Friday, August 24, 2012

Decoding psychology, Deconstructing psychologists

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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. 


  1. well.. well..
    so psychology and psychoanalysis are not same then.. by the way.. whats the difference between the two? Can you explain me more?

    1. Yup they are definitely not the same. Psychoanalysis, as I have mentioned, comes under psychology. And psychology, obviously, has many other systems to boast about which are much more scientific and objective. Psychoanalysis has been dubbed as pseudo-science, but that's another story. You can check out the wikipedia page on psychoanalysis to know more.

    2. that's fine... I'll check it out..
      there is a german-english movie "A dangerous method" about Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Spierlien. Entire movie is about evolution of psychoanalysis and things.. there were lengthy conversations about these, which I couldn't understand a bit..
      As a psychology student, I suggest it to you.

    3. Yeah I have heard about that movie. Will try to watch it sometime soon. Keep visiting :)

  2. Gosh!

    Stuff I can't deal with ... but strangely it's about me too!

    You must love the subject to write so much about it.

  3. "Many lives, Many masters" The book after which I had deep interest in psychology. And after reading this post i can now see why your name has "a touch of madness" :D

    1. It would sound practically blasphemous I'm sure. I still haven't read this book- this book that everybody in the world has read by now. I will sometime soon.
      Madness...well.."no excellent soul is exempt from a li'l madness". I don't remember who said this but I'm inclined to think that whoever he was, was extraordinarily wise :D

    2. haha. Well, you can borrow it from me.. :D


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