“How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?”
“Just the one, but the light bulb has to want to change.”
While majoring in psychology could be one of the most rewarding life experiences, psychology majors still face a number of occupational hazards. Thanks to its depiction in films and shows such as Hannibal and Criminal Minds, some in society can have a twisted view of the discipline. There are others who consider it to be an extension of Shamanism – or “Boo-haki”, as Rachel puts it in Friends.
From my own experience, these are some of the stereotypes and challenges that psychology majors and therapists still grapple with every day:
1) “The mind reader”
“Oh, so you are a psychologist? You can read my mind, then?” No. It is a soft science. Carrying out extremely long, intensive and analytical tests are a routine of the job. Clairvoyance and extra sensory perception are not.
2) “The role model”
Neither psychology majors nor therapists are expected to experience mood swings, heartbreak, or PMS. However, majoring and living are two very different spheres of existence. Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung and other stalwarts of therapy were all troubled. Apparently, that can increase empathy and lead to providing more effective therapy. One must remind one’s self that the human body’s hormones have universal functionalities regardless of academic degrees.
3) “Analytical creep”
Socially, people generally tend to not let their hair down around you as they feel that you might just mentally diagnose them with bipolar disorder or find out about someone’s unresolved oedipal complex and tell their mothers on them. Psychology majors and therapists are used to being ostracised at social gatherings. But analysis takes time and effort. Few professionals actively dabble in it as a hobby for free.
4) The marriage proposals
As flattering as marriage proposals can be, one must make a constant effort to dodge them. It works the other way around as well. Restraint has to be the order of the day.
5) Perceived uselessness
Constantly fighting to meet high social standards set by your successful, intelligent doctor parents is a major hurdle to cross. Unless you are a medication-prescribing professional, you run the risk of being sidelined by others in the profession.
Of course, psychology is a pro-social discipline aimed at assisting society at grassroots levels. Psychologists help others find their lost happiness. Understanding what the discipline entails could open gateways for people to seek early help and live better, more self aware and integrated lives.
Sunayana Baruah is an Indian graduate of Clininal Psychology. She is due to begin the MPhil in Psychoanalytic Studies at Trinity College in September.