What is a psychologist?

Therapy chairs
There is no shortage of questions about what a psychologist is, what a psychologist does and how a psychologist is different from other professionals. I am commonly asked questions such as:

  • Are psychologists the same as psychiatrists?
  • What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?
  • What is the difference between a psychologist and a counsellor?
  • What is a sports/ health/ forensic/ educational/ organisational/ counselling/ community/ neuro-psychologist?
  • How does a person become a psychologist?
  • Can a psychologist help me with _____?
  • Isn’t psychology all just common sense?
  • Are you analysing me right now?
  • … and, of course …
  • What is a psychologist?

To answer all of these questions would make for a tediously long post. So I would like to start with that final question, and the title of this post – “what is a psychologist?” Perhaps at some point I will expand this to a series of posts addressing the other questions.
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The Unrelenting Society

Unrelenting

  1. Not yielding in strength, severity, or determination: “the heat was unrelenting”
  2. (of a person or their behaviour) Not giving way to kindness or compassion.

I am increasingly troubled by the endless expectations for perfection imposed upon people by their social environment. I perceive a long-standing trend of criticism permeating a wide range of our social and cultural influences. It has long been fed to us by advertising, entertainment, newspapers, television, books and radio. But with the growth of social media I am concerned by the impact of this voice entering the innermost circle of our social influences.

Before I write in detail about unrelenting standards and why their emergence in social media is troubling, let me give an example.

A coming social apocalypse?

Following are excerpts from a post I saw distributed on facebook some weeks ago – “These Photos are Proof Albert Einstein was Correct About Technology“:

… It looks as if Albert Einstein was right. Albert Einstein was fearful of the growth of technology and its effect on the human race. Here is Albert Einstein’s quote:

“I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

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The pain inside

“She’s just doing it for attention.” This is a phrase I have often heard from people trying to understand why a patient, a friend or a loved-one has been deliberately hurting themselves. It can seem almost impossible to understand such behaviour for anyone who hasn’t personally experienced the urge to deliberately cut yourself, burn yourself or inflict harm in some other way. It goes against all our natural instincts of survival and self-protection. Unfortunately, though understandably, the assumption often ends up being that a person who does such a thing must be either attention-seeking or “crazy”. But, most often, neither is the case.
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It gets worse before it gets better

There is a common paradox for psychological therapy: many times the strategies we have found to provide us relief from our problems are at the same time perpetuating our problems. For example, a man suffering depression may find that staying in bed all day is the only way to get some slight relief from his persistent sadness and guilt. Yet, at the same time, staying in bed is keeping him isolated from social supports that could play an important part in his recovery. It is also feeding back into his guilt when, at the end of the day, he reflects on all the things he “should” have done instead of being in bed.

A woman with a phobia of mice may find running and hiding in another room if she sees a mouse gives her relief from her feelings of terror – yet in doing so she has unintentionally reinforces her automatic fear response to seeing mice.

Therapy generally involves, at some point, changing unhelpful patterns in one way or another. Initially this means stopping use of strategies that have had at least short-term benefits. Consequently, therapy can at times be very uncomfortable: you make a choice to confront difficult feelings and experiences that you have developed a range of strategies for avoiding. Because of this I often caution clients that “it gets worse before it gets better.” It is often necenssary to sit through discomfort, sometimes considerable discomfort, to experience the reward of mastering a problem.
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Buying your way to happiness, or despair?

Half price sale window advertising
Has your shopping been a problem? Do you buy too much? Are you a keen advocate of retail therapy?

Many of us enjoy the buzz a shopping spree creates now and then. But for some people buying becomes very much like an addiction. There are people who find themselves unable to resist the allure of a sale; those who cannot keep a dollar in their pockets because they will spend it at the first opportunity they have.
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“Are you sure?”

cracksObsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD – what do you think of when you hear those words?

Do you imagine someone repetitively washing their hands? Do you imagine a person carefully dodging cracks and seams in pavement? Perhaps you picture someone in their home with everything perfectly symmetrically arranged and perfectly tidy.

While all of the above are examples of what a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might experience, there are vastly more, and often subtle, ways the condition can present.
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Positive Attitude


Many times I have heard a phrase something along the lines of this: “I’ve been depressed before. But I just learned to snap out of it.”

It is often said by someone who has never really experienced depression in response to the suffering of someone who has depression. The implication is that the depressed person merely lacks the willpower to “snap out of it.”

Depression is more than just sadness. It is different to grief. Depression is a chronic state of low mood, negative thinking, depleted energy and absence of motivation. It is a self-perpetuating state in which the very actions that might contribute to recovery seem the least possible.
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