I was asked by a lady at a dinner party last week,
'So you're the psychologist? Are you analysing me right now?'
Of course, this could've just been a conversation icebreaker. However, her persistent probing and requests for me to read her body language suggested otherwise.
In response to this, I could have mischievously, (and unprofessionally), played on this fear. A statement such as 'the very need to ask such a question illustrates that you are hiding many insecurities.' would have made the situation much worse. However, my mind was honestly distracted by the attractive woman across the room. Moments ago, she'd been playfully flirting and now, she appeared to be puzzled by this social 'intruder'.
Back to the original question. I thought of a witty response, so I could move on quickly and try to resurrect my distance liaison with Ms X.
'Haha no I'm not analysing you. I'm 'off-duty'. To be honest, I don't think the surgeon or gynaecologist are working either.' The woman laughed and started to relax; and in that moment, the flirting across the room dissipated as I quickly became engaged in a mundane conversation about some band I didn't even like.
So why do people fear psychologists? Why are people worried that we'll single you out for mental interrogation? Anyone who's ever taken a psych class or has a book by Freud on the shelf, has probably met somebody suspicious of your educational interests; cautiously wondering whether you've penetrated their poker face and exposed their deepest darkest thoughts for your own amusement. I've known psychologists to genuinely have Oxbridge educated 'geniuses' shaking in their boots. Hopefully, today we can allay some of those anxieties.
First off, even though we may have an enhanced knowledge of the human mind and social behaviours; we are not even close to being psychic. We cannot read minds, and just like you, psychologists are normal people. I, for one, like to leave work at work. I'm sure singers get tired of being asked to break out in song randomly too.
When you ask 'that' question, I'm probably thinking, why are Chelsea so rubbish right now? How can I avoid cooking tomorrow and how can I catch the attention of the woman across the room again? Psychologists don't approach other psychologists and says 'are you analysing me right now?' Because we understand. However, we want you to share in our relaxation. There's really no need to push the panic button - psychologists are not the perpetual analysers you think we are! Everything we say is not an conscious or unconscious motivation to illustrate our 'powers' - and we definitely are not all the same. Actually, knowing which one you're dealing with will probably making social situations a lot less intimidating.
The research psychologist: these may be your stereotypical PHD students and Doctors of Psychology. They work in research institutions and have dedicated their life to investigating how to improve the health and performance of people in the society we live in. They may talk to you about their intriguing published work.
The practical psychologist: These psychologists are entrepreneurial or work for companies, for example occupational psychologists who use their knowledge to come up with interesting ways to engage, motivate or influence people. This can be in public or private sector. They may talk about their new innovative techniques, programmes or books.
The extra-knowledgeable psychologist: They seem to know everything about psychology and work tirelessly to increase its credibility and influence. They are the TRUE teachers and lecturers of psychology. They love the SUBJECT, often combining it with other disciplines such as philosophy or politics. In a conversation, you very quickly realise that you will not beat them for knowledge.
The therapists and counselling psychologists: These are wonderful people who've dedicated their lives to helping people with psychological disorders and other mental issues. They are the counsellors, the psychiatrists and the psychotherapists; the empathetic professionals who contribute to individuals having a better standard of living and daily enjoyment of life. They understand that we all need support, care and connection no matter who we are.
Psychologists are so diverse. We are not all sat in 'round the clock' therapy sessions; some are devising the next advert to capture your imagination at marketing companies or writing your favourite books. You can save yourself some distress by asking a second, simple and important question: 'What type of psychology do you practice and enjoy?'
You really don't have to run for cover. Yes, there is no avoiding that some psychologists out there will analyse you - but they're a lot rarer than you probably think. As with anything, one brush does not work for all. One of my personal philosophies which has served me well is 'what another person thinks about you is none of your business'. So unless psychologists start randomly offering opinions on your behaviour, I wouldn't worry too much about them being in the room.
To be honest, we don't have the time or energy to analyse every person that we meet. We have our own lives to live too. However, I'm pretty sure that's not going to stop the questioning. So until then I might start announcing my occupation as a 'professional mental-processing aligner' at dinner parties and see how well that goes down.