I have had many students, clients and curious folk ask me questions about what it is like to be a psychologist. Similar questions keep popping up so in the next few blogs I am going to have a go at honestly answering some of them…
Q: I thought about doing psychology, but I think I am too emotional/sensitive. How do you not get overwhelmed by your work?
I believe that experiencing emotions is a prerequisite for being an effective and compassionate therapist. Being sensitive to another person’s emotional experience is a skill – it is how you relate to and balance those emotions that is important (this is honed through experience, good training and supervision).
One’s emotional life in an out of the office is different. I can cry at the drop of a hat, especially if it is something to do with dogs (“Marley and Me” should have come with a warning label). In this context, I am a passive witness – I can deeply absorb my mind in the story and allow associated emotions to arise.
In the therapy room, I still feel – but different parts of my mind are activated. My prefrontal cortex (thinking/reasoning part) is actively engaged and balances out my limbic system (feeling part). My thinking mind listens, formulates hopefully helpful responses, works through diagnostic criteria, makes decisions about where to go next and so forth. These professional tasks balance and moderate the intensity of the emotional experience. So if I were to watch “Marley and Me” in this manner, I would instead be focusing on the progression of the narrative, the cinematography, the directorial choices, the acting skills….and therefore less likely to be a sobbing mess (maybe).
Q: Seriously, do you think I’m crazy?
Ok firstly, we have real issues with that word. But… lay people continue to use it, so I will respond.
If you have organised yourself well enough to get dressed in something somewhat appropriate, then coordinated your efforts to arrive at my office at a mutually prearranged time, you are not by definition “crazy”. You may well be troubled, confused, impulsive, anxious and distressed, but this is not crazy. However, if you sincerely believe you are Napoleon and/or have X-rated vision, I might have some more questions…
“Crazy” refers to being psychotic, or completely out of touch with what is commonly accepted as being reality. FYI, this also does not make you a bad person or cause us not to like you 😊
Q: Why do people suffer?
Easy question, actually. The unwillingness/inability to tolerate discomfort.
Q: What is the cure for human suffering?
Oooh, another easy question. Mindfulness*.
(*NOT necessarily in the form that is currently being widely disseminated. More on that another time…)
Q: What is consciousness?
Ok, if I could answer that, there would be a statue of me somewhere. There are some very smart people working on that one as we speak, so I will leave it to them.
Be sure to tune in for Therapist FAQ: Part Two, where I shall answer such questions as “Are you analysing me?”, “Have you ever NOT liked a client?” and “Do you get bored listening to people’s problems all day?”