OK, time for a sweeping generalization: the problem with psychologists is that they always want to count things.
For example, during one of my hospitalizations, I believed the other patients were receiving more attention from staff than I was. Now, I am quite willing to concede that my thinking was distorted, but the psychologist responded to my statement by saying: “I’ve just spent 22 minutes with you.” Yes, I wanted to say, and each of those 22 minutes I knew you wanted to be elsewhere!
Another example: I had a friend who was a psychologist by trade. We’d fallen out of touch; things were a bit strained between us. I mentioned this during a phone conversation, and she said, “Don’t you remember me calling you twice a day?” Yes, I do remember that, but it was months ago.
What has happened to the profession of psychology, to make its practitioners so obsessed with numbers, to the detriment of their care of people? How has the discipline which one might imagine would be most concerned with nurturing the spirit of patients become more interested in counting than caring?
To see the root cause of the problem, pick up an undergraduate psychology text. The example I’ll use is the second edition of “Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding” by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Namy and Woolf. The first chapter is 41 pages long. The first three pages discuss the definition and nature of psychology. The rest of the chapter discusses the scientific method.
In some ways, this is quite reasonable in an introductory textbook: perhaps the majority of its readers don’t have a good grasp of the scientific method yet (oh, the state of our secondary education system!). However, it reads as though psychology is the little kid on the block of academic subjects, jumping up and down at the edge of the crowd, crying: “I’m a science too! Take me seriously!”
Another issue is the emphasis on clinical psychology, which is becoming the most respected and highly paid sub-discipline. According to Lilienfeld et al, clinical psychologists:
- Perform assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders
- Conduct research on people with mental disorders
- Work in colleges and universities, mental health centres, or private practice (p. 33).
You can see how this definition emphasizes research and diagnosis – putting things into categories, dealing with measurements and numbers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful psychologists out there; but my gut is telling me that, in an attempt to legitimize the profession in the eyes of the academic community, psychology has lost its way. It’s become more about counting than caring.
To all those individual psychologists who bless us through their work: I am not talking about you; I’m making a general statement about the direction psychology is taking as a discipline. To all the patients who are helped profoundly by competent, caring psychologists: I’m not talking about your psychologist, I’m making a general statement, and a sweeping one at that … and we all know how much weight to place on sweeping generalizations!