Colombia was the first South American country to establish an undergraduate program for training professional psychological scientists. The psychology program was founded on November 20th, 1947, at the National University of Colombia (Bogotá). With approximately 45 million inhabitants, and a thriving urban population of 70%, Colombia is placing greater and greater emphasis on higher education. In particular, psychology is a very popular professional fields for undergraduates to pursue (as in the United States, Canada, and many European and Asian countries). Colombia also hosts a range of Master of Science and Doctoral Psychology programs. There are approximately 100 undergraduate professional training programs, approximately 25 Master’s programs, and three doctoral programs (University of Valle in Cali, established in 2005; University of the North, in Barranquilla, 2006; and University of the Andes in Bogotá, 2009).
The undergraduate psychology training in Colombia aims to produce professional (licensed) psychologists; and therefore more comparable to the Master of Science in the United States, rather than the the BA or BS programs. The majority of the 36,352 psychologists in Colombia that practice their profession have the degree of Psychologist (5 years, professional training, terminal degree). Only a few hundred psychologists obtain a Master’s degree or a PhD in Colombia, and the bulk of graduate training is undertaken abroad, above all in the United States, Spain, Belgium, France, Russia, Mexico, and more recently Brazil.
Colombian psychology is organized around the Colombian College of Psychologists (Colegio Colombiano de Psicólogos), a professional association that includes most of the country’s psychologists. There is also the Colombian Society of Psychology, with a more scientific and academic emphasis, and the Foundation for the Advancement of Psychology. In addition, there are many associations for specific fields, such as the Colombian Association of Clinical Psychology, of Neuropsychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Behavior Analysis, Social Psychology, Sport Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Cognitive Therapy, Health Psychology, and Family Psychology. The Ethical Code for Psychologists is the determined by the Colombian College of Psychology. The professional practice of psychology is recognized by the Columbian government (initially Law 58 of 1983, and currently Law 1090 of 2006).
Colombia, like a few other Latin American nations, does not possess a long tradition in scientific research. The country traditionally places a greater emphasis on literature, producing world-famous writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Alvaro Mutis, Jorge Franco, and Laura Restrepo, among others. There is also a keen interest in the arts, and Colombia has produced great figures in painting (Obregón), sculpture (Botero), and film-making (Sergio Cabrera). Science has not been a central element in the “national character” of Colombians and has only gained importance in recent decades. Basic scientific research in Colombia has mainly involved isolated efforts in the fields of astronomy, biomedical sciences, chemistry, and others.
The Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in 1970), the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences (1937), and other similar organizations hold scientific events, conventions and congresses, and publish scientific journals, promote science and advise the national government on issues related to science and technology.
With respect to the financing of basic scientific research, the main government organization in Colombia for this purpose, Colciencias, was created in 1968 following the model of the US National Science Foundation and other similar organizations (such as Conycet, and Conacyd). Colciencias finances scientific research projects in many fields (including psychology), works together with congresses and conventions, promotes the exchange of scientists, publication of journals and scientific monographs, and seeks to fund scholarships for doctoral students in Colombia and other countries (as well as the creation of research centers, and social appropriation of science). In addition to Colciencias, there are other private and government organizations that finance science, technology, and innovation in the country.
Colombia has become aware that it can only solve its urgent social problems such as violence, quality of education, poverty (and better utilize of natural and human resources) if basic scientific research is given a greater priority. Governmental decisions that support science, technology and innovation with increasingly larger resources and more ambitious programs, are relatively recent and their consequences will be seen in the near future. The achievements of scientific and technological research are enterprises that require time to materialize.
Against this backdrop, psychology occupies a place of relative importance in Colombia. The number of psychologists that are dedicated primarily to scientific research is small, but that number increases every year. Scientific research is carried out in universities and in research centers, both in the capital, Bogotá, as well as in other cities. Colombian psychology (as psychology elsewhere in the world) is primarily associated with professional aspects and work in the clinical, educational, industrial/organizational, forensic, community and family areas. In addition, resources for scientific research are limited, as in all developing countries.
However, the two research areas with a greater number of publications in international scientific journals are behavior analysis and social psychology. In both fields there is work at the basic level and the applied level, and Colombian psychological scientists are attaining international recognition in these areas. Research in health psychology, neuropsychology, clinical psychology, educational psychology, cultural design, life cycle developmental psychology, legal and forensic psychology, family psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, motivation, learning, and cognition are also important.
In Colombia approximately 10 psychological journals are published, some of which have an international influence. The most important ones are the Revista Latinoamericana de Psicología (Latin American Journal of Psychology) founded in 1969, Avances en Psicología Latinoamericana (Advances in Latin American Psychology), founded in 1982; Revista Interamericana de Psicología Ocupacional (Interamerican Journal of Occupational Psychology), founded in 1982, and Revista Colombiana de Psicología (Colombian Journal of Psychology), which began in 1992. A large number of authors that are published in these journals come from other Latin American countries, from Spain, the United States, and other nations.
In the same way, the participation of Colombian psychologists in international journals is increasing.
A Personal Journey
During my professional life I have seen how Colombian psychology has developed broadly and has occupied increasingly more relevant spaces to contribute to the development of the science and to improve people’s quality of life. When I was a Psychology student, there was only one professional training program in Colombia, at the National University. Today there are around 100. The number of psychologists was limited, but today there are 36,352 psychologists and over 34,000 Psychology students. The field of professional work was small, and it was limited to assessment and evaluation, psychotherapy in restricted conditions, personnel selection, professional counseling and little more. Many of the professors of psychology were psychoanalyst physicians and the professional identity of the psychologist was not clear. Scientific research was limited to standardizing psychological tests and in some cases to creating new assessment instruments.
With the passage of time, starting in the decade of the 1970’s, research with animal and human participants was carried out for the first time, laboratories were created, books were written and scientific articles were published. During this period, the so-called “conflict of paradigms” appeared, which was a struggle among psychoanalysis, behaviorism, humanistic psychology and later on, cognitive psychology. There were also conflicts among psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, the conflicts having almost entirely disappeared today. In contrast to what occurs in other Latin American countries (above all in Argentina), psychoanalysis was never very strong in Colombia, with the exception of the first period of Colombian psychology. Today’s Faculties of Psychology work with different viewpoints, and the emphasis is clearly in scientific psychology.
Due to the social problems associated with the guerilla, violence and drug trafficking, Colombia has been very isolated in the international scenario. Few international congresses have been carried out in the country, and the exchange of scientists and students with other nations has not been as extensive as desirable. This situation has changed in the last few years. The next challenge for Colombian psychology is its internationalization, a bidirectional exchange that will benefit the discipline of psychology, scientific research and will help” to put Colombian psychology on the map.”
Rubén Ardila, National University of Colombia, carries out experimental psychology, biopsychology, experimental analysis of behavior, and studies of social issues. He founded and was the first president of ALAMOC in 1975, and the Colombian Society of Psychology in 1979. He was granted the National Science Award-Life and Work in 2004.