What is functional psychology and what does it involve

A woman talking on a cell phone

Functional psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on how people function in their environment. Functional psychologists study such things as mental health, the effects of age and disease on the mind, and development through adulthood. The field is very broad with its focus ranging from social to cognitive functions. Within this wide range, there are many subcategories: physiological, developmental/experiential, personality, clinical, and counseling types.

There are three major branches which include:

1. Physiological functionalism (also known as physiological determinism)


This branch has offered the most scientific evidence for its claims due to functional experiments conducted on rats.

2. Cognitive functionalism

The face of a building

This branch concerns itself with the functional approach to cognitive psychology and research, how a person’s cognition can be understood in regards to evolutionary theory and functional linguistics.

3. Social functionalism

The social functionalist movement emerged from a mid-century paradigm shift that recognized culture as a distinct force influencing human behavior, rather than as simply an aspect of individual behavior or learning as functionalism had perceived it. Functionalists such as George Mead and Herbert Blumer emphasized how social institutions serve to shape ideas through collective activities, thus shaping the actions of individuals within those institutions. Recent developments have been influenced by structuralist theory and ethnomethodology, which attempt to analyze social order without resorting to functionalist assumptions.

4. Dynamic functionalism

Dynamic functionalism Functional psychology of personality and behavior patterns (1952) [Dynamic functionalism] is a functionalist school, which believes that the human mind has three levels of consciousness, the conscious level, the subconscious level, and the unconscious level. Functionalists such as James K. Feibleman believe that there are two types of sensations: feelings and emotions.

5. Developmental functionalism

Developmental functionalism – functional approach to child development (1979), functional developmental psychology (1985). [Developmental functionalism] is a branch of [functional psychology]. It emphasizes that people’s psychological characteristics — their traits or roles or whatever — develop more or less predictably over time and in response to various environmental pressures and opportunities. This view represents functionalist functionalism, and functionalists believe that this (rather than dualistic or mechanistic functionalism) is the more basic explanatory approach to human behavior.

6. Clinical functionalism

Clinical functionalism – functional therapeutic methodologies (1995), functional analysis of personality disorders (1992). Clinical functionalism is a branch of [functional psychology]. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the necessary role of unconscious processes in all forms of psychopathology. The goal of clinical functionalists such as David M. Clark is to develop effective therapies for mental problems by building upon what we know about how regular psychological functions operate. That is, instead of searching for an underlying fundamental “cause” and then developing a therapy that targets this “cause,” clinical functionalists use their knowledge about functionalism (how this works) to develop functional therapies.

7. Counseling functionalism

Counseling functionalism- functional counseling paradigm (1999), functional career theory (1993). [Counseling functionalism] is also a branch of this. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the necessary role of unconscious processes in all forms of psychopathology and counseling practices like functional analytic psychotherapy… A functionalist, according to this view, is one who believes that mental health is an ongoing process rather than a simple absence of disease or dysfunction. In other words, being mentally healthy involves much more than simply not being crazy. Mental health requires both proper human functioning and adjustment to life’s inevitable challenges.

Conclusion: Functional psychology is a field of study that looks at how people function in their environment. These psychologists focus on such topics as mental health, the effects of age and disease on the mind, and development through adulthood. There are many subcategories within this broad field which range from social to cognitive functions. Within these major branches, there are three types including physiological, developmental/experiential, personality, clinical, counseling types, or even psychiatry if you need more information or treatment for your condition. We hope this article has helped answer some questions!

Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter
Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter