While many people involved in the theatre department here are convinced that I am a major, I am in fact only a theatre minor. My major has recently become Psychology. The world of psychology fascinates me, much like the world of theatre. Both disciplines are extremely varied in the number of ways that you can involve yourself. Just like there are multiple disciplines in the theatre, such as acting, directing, and designing, there are multiple alleys in psychology as well. There is clinical, occupational, childhood, forensic, etc... There is so much to learn about both fields that anyone could spend the rest of their lives learning new and exciting information about either discipline. In that same vein, both fields are always changing. In theatre, there are always new innovations, better technology, new stories, new concepts; in psychology, the science is always moving and advancing, and our understandings are becoming deeper every day. This is what keeps both theatre and psychology so very interesting-you can never ever learn everything there is to know. There is always plenty of room for growth and development.
The theatrical world, just like the psychological, gives us a great look into the psyche of mankind. Through the ages, the kind of theatre produced and the content of that theatre has always given a unique insight to the thought processes of the society. In psychology, we are given a similar opportunity to peer into the inner-most workings of the human brain. In both instances, we sometimes find exciting material, and sometimes we are disturbed by what we find, but we always are left with a more enriched understanding of what it means to be human.
It is important for any performance professional to have some familiarity with and understanding of human psychology. I think it would be beneficial for actors to take at least an introductory psych class, if not a few extras such as abnormal psychology (especially if preparing for a role in which this applies) or personality theory. In order to bring characters fully to life on stage, it is important that the actor understands how human psyches work- things like what pushes us, how we can be influenced by factors such as stress and trauma, and how relationships play into who we are and how we act. Psychology can inform an actor when he or she needs to portray a person with a psychological disorder or someone directly interacting with someone with a psychological disorder.
Just as an understanding of psychology can benefit a theatre artist, an understanding of theatrical elements can benefit a practitioner of psychology. Much of psychology involves an exchange of energy between clinician and client or patient. If the clinician is familiar with theatre, he or she may be more able to bounce their energy off of the client or use the clients energy to decide how to go about the interview and which tactics will be the best. Sometimes, a psychologist's job involves a bit of acting. If a clinician is called upon to do an evaluation of a criminal and that criminal is dangerous and confrontational, the psychologists will have to fool the person in a way so that the subject will trust the clinician enough to put his or her guard down. The subject must believe that the psychologist is on his or her side. In this instance, a familiarity with the theatrical would be quite beneficial to the psychology professional.