From the time I started to study psychology, there was only one person who accused me of going into psychology to solve my own problems. As we all know this is a common belief which is all too often to be found in reality. There are a lot of people who study psychology for that reason. If you have followed my tale/argument to this point, if you are to believe my account of my experience, you would have to agree this woman’s assumption was not true. But, it was not an assumption so much as an accusation, a way of assuring me that I was no better than anyone else, no better than she, and that I might have been more fucked up than she was. She had a good, solid basis for her accusation, which I would have freely admitted at the time. I was fucked up. Fucked up from a destructive doctoral program which I hadn’t yet completed and therefore was not safe from and I was fucked up by a childhood that was pretty horrific, but that I was getting over and of which I was in process of learning the significance. I could have done all this just as well without academic training.
But, this is the point. There is a commonly held belief that people don’t have the ability to understand their own mind, but that it takes a trained expert to understand us so that they can fix us to let us go about our business. Of course the opposite is also true, that is that there are those who don’t think anyone knows the answer to their own or others’ problems and, therefore, they could never be bothered with consulting a professional. “I yam what I yam,” as Popeye says, a declaration I agree with. But, I also agree that a therapist, depending on who they are and how they practice, can facilitate the process. They can make things worse also depending. If you think about it, medications don’t always work either and sometimes they can cause harm.
To flesh all this out, I would like to return to the Scientist Practitioner model which seems to be having new currency for the layperson, who is the focus of all treatment and who provides us mental health folks with our living. The latest in a long-string of sales devices is that a treatment is “research based”. It used to be that advertising would simply tell us to “ask your doctor” and they still do after they read a list of side-effects that may kill us all in the end. “But, there’s the research!” the practitioner will protest, to which I would respond, also in the language of advertising, “Where’s the beef?” Show me, show everyone the research that proves what you are selling is helpful and who can expect benefit from this treatment based on the research.
One of the bits of information that I gathered while researching for my dissertation was that vocational preference testing accounted for the exact same amount of data as simply asking a person what they would like to do for a career. So, why not just ask them and save them the money that is being spent on test materials and counseling hours as well as all that angst and uncertainty? I guess because it might destroy an industry and a field of research, both of which employ a lot of people. Besides, the use of testing doesn’t mean that there is no good being done even if it does not add to our knowledge more than simply asking a person what they want to be. Just the use of something objective that a psychologist can point to can have some ameliorative effect on someone who is wracked with uncertainty about a future profession.
(I would recommend listening to elves myself, but I am certain that few people would listen to me tell of my experience and I feel fairly certain that I would not even listen to myself had I been dispensing that advice. Take it from me, elves just happen. They can’t be invented or relied upon either. They are more likely to occur to those who are standing on their own feet and who have an open, imaginative mind. But don’t expect anything. I don’t.)
My point, in case you think I may have forgotten it, is that what is current in therapy and in psychology is just that…current. It is something that the best minds have cooked up, but they are just people after all. And they have students, people they can point to and then point off in a certain direction, telling them to go research, with the helpless student being unable to resist and likely even having confidence that they are doing something meaningful, which becomes a confidence in which everyone can share. It is a well from which everyone can drink to get the wisdom that that research conveys.
Conversely, there is the alternative strategy, a system of research on which Psych Survival is based, which is to venture out in the world and see what you can find. The most basic research is not to put your toe into the water, but to jump into it and see how you interact with it. That can be very difficult both to do and understand because we each bring our own baggage, that is, our own history of experiences along with our interpretations of what we have experienced, and there is a whole world of new experiences and new people with other ideas who somehow influence your way of thinking. I would argue that if the formal study of psychology was to break off a little piece of something to analyze that they start there because this is a sacrament that everyone partakes of. This is the type of thing everyone wants to know about, the real reason people go into therapy. This is not only a source of endlessly rich research, but it is also something that directly affects everyone’s lives and that should be the foundation of therapy, which I believe is a process of bringing focus to the art and study of being a person in the world.