By Dennis Durband

Psychology is the fourth-most popular major among American college students today. Why? Because it teaches us about ourselves.

Psychology is a fascinating area of study. It helps you understand human behavior – how people think, act and feel. Psychology can help you become a better communicator, think more critically and be a better employee and manager in the workplace.

An added bonus for NPC students is that Professor Gary Reyes not only teaches psychology but also practices it professionally. He currently serves as a licensed psychologist with a small practice in Phoenix, working in the area of disability law, doing psychological evaluations to determine a person’s limitations following trauma or mental illness. An NPC faculty member for 15 years, Professor Reyes earned a doctoral degree in psychology at Northern Arizona University.

Professor Reyes says, “There isn’t any field psychology doesn’t apply to. It has many practical applications. One reason that I believe students enjoy psychology is its practical applications to everyday life.”

NPC psychology courses offer a solid start for those students who will transfer to a state university to pursue higher degrees in the field as well as students who plan to major in other fields, or someone just interested in learning about it.

Psychology is a great field with a bright future. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean salary of a psychologist is more than $93,000. Forbes cited it as one of The 20 Highest Paying Jobs In America In 2017, according to data provided by verified LinkedIn members.

What is the study of psychology? What does a psychologist do?

Psychology is the scientific study of thought and behavior. It helps us understand how we and other people work. It makes us aware of our thoughts, feelings and motives, as well as those of others.

Professor Reyes says, “A psychologist is someone who is licensed to practice psychology, defined as the observation, description, evaluation, interpretation and modification of human behavior by the application of psychological principles, methods and procedures.”

Psychologists work with people for the purpose of preventing or eliminating undesired behavior and helping people enhance their interpersonal relationships, work and life adjustment, personal effectiveness, behavioral health and  mental health.

In the Classroom

Professor Reyes finds creative ways to get his students thinking about psychology, both in and out of the classroom. He encourages them to watch for psychology-related stories in the news and then report on them to the class. He tries to engage every student in each class and conducts compelling demonstrations that hold students’ attention.

For example, to make a psychological point about rejection, he and two students start playing catch with an electronic virtual ball. Eventually he excludes one student from the game and then has that student explain how it made them feel to be left out.

As a licensed psychologist working in the field of forensics, Professor Reyes will occasionally cite one of his cases in the classroom, while of course, protecting the identity of the actual person. For example, he worked with a young woman whose chronic depression was so severe that she required electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which is normally used as a last resort.

“Unfortunately, a side effect from ECT is some memory loss of past events,” he says. “This woman had spent two years studying at a trade school mastering her craft and was successful in her chosen career. However, after receiving ECT treatments, she lost the memory associated with her vocational training and could no longer be actively employed. Interestingly enough, she did not perceive this loss as significant. She was grateful to be alive, as she had wrestled with depression that had often brought her to the brink of ending her life.”

Professor Reyes often cites examples of ways to put psychology to practical use. He tells his students:

“A person working in auto sales might want to inquire about the birth order of potential buyers. Alfred Adler’s birth order theory describes firstborn people as being very detailed oriented, having a sense that they must be perfect in everything they do and describes them as usually very well-organized. As a sales-man, I would approach this person with all of the specifications of the car’s engine size, gas mileage, safety records and more.

“Now, I would use a totally different approach for the baby in the family. This is a person who usually is easygoing, sociable, carefree and a risk-taker. When they’re looking at a car, it is more about how the car looks or how fast it goes, which, as a salesman, is what I’m going to be emphasizing. I might add that this is one reason why many of the most successful marriages in America are between firstborns and babies in the family, because their differences have a tendency to complement each other.”

Psychology is based on theory as well as  physical results.

“We know from functional MRIs that similar areas of the brain are lit up when we experience physical pain or emotional pain. Consequently, the emotional pain you feel from a relational breakup is very real. Your brain is being lit up in a similar area that you would experience if someone had stepped on your foot. And so, the old doctor’s orders that directed us to take two aspirins and call them in the morning may very well be valid and help alleviate some of that emotional pain that you experience when a relationship has ended.” 

And when evaluating patients nearing the end of their lives, Professor Reyes notes they usually go one of two ways as they face the inevitability of death.

“Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory of death and dying involves five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Those who successfully navigate these steps are always very calm and matter-of-fact about the process they are going through. This contrasts sharply with those who have not completely grappled with each stage. They often show significant signs of anxiety, depression and anger through-out the process. Both of these reactions clearly demonstrate the validity of Kubler-Ross’s five stages.”

In Reyes’ Developmental Psychology class, students learn about age related behavior and the developmental changes that occur during the different periods of our lifespan. He includes lots of current research in human development. In particular, students who are parents or are part of NPC’s Early Childhood Development program find this course very informative.

Professor Reyes explains that if a child is malnourished during pregnancy, the risk of schizophrenia increases. In addition, a pregnant mother’s junk food diet can be a contributing factor that increases the risk of obesity in children and vice versa, a healthy diet can reduce the chance of a mother passing on some genetic factors attributed to obesity. Alcohol and drug abuse by an expectant mother can result in a host of neurological and behavioral problems for the child. Students in his class are often stunned to see an image of a normal child’s brain compared to the undersized, dam-aged brain of a child born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

“We can determine if children are meeting milestones, or if there are red flags,” says Professor Reyes. “Early psychological interactions are tremendous in reducing the impact of autism. By identifying kids in preschool and kindergarten who are lacking in empathy, we can help them and society to identify personality disorders early on and provide early intervention. With the help of psychologists, troubled children are overcoming horrific backgrounds and going on to contribute to society.”

In addition to addressing early childhood development, this course also helps students understand what lies ahead for them in their middle age and  senior years.

Dr. Reyes is student-recommended.

NPC students consistently rate Professor Reyes highly for his teaching skills.

Marr-Rhyzle Nilsson is an NPC psychology student from Holbrook who’s interested in becoming a marriage and family counselor. Highly impressed with Professor Reyes’ credibility as a teacher as well as the fact that he is a practicing psychologist, Nilsson says, “Dr. Reyes has firsthand knowledge that benefits students, and he adds his perspective and experience to what we learn from our textbooks. He’s a great teacher who welcomes questions, and I really like the openness in his class.”

Amanda Hatch, a student from Taylor who is pursuing a nursing career, has taken three classes from Professor Reyes within the past year. “Professor Reyes is extremely knowledgeable in multiple areas, including statistical concepts, research concepts, psychological disorders, neurology and development. He brings that knowledge to class in a comprehensive and relatable way.”

All types of students are welcome in NPC’s psychology classes, whether you’re taking it to meet degree requirements, using it to obtain university transfer credits, taking it because you want to make psychology your career or that you simply find the subject interesting. The things you’ll learn in a psychology class are practical and useful. You’ll benefit from having an instructor who is a professional currently working in the field.