Why Dost Thou Fear Psychology-humans?

I’m almost finished with my clinical psychology doctorate. Since starting this devil of a thng, I’ve noticed something. Before, when I was just a tech support monkey, it was easy for me to meet new people. I got dates and friends whenever I went out.

Now though, all goes well until I get to the inevitable “what do you do?” question. 95% of the time, once I say that I am working on my doctorate, people either get very nervous or proceed to tell me all sorts of personal and inappropriate things about themselves.

Many of my friends and former partners tell me this makes me intimidating because they think it means I “know things about them” that they don’t know. Or like my psych doctorate gives me special though-reading powers.

Um, it doesn’t.

If you met an attractive, friendly, and funny woman at a bar or social gathering, would you get intimidated once you found out she was a psychologist? If so, how could I avoid this with you? No, I don’t want to lie to people and say I’m a waitress or something. I’ve tried this. And while it eliminates the “oh no! she’s a shrink!” factor, it makes me feel a bit slimy and false.

Inkleberry :confused:

How does that make you feel?

Depends. Let’s get together and discuss this over dinner.

Because your a crank that is trying to keep the evil thetans inside of me!! :mad: :mad:


Heh. See, we don’t actually say that phrase, ever. It is verboten. It is a cheap cop out. It is psychiatry badnesss.

About said dinner… um… I assume you are joking, yes?

Heh. Well, yes. It’s all a big conspiricy so we can be the only clear ones… :wink:

I’m not surprised. This is, in my experience, exactly what most people think about psychologists. People actually want to think that other people can know so much about them that they don’t know, for, as Adam Smith wrote, men are fond of paradoxes. Further, they are used to professionals in various fields being able to do amazing things, as in computing, with which we can calculate prime numbers 20 pages long, and biology, with which we can clone animals; so they think that psychology should be able to do similar things, not realizing that it is such a relatively nascent field.

I actually have a personal theory that this is one of the reasons Freudianism was so successful: unlike other psychological tools, it fulfilled the public’s mystical expectations with its ambiguous talk of the unconscious and so forth.

I don’t have much advice, other than perhaps to try to change the subject. Once you’ve talked to them for a while about other things, they’ll realize you’re a “normal” person and not be intimidated.

Well, as the daughter of a therapist (not a psychologist, but close enough for this discussion) I think the issue is that it’s a field that purports to help people with their problems. Therefore you (plural, whole community of shrinks “you”) must think you know more about solving their problems than they do. That’s intimidating.

Even if they don’t believe you actually do know more about their problems than they do, they think you think so, and that’s annoying.
And/or they think you must be more interested in people’s problems than your average person, or else why did you go into the field. Well, they’ve got problems…hey a shared interest! Kind of like if you meet an auto mechanic you’re going to think to talk to them about cars, or if you meet an English professor you’re going to think to talk to them about books.

Maybe you could answer “what do you do?” questions “Actually, I’m studying to be a psychologist, but not a mind-reading, wants to hear about angsty problems psychologist, more of a seriously chronically mentally ill folks psychologist” then they don’t think your field of interest is them–the average person with problems.

Would I be intimidated by a psychologist? Not hardly. 'Course, I hang with psychiatrists and psychologists all day, and my own patient population is about 20% sociopaths. Hell, ax murderers don’t intimidate me. C’mon down to my office, Ph.D. to be! See some real psychopathy!


I have a deep distrust for psychologists, and yes, it’s my mother’s fault.

You see, she’s a psychology graduate, working as a school counsellor. Everything that she sees happen, she assigns a motive to, and treats everyone based on her perceptions. The only problem is that her analysis is never right, so her interactions with people rarely make sense and she comes off as somewhere between neurotic and psychotic. She treated a fairly friendly neighbour like hell because she was absolutely positive that he was dreaming about her.

It’s not to say that psychologists aren’t good judges of character, just that they may not be any better than a layman and their qualification brings a level of false certainty that gets up my nose.

In my very limited attempt at being a would-be shrink, I found that some people needed to unload everything, or they were afraid that I’d see some imperfection and not want to be around them. I learned that instead of milking someone for advice (I’m still guilty of that on occasion), I instead learned as much as I could about what they do, and what the issues were in their field. I’d then try to relate it to something I had read, and end up making them feel appreciated for their knowledge and experience. So, like a therapist, I’d put them in the center of the conversation, not as problem to be solved as much as a person to learn from. If I heard a problem, I’d offer a solution or insight as an aside.


Hell no!

But, maybe that’s just me.

Hey, psychologists don’t intimidate me. I might make some sort of joke about you being able to explain my manifest thoughts, or something, but that’s about it.

As someone who was in your shoes nearly 20 years ago, my best advice to you is to get used to it. I used to say I was the psychology department secretary, but that was when I was young and foolish. :slight_smile:

Many people have funny reactions to psychologists. That’s just the way it is. You can let it bother you, or you can think of it as a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Anyone who isn’t intimidated is more likely to be a keeper. When I met my husband (here on the dope, incidently), I told him right away that I am a psychologist. He was impressed, not intimidated, which turned out to be a very good sign.

Not at all. And I’d probably be pricking up my ears.

I doubt there’s much you can do about the perceptions of many of the masses, although I’ll note that my reaction to meeting psychologists is nothing like what you describe. But then, I know several (I’m not) and, heh, there’s even one that I wish could read my mind. Well, parts of it, anyway. Ahh, but she’s mortally married.

Moving on.

It would seem then that two endeavors fall upon you: 1.) continue to meet people and gradually let the wheat separate from the chaff, as I doubt everybody reacts as you describe - I wouldn’t, and I doubt many of my acquaintance would - and 2.) consider your presentation of your professional life. How might you announce what you do in a manner that mitigates what you perceive to be a common and undesired reaction?

Some random thoughts:

1/ Many men–particularly the ones who hang out at bars hoping to meet women–are intimidated by any woman with advanced education or professional status. Women who are lawyers, MBAs and physicians have experiences similiar to yours (except maybe the lawyers get asked for free legal advice, the MBAs are hustled for stock tips, and the physicians have to listen to “doc, i got this pain here in my side…”) If you introduced yourself as, say, the president of a consulting company, a lot of men would still politely excuse themselves.

2/ I have seen shrinks slip into their professonal mode–careful listening, responsive questions–in a variety of social situations, and I think they do it unconsciously. Maybe you don’t actually say “how does that make you feel?” (although I’m not sure you are correct when you say that professionals never use those words), but the tone of the conversation becomes very different from ordinary social banter. In particular, people talking to a shrink either find themselves giving up more information than they get in return, and then may be embarrassed, or they go on guard against giving up too much. They may feel in some sense that they are specimens under a microsope. At the same time, putting on your professional face might make social situations easier for you than talking about the weather, sports, traffic congestion etc.

3/ One strategy might be to avoid the “what do you do” conversation, at least at first. Suppose, when people ask you what do you do, you say something like, “I’ve had a long day. I’d rather talk about what I like to do.” Then you can talk about whatever you like: your weekend plans, the art show you just saw, your last vacation, your training for the Boston marathon, whatever. Then give the other person a chance to talk about whatever he likes. Ask him where he travels, or how he likes to spend his time. The “what do you do” question is really just an awkward attempt to find common ground. But it’s not the only thing there is for two people to talk about.

4/ When you do get around to telling people what you do, there are different ways to present the information. Personally, I think “psychotherapist” sounds less intimidating than “psychologist.” Stereotypically, a psychotherapist helps people; a psychologist studies lab rats, and looks at people the same way. You might try to work your ultimate goal into the conversation: “I’m learning to help autistic children” or just “I’m in school to help people with problems” is less intimidating than “I’m a psychologist. Tell me about yourself.”

In short, I would say give people a chance to talk about something other than their jobs. Most of them will be grateful. And when you talk about what you do for a living, make it clear that you’re off-duty.

I suspect people think you are analyzing every word said. Starting in high school, most likely continuing into college, and reinforced by TV, people think Freud = psych. This is such a small piece of the field as he is perhaps the only father of a field of study who has served to do more damage than good for that field!

People fear you are prying into a secret part of themselves that, they themselves, do not often understand, wish to acknowledge, and/or they fear you can see past their walls and into their true selves. Hmm, perhaps psych majors are the exercists of the stranger(s) within each of us?

I don’t know if there’s a remedy, but it’d make an interesting doctoral study, huh? Maybe you can apply for a grant to write your thesis in this area? Maybe you should just give people generalities about your background to avoid scaring them off, like "I’m into the ‘humanities’ "? :wink:

  • Jinx

So many psychology threads this morning…whats going on in the world.

Posted by the OP

Said like a true psych doctorate candidate…analyzing everything eh…?

I got my Ph.d in Environmental Psychology when I was 28…my wife when she was 29. I’ve been working in academia ever since. As per your OP, I tend to get the same thing when I go to a pub or out to eat with new friends or old friends I have not seen in a while. My 15 year Highschool reunion was terrible because of the very experiences you mention. But you know what? I would not change one iota in my decision making process to bull through Gradschool directly after college. Grants and scholarships were there and I took the opportunity as it lay in front of me. Had I not taken each step as I did, I would never have met my wife, and that would have been an utter tragedy.

You don’t sound convinced.

Well, it would be a bit of a commute…

Good responses.

In my experience, most social conversation is understood to be…social. Start with the weather, who you know, what you do…

Psychology connotes deeper conversation. It throws people who are expecting chit chat.

So what do you do? Well, come up with a few lines that quickly re-establish the appropriately superficial level of the conversation. Heck, practice them so they come out easily and smoothly. I dunno, maybe something like:

“Yeah, I’m a psychologist - very satisfying but it sure is nice to be off the clock and talking about X (insert current event or weather topic here).”

"For work, I am a psychologist, and for fun, I do x, y, and z (offer other interests that are easier to talk about, like sports or cultural stuff)

I find your dilemma just a case where people may need a slight assist getting over a social awkwardness. Help 'em when you can.

And believe me, if you are as you describe yourself, I wouldn’t let a little thing like a profession get in my way. Attractive, friendly and funny = yowza. If I wasn’t happily married, I’d be pushing js_a to the curb - dude, you have an opening and you haven’t responded…step up and bust a move (if there is a private email exchange established, please disregard the last words of encouragement…)

Wouldn’t you my man js_a steps up right when I am posting.

Can’t let a few miles get you down, sir! We’re talking friendly, attractive and funny!!