As a psychologist you are used to situations that people outside the field cannot imagine. First of all, no matter what you do, where you are, what time it is and how you feel, you are always expected to be a psychologist ready to listen to people’s problems, analysing them and giving advice. It may be a cold Sunday when you feel under the weather or New Year’s Eve when you are drunk or on a train after sixteen hours of travelling – the fact is, once you introduce yourself as a psychologist which is just the name of an occupation, you are expected to listen, analyse and help. When meeting a banker people don’t expect him to give loans after hours or when meeting a shop assistant at a party people don’t expect him to sell things but when meeting a psychologist people expect him to work 24/7. Free of charge. This also makes your relationships difficult because some of your friends seek psychological guidance so you are never sure if they see you as a friend or a service provider.
Secondly, when you are a psychologist you have to constantly calm people down so they are not afraid that without their realising you sneak into their heads and change things there. You have to expend a lot of your energy convincing people that you may support someone with their strive for a change but it is not possible to change anybody easily and without their will.
Thirdly, very often you have to justify yourself because people accuse you of being flawed and choosing psychology as your occupation to fix yourself. This is especially tricky because on one hand they may say that someone who is dysfunctional cannot fix others, on the other hand they may say that someone who is perfectly happy knows nothing about problems and it makes him poorly qualified to understand others who have serious problems. So it is hard to decide who a good psychologist should be. Some people also say that psychology is not science but a silly play without solid scientific background and it makes psychologists look even worse.
All of the above is experienced by most of psychologists and in my opinion it should be addressed by a special tutorial on how to be a psychologist and not get crazy but unfortunately it is not taught at any university I know. I believe you should study to become a psychologist and education is necessary but after my graduation I have learnt a couple of things that help you stay sane while being a psychologist and here I would like to share them. First of all, when I don’t work I tell people that I analyse people only when I am paid for it. When I am off duty I can say any stupid crap I want. Secondly, I explain that a psychologist doesn’t need to and should not manipulate. In fact anybody – psychologist or not – who wants to manipulate will find his way. Manipulation is a matter of ethics not skills so you should decide who to deal with and you had better choose people of high moral values. What their jobs are should be secondary. Thirdly, I am not afraid to admit that I have my own problems as any human being but as a professional I am trained to prevent my problems affecting my work. In fact there is a range of problems that are solved much easier by psychologists who faced them on their own. And last but not least: I am a psychologist but I am not a psychotherapist which means that my work has not too much in common with mental problems. I am a researcher which means that I am linked to psychology which is a scientific field. In the next post I will cover the differences between a psychologist and a psychotherapist and their relation with science. Stay tuned.