There are few that are judged harder than those whom have engaged in witchcraft… and for a great many people the field of psychology is still tantamount to the world of evil witches and devils. Psychologist are often treated with mistrust, distain, and sarcasm; no matter what ways they use the information that they know and what good they have provided.
Part of the reason for this could be the history of psychology, the use of psychology in the last 100 years and the ways that it has been given attention by the news outlets/organization, the military, and the entertainment fields. There are few other fields of work that are as heavily used and at the same time mocked and referred to as a “soft science” with a sneer. And the sad thing is that this painful position started with a handful of misperceptions and stereotypes that started many years ago and have gone on to the current time.
This paper will seek to acknowledge and break down many of the most common beliefs and stereotypes about psychologists of each stripe. The first will look at the most common beliefs and ones that psychologist deal with daily and have often been faced with in social settings. Primarily: 1) all psychologists are therapists and 2) all psychologists are trying to get inside of your head and assess your flaws. The next belief is that all psychologist have a desire to fix everyone around them and provide counseling at the drop of a hat and then followed up with the belief that ‘all psychologists are crazy’. The final section will focus on the general belief that no one uses psychology but when looking closer, everyone is in fact doing the opposite. While there are many other beliefs and ideas in psychology and about psychology that could be expanded on, these are the top issues to frustrate most people whom teach, work and know the field of psychology.
Belief #1: Everyone in psychology is a Clinical Psychologist
A psychologist walks into a bar… seems like a start to a funny joke but like so many other humans, psychologists enjoy a cocktail or beer from time to time. There then might result in the conversation with a stranger in which at some point the question of occupation comes up and needs to be answered. It is important to note that asking about another person’s occupation will result in killing the conversation temporarily (it is difficult to find something to say outside of ‘that must be interesting’ even if you know the occupation well). But psychologist will often get one of three reactions: fear, disgust or concern/ pity. The first two are the most common but there are times in which the third reaction happens, though this is related to belief number four.
There are the times in which a person hears that another person has a background in psychology and as a result they believe it is necessary to ask about any number of disorders and illnesses that affect the mind. There are some times that the psychologist is expected to give a diagnosis or assessment on the spot for what ails the person asking. A little known fact is that only 11% of psychologists are actually practicing Clinical Psychologist or working in the field as a specialist of mental illness (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Many of the people that work as psychologist work in business or office environment and as many as 11% of the total number of psychologists are in fact working in the educational (college/ university level) and research environments. Most of the focus of the industrial and research environments has little to do with the abnormal psychology and more to do with what many think of as ‘normal’. Because of the rate in which information is gather and disseminated, most psychologists are like other scientists and have knowledge in their specialized field and little time to spread out to everything else.
Though there is truth that most people whom get into the field of psychology have a desire to help others, this does not always mean that they wish to give out free advice on one disorder or another. Most people going into a social environment with to spend time being social and not working, and this is true for a psychologist. It is difficult for most people whom are dedicated to their profession to 100% leave the work in the office, but it is nice to try when going out.
Belief #2: Psychologists are trying to get into your head and assess you
This is a belief that is played out in social circles and on television frequently and part of the reason that many feel that being around a psychologist is an unpleasant event. There is a fear of another person pulling back the mask that each of us has carefully put on to hide the inner vulnerable self from the outside world. Society, as it is currently, has put a premium on the people that are seen as strong and tough. For most the idea of strength and tough is retaining control and if another people has the ability to see beyond that which is placed in front, then they are able to take the control away. And there is a truth in that psychologists do enjoy have these abilities and this form of training and skill, there is no doubt that such skills are useful from time to time.
But there is the question of whether the psychologist you just met in a social environment has any need to remove your mask, or to see inside of your soul. Does it serve a purpose to dig into your psyche? In many cases, the answer is “no”. Though there might be a compulsive part of a person in this profession to make a list of behaviors or actions, it is like collecting small rock on a beach; in general, there is no reason to worry about the loss of information or damage to the overall picture.
Additionally, it might be wise to assume that the psychologist interacting with you in the social environment does not truly care to unearth your secrets or anything else of the kind. Unless you do something that could be a harm to yourself or another person, there is really no reason to be concerned about what a psychologist has picked up about you or your internal condition. It is believed that all psychologists are making list and checking it twice to have information to use against you but many might not care that much or feel any need to do that. So have no fear, the friendly neighborhood psychologist might be more of just a friendly neighbor to you. There is no voodoo or witchcraft there, nor any fear of assessment.
The good psychologist will tell you that a single conversation will bring a lot to light about a person but not enough to make any decisions. Most people that specialize in assessment and analysis will spend as much as eight hours a day for many weeks with a person before they come to a decision on anything. Assessment is tricky and should never be done by a person that is not trained and licensed to do so.
Belief #3: A desire to fix everyone
There is a general belief that psychologists want to fix everyone just like a medical doctor. Provide pills and a few words of advice, and the person is better. First, the people that are able to prescribe medication are “psychiatrists” and a small number of those in the field of psychology. Most good clinical psychologists are aware that all people have some problem and it is not up to the doctor to fix it but the person to make the choice and the effort. In fact a good clinical psychologist will tell you that there is no way to truly “fix” a person or restore them to something that they once were but instead work to help the people move forward and make the best of the condition. Additionally, trying to fix everyone is too large of a task for anyone to attempt and most would not want to.
There is another part of this that is not often considered and that is the ethical code with regards to dual relationship. A person known in a familial or social environment should not be a patient and vise verse. Though there are some exceptions to the rules, it is still clear that a person should not be a therapists in a professional sense, friend and lover to a person. Making suggestions for good mental health is not the same thing as being a professional therapist and the two should not cross.
Therapy is hard work from both the therapist and the client, and even the hardiest will burn out of the work if they seek to ‘fix’ everyone. Like most other workers, those of the mental health field prefer to have the work stay in the office, and not work during off hours. Assuming that they are in a social environment to be social and not work is the best, after all psychologists are human too. Working too much in all parts of life, might be one of the leading reasons for the need to seek help from another professional.
Belief #4: All (or most) psychologists are crazy
The belief that psychologists are crazy is not one that has ever been broken down and to a point, it is correct. But not because the people interested in psychology are crazy to begin with (as many have stated is the reason for the prevalence), instead many have a difficult time with the external response to the profession. Research on torture and abuse has shown that the most imbedding and damaging is the constant, long term and non-violent. This paper has already reviewed some of the assumptions that will affect a psychologist and result in their feeling boxed in or isolated and any social scientist will agree that it borders on being abusive. When a person feels the need to hide, or risk fear and ridicule, it wears up an individual’s sense of self-worth and social well-being. Humans are social animals and a lack of social interact or interaction that is not healthy or helpful can result in harm to the individual. And then leading to the psychologist needing therapy on their own.
A point of frustration is a lack of validation for the field of social sciences outside of the overlap with medicine and neurology. There are few public and well know awards for work in any of the social sciences and there is no Nobel Prize for work in any of the social sciences. Validation is an important part of human interaction and not receiving such validation can be frustrating and depressing to any one working in any field. As the social sciences seem to get some of the least acclaim, the validation is even more difficult to come by.
Another side of the frustration in discussing social science theory is that one may feel that conversation is targeted at the listener individually instead of hearing a theoretical overview. This can result in defensiveness of a listener and those social cues indicate to the speaker that the information is only acceptable in highly academic environments thus increasing the feelings of isolation for the social scientist. Most need a sounding board to work out ideas and this is difficult when the scientist is isolated to only talking to a select few in limited environments.
Frustration can continue on to include issues of people not seeing break troughs in the field as impressive. The discovery of DNA was heralded as a huge step forward but there is little difference in the world of biology, genetics, or medicine since that time. Physics has not had a significant break-through in years and biology has had few major changes. But the fields of the social sciences have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years and only been seen and recognized in the last two years and primary due to large steps in the field of neuroscience and medicine.
A last item that will harm a psychologist’s sense of strength in their work and ideas is simply that people use psychology each and every day, and in many way they are not aware that they are using it. An extreme example of this can be seen in the television show “Bones” in which the lead character frequently cites psychology as being anthropology. Many other social sciences are treated as if they are not influenced by the work of psychology or the interrelationship of all of the social sciences. The use of psychology is considered by many outside of the field as a means of aggression, and is targeted harm to others. Information that is useful is often credited to other sources or considered to be ‘thought of on their own’. Even where psychology has successes it has fight for the acknowledgement it deserves.
Using Psychology and the Social Sciences Every Day
Much of this paper has focused on how psychology is a victim but that is not the whole picture because there are some battles that it has won in the recent time. One of which is the increase in review of recent works. National Public Radio (NPR) programs have started to provide more briefs on research being done in psychology labs all around America and sometimes in other countries. Other disciplines are using more information from psychology to increase productivity, feelings of well-being and function in environments spanning from the sporting arena to the factory floor. Psychology has started to enter into the political debates as questions are rising about homosexual rights and women’s rights, not just being part of the discussion with regards to mental health and treating illness.
There is a long way to go for psychology getting the respect that the other sciences have earned but it is important to remember that psychology has only been around as an official science for a little over 150 years unlike so many other sciences that were documented on their own for hundreds of years. Before 150 years ago, psychology was considered part of the medical practices and largely ignored by doctors. In the last 150 years, it has had to do a lot of catching up and made a lot of mistakes, of which have been heavily documented and put through the wringer. While psychology is still called a soft science because ethics and law prevent taking the actions of a hard science to discover information (for good reason), it is proving to be every bit as strong as the other sciences.
There is a positive though due to humans being social animals and as a result spending a great deal of time thinking of the interactions of the self to the others in addition to looking at all of the other information that has been provided by psychology to help make the world a better place. Because of this ongoing and daily use of the information found and provided by psychology, this science is not going anywhere. In fact there are signs that psychology might start to take over more information as the world becomes more global, which indicated that there is plenty of research and work ahead. And as more people are working towards asking for help in what ails the weary mind, there will be increased need for counselors, therapists and social workers.
The last 20 or so years of psychology has been rough and wrought with changes but many things have not changed as fast. Among the things that have stayed the same or changed very slowly is the suspicion of psychologists. It is believed that psychologists wish to fix the problems of the world, take every person apart and diagnosis everyone. This has been shown to be not true for many reasons but the number one reason is that it is an expectation that is beyond any one’s abilities. In fact, most psychologist have no desire to pull apart you or your sense of self and well-being, and will only do so out of the professional environment in cases of necessity and following ethical codes.
Another difficultly is the burn-out of psychologists which can be partial attributed to the fearful or disdainful reactions to them but is also due to the lack of recognition for good works. This is changing in the academic environments and showing signs of trickling into the larger public but it has a long way to go. Psychology and Sociology are the babies of the science family and need to be given the chance to grow with all of the acknowledgments that a science needs to be stronger in the future.
On a final note, while it is great to point out information that you might know about the field of psychology, please be aware of how you say it to the psychologist. Psychologists are human and have feelings like all other humans. Just because psychology is a fact of daily understanding and life, it does not really mean that you know all that is being said. A good way to push the person away is to indicate that their effort and time is a waste. Humans spend most of their time outside of thinking of food, sleep and shelter considering human behavior… yes, that idea might be considered common knowledge, but is it… Really?