I like to look at the field of psychology as a calling for me. Even though I looked at other career possibilities, I always had a feeling I would land up as a psychologist. As an introverted child with often inadequate social skills, I spent a lot of time watching people and noting behavioral patterns. This typically wasn’t by choice for me to be on the outside looking in. I was often being excluded from one activity or another. I was also exposed to my fair share of dysfunction. So I get that life is not perfect. As I got older, friends would come to me for assistance with their problems. I typically would come up with some down to earth advice that I could relay in an empathetic manner. I figured this is something i have been doing for years (and loved doing), so I might as well get paid for it.
Typically, I am more than willing to help friends and family members work through their issues and help them find the appropriate resources to assist them. I’ve also been known to throw out potential diagnoses about behavior observed here and there as well. I make it known that I’m not really diagnosing anyone, I’m just showing off! (Kidding!) However, there are times that analyzing someone else’s psyche is the furthest thing from my mind.
1. I was in graduate school and getting my first massage ever while on vacation in Las Vegas. The massage therapist asks me what my profession is. I tell her I’m studying to be a psychologist. She proceeds to spend the hour sharing her traumatic childhood with me. Her father ran off from her family when she was a child, her mother developed a crack addiction and had to turn to prostitution to make ends meet. This young lady was left to care for her younger brother while her mother was away or intoxicated. She overcame this upbringing and was able to become a massage therapist. My heart truly went out to her and I did my best to validate her feelings as she massaged me. Later, I asked a friend if this was typical behavior for a massage. Her response was, “hells no!” From now on, I check the box that says “I prefer silence” and not the box that says “I prefer light conversation” when I fill out the intake form for the massage. That conversation was anything but light.
2. I once tried a new salon for a haircut. I showed the stylist a picture of the new do that I was interested in. We chit chatted as she started cutting my hair. She asked me about my occupation and I shared what I do. Her eyes widened seemingly with excitement. She began sharing all her woes with me: the divorce she’d been through, her issues with her teenage daughter not getting along with her new boyfriend, her strained relationship with her ex, financial problems, and so forth. As she chatted away, she didn’t seem to be paying much attention to my hair. The end result was a hair style resembling a mushroom. She asked me if I liked it and I gave a noncommittal yes. I figured it would grow on me (like a fungus) or it would look better when I restyled it later. I went home uncertain about myself and looked in the mirror as soon as I entered the house. I still looked like a shroom. I tried to restyle it. No luck! There was certainly a fungus among us. I called back the salon and requested for anyone but her to fix the haircut. The next day it was fixed and I fortunately no longer looked like a portobello.
There have been many other smaller, incidents like this along the way. Times when I have gone to workout and have been cornered by someone who recently learned my profession, who starts unloading on me. Sometimes I am up for it, sometimes I just want to workout. People have said to me more times than I can count, “I need to lie on your couch.” News flash- I don’t even have a couch at work. If I did, you may find me napping on it. Another one often heard is “I bet you are analyzing me right now.” Nope, not happening. I’m usually just trying to keep my own life together. My favorite is “don’t judge my parenting.” This is often said to me as my perfectly behaved children are sitting on each other’s heads and throwing things at one another. I don’t think I’m in a position to judge anyone’s parenting skills.
I have also had my profession used against me. I have had a couple of people close to me call me out on my own difficulties regulating my mood and my behavior. “You are a psychologist! You know better than to act like this.” It was like they are saying my degree and my profession make me less human and less entitled to my feelings.
I always tell parents or the teachers of the children I work with that I have no magic wands or crystal balls. I can’t fix you or your child or the massage therapist or the hairdresser or the guy at the gym or even myself. It takes time and hard work to make changes in ones life and it’s not going to happen in a single encounter.