10 Myths People Have About Mental Health Professionals
After I moved to Chicago to start my doctorate in clinical psychology, I spent a lot of time going out, exploring the city, and meeting new people. After I would share that I am studying psychology, the most frequent replies were “ So tell me what I am thinking right now? or “ I am scared now because you are going to figure me out.” Or “Please analyse me.” Initially, I was overly zealous about educating people about the difference between a psychologist and a psychic. At times, I would laugh it off by saying “ let me take out my crystal ball.” I was kind, patient, and instructive about the actual ins and outs of what a psychologist does. With time, I just find it frustrating that many people have no clue about what a mental health professional does.
The job of a mental health professional is just as any other job on the planet and deserves at least the same amount of respect and credibility. Nearly half of the American households had one member who received mental health services in 2004. With the current global events and the (assumed) increased awareness of mental health issues, I do not see a reason why that is any less true today. Therefore, it is even more important to work through the ignorance about what the job of a mental health professional entails.
In this article, I will discuss the myths that I have heard or experienced about mental health professionals.
1) We are mind-readers.
No, we cannot take a look at you and tell how much you hate your parents. No, we are not sure what it means if you like the color red. No, I cannot tell you how “crazy” you are from a 5-minute small talk. If I just met you, if you are not my patient, and if you have not signed the treatment and HIPPA paperwork, I have next to zero interest in trying to analyse for professional pleasure.
Just like any other new relationship, we rely heavily on what you tell us. Through years of clinical experience, our gut is honed to understand non-verbal communication, to recognize relational patterns, and to make interpretations and assumptions that are clinically based or empirically supported. This is possible in a therapeutic relationship because the focus is on the client and their emotions and not on the therapist. Therefore, no, we do not read minds if we are meeting you in an unprofessional setting.
2) We know how you should live your life or what is wrong with you.
I barely know how to live my life and imagine the frustration I experience when I am told that I tell people how to live theirs. I do not make decisions for people I work with. Therapists engage in a dialogue to learn more about the current discrepancy between your life state and your life goals. We provide psychoeducation about the mental health issue and treatment options. We discuss adaptive coping strategies that are unique to every person in the context of their past coping methods. The therapist guides the process of desired change, but does not dictate the changes that need to manifest. The process of therapy is not intended to be instructive but conducive to people finding their way themselves in a supportive, guiding, encouraging, and warm therapeutic environment.
3) We are emotionally sorted.
Therapists are a microcosm of the people in the world. Some are introverted, others extroverted. We all experience pain, suffering grief, anxiety, sadness, or other mental health issues depending on the circumstances and depending on the combination of our nature or nurture. We have our triggers and our difficulties. We also try to manage those difficulties through adaptive or maladaptive coping methods. The only difference is that us therapists are trained to listen better, to empathize, to help guide your desired change through use of our training in clinical strategies and our experiences. We are guides but in no way, are we perfect.
4) We have the most interesting job in the world.
I wouldn’t argue that it is not interesting, but every job has aspects that that are boring. The job of a therapist is glamorized by TV shows and movies such as Sopranos, Split, and other psychological thrillers and dramas. Just like other jobs, there are aspects that are interesting and the ones that are not. The paperwork, long phone-calls with insurance companies, liability insurance work, and working with people who trigger our own difficulties is not interesting.
5) We have the easiest job in the world.
We do more than ask people about how they feel. We just do not nod and listen. Our job, just like any other job, has difficult sides to it including but not limited to: having to report a mother to DCFS who smacks their child so they do their homework well, reporting a person who is at an immediate risk to commit suicide despite their willingness, enduring vicarious trauma, and dealing with insurance companies and so on.
6) We are messed up and we need therapy.
Not all therapists have issues. The likelihood that we have a mental health issue is similar to any other person having a mental health issue. Mental health issues fortunately or unfortunately do not discriminate. Suffering is widespread and permeates throughout cultures, socio-economic classes, sexualities, and genders in their own unique way. Therapists may not need therapy, but it helps to be in therapy to ensure self-care, manage the emotions and the boundaries between personal and professional life.
7) We can work with all patients.
There are a lot of specialties within psychology, and most therapists do not work with all patients. There are couples therapists, trauma therapists, women’s issues therapists, men’s issues therapists, substance use therapists, and grief therapists. While there may be generalist therapists who work across ages, genders, and mental health issues, most therapists end up specializing in an area as they get more experienced.
8) We only know the mind mumbo-jumbo and have no idea how the body works.
Many therapists and psychologists have academic and experiential training working in integrated primary-care settings. Our academic curriculum also includes psychopharmacology, neuroscience, neuropsychology as it relates to issues and drugs, and the impact of medical conditions on mental health issues. We may not know enough to diagnose and treat your medical conditions, but we have a good idea of how medical conditions can influence mental health and vice versa.
9) We are kind, empathic, and on duty 24/7.
Similar to any other job, we stop “working” outside of work hours. We are our own toolbox, so we shut down the metaphorical empathic toolbox and close down for the day. Not that we turn in to angry freaks as soon as the work day ends, but we do experience and project and range of emotions and reactions outside of our office. We have our limits of being kind and empathic, and there is nothing wrong with a therapist being irate in their personal lives.
10) We charge too much.
While one could put a copay and payment on a vaccination or a hip surgery, sadness and anxiety are difficult to quantify or put a charge on. We charge the way we do because of the amount of training, effort, emotions and time involved. While your pimple removal is worth $100 bucks, I encourage you to ask yourself, how much are your emotions worth? Many therapists work on a sliding scale and have room to see individuals who have financial difficulties.
Hopefully this post will let you see therapists for the people that they really are, as opposed to some stigmatized, marginalized, or idealized beings.