. Thibaut and Kelly (1959) proposed several stages of relationship development through social exchange; sampling, that is the checking of potential costs and benefits of a particular relationship, followed by bargaining; the giving and taking of rewards to test the relationship, then commitment; where the relationship is one of equality, and finally institutionalization where norms are developed that recognize the legitimacy of the relationship (Fletcher & Garton 2007). The value of social exchange theory to secondary school students is that understanding friendships are built on reciprocity (give and take) and commitment can assist them in developing and maintaining their own relationships with others. Another interesting case study that further explored the development of relationships during adolescence was that of Dexter Dunphy (Cited in Fletcher & Garton, 2007). This study, conducted in Sydney in the 1960’s saw Dunphy engage in participant observation whereby he followed up contacts with young people at various social settings. Through this study he was able to make some very important observations of how young people form peer groups including dyads; pairs of close friends, cliques; small groups who interact frequently and crowds; larger groups of adolescents. Considering that during adolescence individuals move away from their family group and towards their peers an understanding of how these relationships form is important as it