Friday, August 24, 2012

Decoding psychology, Deconstructing psychologists

As Featured On EzineArticles
People have funny ideas regarding what psychology is. More so on the capabilities of psychologists. If you are a psychology student, you know what I'm talking about. Every psychology student, at least in India, must have faced these questions sometime in her career: "Can you read my mind?", "Would you please tell me something about myself?" and the list is long.

We psych students (not psycho students, PLEASE) find it incredibly amusing. You know, the halo part is interesting (as is the horns part). But at times it just gets on my nerves when people try telling me, me of all people, what psychologists are 'really' like and what psychology 'actually' is.

Yesterday in class we had a lot of fun discussing about a man one of our lecturers met in the metro who wanted her to help him out after a conversation lasting barely a few minutes. He had seen two books of abnormal psychology on her lap and had excitedly approached her to know a few things about himself from her. Poor soul, he was told that he would have to undergo a few psychological assessments and only after getting their results and knowing his entire case history, would she be able to tell him something about him. That was that.
This is the 'halo' part. The 'horn' part is also interesting. Infinitely more, incidentally.

It was my first day in jail (read DRC Hostel) and I had been temporarily assigned a room with a fellow fresher. Her friend was in the room when I entered and they both greeted me with a welcoming smile. Everything was nice, till, I was asked to tell which course I had.
"Psychology honours? Hmmm. I'll have to keep distance from you then."  That was my temporary roommate's friend, who didn't visit at all for the next 2 days that I was in that room.
I enjoyed it, of course, but felt pity for the girl. No, for the smug smile actually. Due to this terrible misconception about psychologists that she had, she missed out on making a new friend.

Ok, so what exactly are psychologists like? 
Before that, let's understand what exactly 'psychology' is.
Though the terms psyche and logos will tell you that it is the study of mind, it is, well, something different.
Psychology is a science that studies behavior and cognitions (for the technically challenged- memory, language, perceptions, thinking etc.).
It came about when some people decided that it had to be differentiated from metaphysics, philosophy.
Thank God for them, otherwise we psych students would never have the fancy equipment in our labs that we do at present as also  the various experiments and psychological tests we pride ourselves on. The 'science' connection came from the other illustrious parent, physiology.
Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory of psychology in 1879, formalizing the break and establishing the subject as an independent academic subject and since then, it has been through a number of debates on, believe me, what should the subject study! The definition that I gave is the latest one and I hope now you understand why the literal meaning of psychology is different from what psychologists profess to study. Evolution man.  Of ideas.  As simple as that.

Now let's gear up for what psychology is NOT.

Firstly, psychology is not the same as psychoanalysis.
The latter comes under the former and is definitely not all that the former is. Not every psychologist is a Freudian (I'm not, for example. I'm a Humanistic psychologist, if you really want to know). And for God's sake, Freud is not the father of psychology. He made psychology popular, took it to the masses and is one of the biggest thinkers and intellectuals we have ever had but with all due respect, his teachings are not to be taken as the general impression of what psychology is.

Secondly, those who study and practice psychology are psychologists.
Not. Psychics.
Intuition, sixth sense and all that fancy stuff that Hollywood has stuffed you with is not psychology. Remember that the next time you meet a psych major. We can't tell what's going on in your mind or what problems you are having just by looking at your face. We do predict behavior but not by spending 2 minutes with people. We are not astrologers, c'mon. We also control behavior, but in a very different sense than what the lay man would like to believe. Say, if a man is a drug addict, rehabilitating him to his fully functioning self would be an example of control. So would be helping a child get rid of his irrational fear of heights. So would be increasing cooperation in a team of an organization. These are the kind of 'controls' we try to achieve. We are good people, essentially.

Psychology is not the same as psychiatry. 

Psychiatrists are those who have a medical degree first and then specialisation in psychiatry and who can prescribe medicines. Psychologists can't prescribe medicines (they don't have medical degree, that's why) but then psychology being much wider, all psychologists don't deal with people having mental disorders. For e.g. one can be an organisational psychologist (every corporate house has such people in its HR team) or a counsellor (very different from the amateur counselling that your teacher used to do in school) or a forensic psychologist and so on. There are umpteen avenues a psychologist can specialise in, so every psychologist is not a clinical psychologist. And definitely not a psychiatrist.

Finally, we psychologists are normal people. Just like you. 
 Yes, as normal and as much abnormal. We are not magicians and we are definitely not God. We mortals do have problems in our lives. It is just that we have better tools to deal with those and so we are better placed to solve them. But problems do strike us all the same. A psychology student nervous before her paper presentation or crying on a loved one's death are not to be taken as things grossly out of place. We are humans, before being anything else. We do need to breath, sometimes. 

Oh, by the way. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What lady Macbeth and David Beckham have in common

You know about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) just as you know about a number of other mental disorders (unless you have just landed from the moon). But since Hollywood is your source of knowledge (tell me I'm wrong), chances are you haven't been exposed to 'real' OCD.

I talked about this new website I'm writing for these days, in my last post. Well the most recent post of mine on SoundSmartAbout is on OCD.
Read it here.

A few reasons why you should read it:
1. To sound smart on OCD (duh)
2. To know about famous quirks of some famous people who had OCD
3. Whether you suffer from OCD (no, don't laugh. OCD is heavily underdiagnosed)

Now regarding the Beckham and Lady Macbeth part. Two of the most famous cases of OCD in the last century have been Howard Hughes ((Titanic fame Leonardo DiCaprio played this dude in the Aviator), and famous footballer and husband of Posh Spice, David Beckham. Hughes was a certified whackjob in an age where people didn’t know what OCD was, and therefore his quirks (like installing an air-purifier in a car more expensive than the car), were tolerated (because he was richer than God).
Beckham is a more run-of-the-mill – putting things in straight lines or having things in pairs (this does not extend to girlfriends. I think).
Lady Macbeth's case, I suppose, is more well known. Remember how many times she would wash her hands to get rid of the spot only she could see?

Now you know you want to read the rest of the article. Getting to know what they have in common is not enough. You must know 'what' exactly 'that' is. Yes, of course. Here.

Oh btw, your comments and 'likes' will be my way of knowing that you appreciated the article, or at least, that you could make sense out of it. So, you know, please be a li'l generous. This kid will appreciate it. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Opening of a new vista

I haven't been writing much of late (I have been too lazy, too happy and too distracted to cut a long story short) which goes to say that this blog has been dead for a good while. Though I have a very small following on Blogosphere, there are people who actually enjoy what I write. For them, there's good news and bad news. First good news. From today onward, I'm going to post at least one article a week. Bad news- all those will be very different from what I have ever written, in this blog and elsewhere. You will get to see a different side of me (neither depressed, nor angry. Not even sarcastic. No, not romantic either) and to go with that, increase your knowledge in human psychology without having to pull your hair at all the technical stuff. Hold your breath. 
I have been approached by SoundSmartAbout to write for their website!
('Their' sounds odd since now I'm very much a part of the SSA team).
Gauging from my excitement, you must be sure that it is something interesting. But chances are you actually haven't heard of this name before. Here's what the website says about itself:
SoundSmartAbout is an initiative by a few undergrads, studying in various universities from all over the world, to set up a sort of poor-man’s Wikipedia. The idea is as follows :
A lot of times, you’ll find a topic, or a piece of news, or some new scientific discovery, that everyone appears to be discussing, and you have no idea what they’re talking about. The most recent example of that, and the topic of our first article, is the Higgs Boson Particle. You want to keep up with the world, but you have no idea where to start, and the wikipedia page is too detailed, in-depth, and dare I say, complicated, to figure out and understand. Especially if you just want to spew an opinion and impress the cute girl in your class who has a thing for smart guys. Sound Smart About will be your auxiliary brain. We will provide you information about interesting theories, discoveries, and international developments, from the fields of physics, mathematics, economics, politics, and history. Cliff-notes, but more fun.
My first article in SSA is already out. Here it goes:

Quick, what’s common between psychology and mythology? Yeah, there’s sex and aggression in both and they have ‘logy’ at the end, but there’s more. In both, there’s lots of subtext, so things can get misleading. Things don’t mean what you think they do. Eagles eat livers, and people go around talking about voices in their heads.
Take Schizophrenia. The word literally means ‘split mind,’ (skhizein – to split, phren – mind) but schizophrenia is very different from ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder‘ which entails a split personality. Everybody likes to claim they understand schizophrenia (“Look at him, talking to himself. LOL, such a schizo”), but few actually do. This is where you learn to make it sound serious (as a mental disorder) and sexy (in literary circles).
Continue reading this post here (you know you want to).

Monday, August 13, 2012

An earnest request

Dear X
If I were to make a list of what all I don't like about you, it would run very long. There are just so many such things. Take for example how terribly helpless you make me feel. Freud would say this post is an attempt at intellectualisation and isolation, and for once I would whole heartedly agree with him. Writing about you, here, 'is' an attempt to ward off the anxiety threatening to make me mad. Trying to sound angry 'is' an attempt to make sure I don't slip into depression. And imagine all this because of what's going on in your life with no fault of yours! Ah! I don't like this state of helplessness. I really don't. Your pain pierces my soul and gnaws at me all day. That you try to keep it away from me makes me all the more miserable. I may sob all night long but that's actually all of what I manage to do, and this makes me feel pathetic about myself. And this world, too. No matter how much faith I may have in humanity, the human beings around you who have made your life what it is have left me utterly hopeless. You know that I don't like feeling hopeless.

I keep asking God 'why' but he doesn't reply. Strangely, when it comes to me, he never fails to come to my rescue but when it is you, he chooses to react as if he can't hear me. I have told him a number of times how guilty I feel loaded with all this happiness about me yet he keeps loading me with more and more success and people to make me happier still. I asked him today to give some happiness of my share to you. How foolish of me not to have come up with this prayer before. I'm sure you had prayed to him long back to give my sorrows to you. That's of course mean. But then when exactly have you been fair? You thrived in shouldering other people's sorrows and making them your own, so now it is for you to reap the harvest of all that needless accumulation of burdens. Thinking about yourself never came to you naturally, no? Who is to blame then, when now you are entrapped in a state where you are not allowed to think for you?

Anyways, all I want to tell you is stop sabotaging yourself further. You are killing me, every single minute of the day. Try and find out some way to be happy. I can be truly happy only when I know that you are happy. If not for yourself, try doing it for me. I couldn't have  told you all this directly nor could I have asked you to read it, but I knew the universe would work its magic and send my message to you. And so it did, I hope.