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Founded in 1960, the Psychology Department at Sonoma State University has historically been allied with the humanistic and existential traditions in psychology. The department is distinguished by its focus on the quality of human experience.

The key words here are: distinguished, quality, human, and experience. For us, each of these words holds special significance.

This expresses both that the department is unique and that it has achieved a certain amount of renown for this uniqueness over the years. This department offered the first graduate program in Humanistic Psychology and also helped to pioneer that field, with four of our members having served as president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, an international organization. The department also has been distinctive for its pioneering work in such areas as: somatics, expressive arts, biofeedback, organizational development, wilderness psychology, Jungian/Archetypal psychology, Transpersonal psychology, interdiscipilinary learning, student-directed learning, experiential learning, and learning-community approaches. This difference, this distinctiveness, has led to a national and, even, international reputation. The department has stood out as a beacon for many students seeking an alternative to traditional psychology, including even doctoral level professionals who've returned to take undergraduate courses here.
This word carries a number of important messages. First of all, we are interested in quality, as in excellence. At the same time, we are struck that the word, quality, is in ascendance, in business and elsewhere, even as we see ourselves surrounded by the deteriorating quality of our physical, social, and economic environments. Technology, for example, is changing the face of our world, but is it enhancing the quality of our lives? We seek to develop a psychology that not only studies but, also, enhances the quality of life. The word, quality, also communicates something about our bias in favor of valuing qualitative research methods at least equally with quantitative ones.
While affirming our connectedness to all of life, our interdependence with all creatures, this word clearly communicates our bias toward studying uniquely human, rather than animal, phenomena.
This word communicates a tendency for our department to take seriously the subjective realm, rather than focusing exclusively on the objective, as so much of mainstream psychology has tended to do. Our approach to investigation is often phenomenological. In addition, our approach to teaching tends to emphasize experiential approaches to learning, when possible, both inside and outside of the classroom.

For all of these reasons, we say: The Psychology Department at Sonoma State University is distinguished by its focus on the quality of human experience.

Mission of DeptMISSION

We actively encourage the integration of different disciplinary perspectives, rigorous analysis, respectful debate, cultivated self-knowledge, and engaged skills-based learning.  Our goal is to help students to develop skills in 1) understanding human experience from a variety of psychological frameworks, 2) knowing and evaluating their own experience, 3) learning and valuing diversity and multi-culturalism, 4) knowing and using the research methods of psychology in order to critically evaluate information in the social sciences, and 5) applying their knowledge in concrete ways that contribute to people’s quality of life. We hope to empower students with psychological skills that will enable them to be effective change agents in the world.


The Department is committed to students developing the following skills while being a Psychology major. Individual courses within the curriculum target one or more of these skills. Students are encouraged to take courses which develop all of these competencies. By the time of graduation, we expect each major to be able to do the following:

  1. Reflect on and evaluate personal experience;
  2. Understand human experience from a variety of theoretical and empirical perspectives;
  3. Apply psychological knowledge to personal experience as well as to social phenomena;
  4. Understand and apply basic research methods in psychology;
  5. Understand and value cultural diversity and multi-culturalism, and demonstrate effective skills to live in a multiculturally diverse world;
  6. Demonstrate skills that promote behavior change at the individual and community level.


Red Thomas, Ph. D.
Professor Emeritus

The two articles below contain Red's recollections about the history of the Psychology Department at Sonoma State University:

"Keeping The Flame Alive"

"What and How Can a Support Group Support?"


Psychology Department

Policy on Academic Honesty

The Psychology Department is committed to a code of values which honors academic and personal integrity, honesty, and ethical standards. In line with the Psychology Department’s mission, the Department provides a policy on academic honesty to guide students and faculty in their behavior. The Department’s policy is based on the University’s policy of academic honesty and integrity.

Standards of the Department

The Department expects students to complete their own work. When a student refers to ideas of another person, the Department expects students to acknowledge this work by appropriate citation. The Department also values group collaborative work, and expects students to appropriately acknowledge the contributions of others in collaborative work.

Department Policy on Academic Honesty

Each class professor provides guidelines for academic work in that class. While all professors expect honesty, professors vary in their use of individual research assignments and collaborative group work.

Students are often asked to research topics of interest and write papers on their findings. Research work can be complex. Some professors expect students to use American Psychological Association (APA) style format, while some do not. Whether or not APA style is used, students are expected to cite the sources of their research material and to acknowledge the authorship of the sources they use, whether it is books, articles, or internet material. We live in an intellectual community in which the free flow of ideas is essential, and out of respect for the other, we acknowledge the other’s work.

In general, students are expected to summarize the essence of the material they have read, in their own words. This means reading the material, digesting it, and communicating it, in their own words. If exact words or phrases are pulled from the research material and placed in a paper, these words or phrases must be quoted (placed in quotation marks) and cited (given appropriate acknowledgement, according to the style preferred by the classroom professor). Summarizing means to say it in one’s own words–not in someone else’s words.

What are Examples of Violations of Department Policy on Academic Honesty?

If a student uses the author’s own words in a paper, without quoting that author, the student has plagiarized.

If a student represents an author’s ideas as the student’s own, the student has plagiarized.

If a student submits a paper downloaded from an internet source, the student has plagiarized.

If a student submits a paper with parts of the paper downloaded from an internet source, and the source is not quoted or cited, the student has plagiarized.

If a student submits a paper with paragraphs lifted, or copied, from a book or article, without quoting the author, even if the material is cited, the student has plagiarized.

If a student submits a paper written by another student, the student has plagiarized.

If a student collaborates on an assignment that was not intended to be collaborative, the student has cheated.

If a student makes use of notes during an exam, when that is forbidden by the class professor, the student has cheated.

If a student looks on another student’s exam, or discusses answers during an exam, the student has cheated.

Consequences of Violations of Department Policy on Academic Honesty

If a class professor suspects that a student has violated the policy of academic honesty, the professor reviews the matter and decides on the consequences of the violation. Professors have access to internet-based search programs that provide text of internet-based research material, and may make use of this for reviewing the student’s work. Consequences of violations may include:

  • A reduced or failing grade for the work.
  • A reduced or failing grade for the course.

For every violation, a written description is given to the Department chair by the classroom professor. This statement is placed in a sealed envelope, with the student’s name, professor’s name, and date on the outside of the envelope. The Chair keeps these records in an Academic Honesty file. In addition, the professor may choose to report the violation to the University. The professor may schedule an individual interview with the student to discuss the matter.

Should the Chair receive a second violation notice for a particular student, the Chair opens the envelopes and reviews the violations. The class professors institute a formal notification to the University of violation of academic honesty. The Chair, in consultation with the classroom professors, decides on the consequences. The Chair meets with the student to discuss the issues.

Consequences of two or more violations of academic honesty may include:

  • A failing grade for the course.
  • Dismissal from the Psychology major.
  • Some other action decided by the committee.


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