Ok, it has been a while since Therapist FAQ Part 1. Apart from just generally being busy, this is because I also neglected to save a substantial chunk of writing that I was quite pleased with, and I was gutted (did I learn nothing in undergrad??). But – I have picked myself up and dusted myself off, and here we are for more Therapist FAQ.
Q. “Are you analysing me?”
A: “Are you paying me?”
This is a joke answer, obviously (and shamelessly appropriated from my 2nd year Social Psych lecturer a very long time ago). However the sub-text of the question – and the rather glib answer – contains relevant information.
In social settings, anyone who works as a psych (or is studying psych) is very familiar with the deer-in-the-headlights look people get when you tell them what you do. You can see the cogs turning as they review everything they have just said in the last 5 minutes, to work out how crazy they sounded.
This question is a hallmark of the stigma that is associated with mental health, which unfortunately persists. It also rests on an assumption that I share this stigma (I do not).
This question is about vulnerability. They are asking: are you seeing something in me that I am not ready to reveal? Can you see through me to something that I do not want to be seen? I have thought about prefacing conversations with: “Before you say anything, please be aware that I am a psychologist. Anything you say can and will be filtered through your own internalised stigma and fear of judgement”… but that would be kind of weird.
This question rests on the assumption that the person is markedly different to the rest of humanity. As people do not routinely share their vulnerabilities with others, they do not realise how universal they actually are. We do – a full-time psychotherapist could spend upwards of a thousand hours per year in the trenches of human suffering. We are intimately acquainted with the workings of the human mind, and while the particular manifestation and expression may differ, many people share similar underlying concerns: Am I ok? Do I matter? Am I doing my life right? Will I be ok in the future? Have I made the right decisions? So even if I do happen to notice a quirk in your expression (we can’t not notice what we have been trained to notice), or you unknowingly reveal something that could reflect a deeper issue…this is actually our normal. We are likely to see you as being, you know, human.
The “Are you paying me” response refers to the fact that we are off the clock. Please see above re: a thousand hours. Even if we were invested in analysing you… do we even have the bandwidth to do it? It is also important to note that your particular concerns are none of our business. What actually supersedes all the above is there are VERY CLEAR ethical boundaries we adhere to – we don’t “do” therapy on social acquaintances, friends or random strangers. And we don’t “do” therapy without the informed consent, which you have not provided.
So, the actual answer is likely: No, we are not analysing you (the exception to this is 3rd year undergrads who are studying Abnormal Psych or have just stumbled upon the DSM for the first time. They are most definitely analysing you and you should absolutely steer clear of them until they become a bit more seasoned 😊)