We’re all psychologists at some level. I mean we do have some experience at life. We’ve had to manipulate, experiment, handle difficult people and we appear to make intuitive decisions that have saved us our time, money and lives. Some of us are even the ‘agony aunts’ of our social groups. We even dole out ‘life’ advice. Once in a while, these intuitions are even parallel to scientific studies. But
sometimes they are not. And more than often, we do find a lot of human beings stubbornly holding on to their beliefs. With the advent of Social Media, there is an influx of memes, cat videos and a lot of food blogs. There’s a lot more content that goes viral every single day. A lot of websites have sponsored pop quizzes that will rate your personality and tell you what Hogwarts house you should be in. All this does seem like a harmless form of recreation, until, someone asks a mental health professional casually, ‘ Do you make those fun quizzes on Facebook?’
Today, we shall explore four myths in Psychology that need to be debunked.
1. You need a bachelor’s / Master’s degree in Psychology to be a therapist: You will need a master’s degree to initiate the process of attaining the license to start practising therapy. In India, you need to be registered with the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) for which you most likely have to study an M.Phil. in Clinical Psychology which will enable you to get hands-on experience with clinical disorders. Unfortunately, many students of psychology also hold a number of false beliefs about the subject matter of their major.
According to Jastrow (1900) with the advancement in Psychological science, it is critical that ‘authentic’ psychology and its subject matter and methods be properly understood. While this observation was made back in 1900, has the situation changed today? Not really. In 1993, a study by Furnham showed that even college students taking an introductory Psychology class were no better
than other college students in accurately answering questions about psychology. In a more recent study by Huber 2003) psychology students who completed a true or false myth belief questionnaire, were reported to have a 71% of myth acceptance. This does indicate that perhaps Psychology needs a rebranding as a scientific discipline.
2. Freud=Psychology: A vast majority of the people appear to know Sigmund Freud, which has fuelled a lot of misconceptions about Psychology. Many lay people are familiar with some of his psychosexual theory concepts and but critics argue that the psychodynamic theory remains obsolete due to its lack of empirical evidence ( Crews, 1996) In short, modern psychology is not defined by Freud. Freud’s work is a tiny aspect of the set of issues that are the concern of psychologists today. Modern psychologists conduct their research in a much different way than Freud did back in the day. In fact, a lot of psychologists such as David Hubel, Daniel Kahneman, Herbert Simons probably also deserve recognition for their contribution in the field of psychological science. (Stanovich, 2007)
The important thing to note here is that psychology is an evidence-based science with a research focus. Many researchers usually refrain from any ‘hunch’ or ‘intuitive’ reasoning. While Qualitative studies in research are considered valuable, they add more weight to the study when they are free of subjective biases. Freud’s work was based more on anecdotes and his own clinical experiences. It is not wise to negate his life work, but it is important to note here that research is the key to all observations in the field of Psychology.
3. Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Counselors= Same: Mental health workers is an umbrella term used to denote psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has an MD in Psychiatry. They are trained to administer pharmacotherapy for their patients. A psychiatrist will prescribe medications for disorders ranging from anxiety, depression and personality disorders. A psychologist has a master’s or a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. They are trained to administer tests, therapies and diagnose patients, whereas a counsellor has a degree in Counselling. Some psychologists specialize in counselling related to
health problems, while some are specialized in different forms of therapies such as Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy and some are specialized in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
4. You can be happy all the time with Positive Thinking: Another misconception that people have about Psychology is that Psychologists teach their patients to be ‘happy’ by simply smiling or by asking them to ‘think’ positively, essentially arguing that therapy work is an easy job. We are often taught to keep a ‘happy’ face all the time. It is said that keeping a ‘happy’ face could help us combat sadness and even depression naturally. According to Burkeman (2012), This could be far from the truth as the reality is that accepting life as it is perhaps more valuable to our mental health than the pressure of constantly being happy. We strive to get rid of our failure or sadness which could actually result in more anxieties or insecurities. According to him, it is wiser to see the truth in your pessimistic thoughts and accept the fact that you will die someday and learn to celebrate your failures. While a lot of his insights are gained from offbeat individuals and also academics, the wisdom in this book is a good roadmap to happiness. A Psychiatrist, psychologist and a social worker often work in teams to address the distress of a patient. While Positive thinking might help in certain situations for certain people, teaching it is not a part of a job description of therapists.
Unfortunately, a lot of people use confirmation bias to only seek studies that support their judgement or beliefs about a particular issue. Psychology is a science that requires a lot of critical thinking about its findings. Taking things at face value could result in a lot of inaccurate beliefs. Inaccurate beliefs in large numbers could get incorporated in policy-making at a larger scale, which could lead to a lot of public misinformation.