By David Joel Miller.
Majoring in Psychology won’t fix you.
There is a repeating pattern in my public therapy work. Adults past the teen years show up for counseling referred by a government agency because of their depression, anxiety, unemployment and substance use disorder. One thing many of them have in common? Many of them have been Psychology majors. What they find out too late is that knowing all about Psychology won’t fix you.
Addiction treatment has known this knowledge does not equal recovery for a long time.
Addiction and alcoholism treatment sprang from self-help groups, A.A. and N.A. mostly. The early founders of those groups tried going to professionals, psychiatrists and psychologists, but while they received some help there, being diagnosed with addiction or depression is a long way from getting treatment for your issue.
Knowing you are an alcoholic, even knowing why you drink, does not result in sobriety. Not without some work on changing things. Same thing happens with depression and anxiety. Most of the things you learn in Psychology class about states and traits and the big five personality factors may give you some insight into your personality but it doesn’t tell you what to do next.
Psychology may explain your problem as you are an introvert and have a high need for security. But you are still lonely, afraid to go out of your house and depressed all the time. Maybe you are drinking to manage your anxiety and depression. You may get pills for your doctor, but before long you find you are using more pills than prescribed and drinking way too much and you still have those problems. Now what?
Psychology and Therapy got a divorce.
Psychology and Therapy separated a long time ago. Not everyone got the memo, but these two disciplines are divorced. On college campuses they live in different buildings. Psychology had a brief affair with counseling also but they have been estranged for some time now.
Psychology is mostly about brains, nervous systems and how the normal brain works. Many pure psychologists spend more time with rats and mice than people. They give questionnaires and do studies to find out how many people have a particular problem and whether they is anything that is helping them.
You have to study psychology for a very long time before they let you experiment on people and by then your own issues have eaten you alive.
Therapy and Counseling are about helping the individual find the answers they need on how to change their lives. This works even if you do not change your big five factor personality. You can still be an introvert but if you learn to develop a support system and have better social skills your problem may stop making you miserable.
Clinical Psychology is a step child.
Before I get everyone in the helping, changing people field mad at me I should mention that there are a group of people called clinical psychologists who study both how the normal brain works and how to help them with mental and emotional problems. This takes at least 6 years of college and some original research to get a PhD. This lets you help others but it won’t fix you.
You shouldn’t believe everything you read in a psychology journal.
I read a lot of research. Psych professors do research. That old publish or perish thing. Some of this research is really good. Some of it is suspect. Many of the things you learn about in psychology class are the result of studies those professors have done. They often use a “convenience” sample of psychology students. If people with mental health issues take a lot of psychology classes, and it looks from what my clients tell me that is true a lot of the time, then those studies of “normal” people are done on not so normal people.
For example I have been reading a lot of research for the series about sleep dreams and nightmares I was working on. One of those studies, done on psych students, included 85% women. In clinical setting women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than men and psych students may have self-selected into this class because of their own issues. I am skeptical of this authors conclusions.
Do not take out your own appendix.
You can study all about anatomy. Know all about appendicitis and still you shouldn’t take out your own appendix. It is also not recommended you do the operation on a family member.
Same thing with treating yourself for mental and emotional problems. Many counseling programs make their students go through the experience of getting personal counseling. This has two advantages. First you learn what it is like to be the client before you put someone else through the process. More importantly this gives prospective therapists the chance to work on themselves before they start working with others.
If you are thinking about becoming a psychology major, or have been one, I would recommend you look at why. If it is because studying rat brains sounds cool, have at it. But if you are doing this because you or someone close to you has an emotional or mental problems, think about getting counselling for your problems first and then see if you still want to do this.
There are a lot of psychology majors, counselors, social work majors, philosophy majors and so on who are among the unemployed, mentally ill, addicted populations. I suppose that happens to many other majors also. Just wanted to put out that special warning that learning all about psychology won’t fix you. Regardless of your major, in order to have a happy successful life, financially or emotionally, you need to be mentally healthy first.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books