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date: 28 November 2020

Professionalization of Psychology in the Nordic Countrieslocked

  • Petteri PietikainenPetteri PietikainenUniversity of Oulu, History of Science and Ideas
  •  and Jesper Vaczy KraghJesper Vaczy KraghKobenhavns Universitet, Department of History

Summary

The history of psychology in the Nordic countries has distinct similarities among the countries. For centuries, close cultural and scientific ties have existed between the five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). Almost without exception, early Nordic university psychologists were inspired by German experimental psychology of the late 19th century. It became an almost mandatory part of their training to study psychology in Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory in Leipzig or at similar institutions in Germany. The German model also served as an inspiration for psychological laboratories, which were established in the Nordic countries from the late 1880s onward. The first chair in psychology was established in Denmark in 1919, when Alfred Lehmann was appointed professor at the University of Copenhagen, and during the next decades Sweden, Norway, and Finland, respectively, followed suit.

Following the strong ethos of governmental social planning that was emphasized all over Western Europe in the postwar decades, Nordic psychologists aligned themselves with the state in general and with the formation of the (social-democratic) welfare state in particular. Throughout this era, applied psychology occupied a major role in psychology. At first, psychologists were engaged in “psychotechnics,” including aptitude testing, personnel selection, and vocational guidance and counseling. Then, in the postwar decades, clinical psychology became an increasingly important part of applied psychology. One could say that psychology was heavily engaged in the adjustment policy in working life, education, and counseling in all Nordic countries. At the turn of the millennium, Nordic psychology appeared to have more research into psychological disorders and psychophysiological and neuroscience research than the rest of the world, and less on educational psychology. Within the Nordic countries, Finland and Sweden form one cluster with higher proportions of psychophysiological studies, and Denmark and Norway another cluster with higher relative proportions of psychological articles dealing with health treatment and prevention. All the Nordic countries have a very high number of psychologists in relation to their populations, and psychologists have a visible societal role as “architects of adjustment” who help individuals to find their place in society.

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