A few types of interactions in my life are recurrent. They happen over and over with different people in all kinds of situations and can be summarized as follows:
Person asks for my name. I introduce myself. Person asks again. I repeat my name and a conversation starts about the impossibility of pronouncing Icelandic names.
I start speaking. Person asks where I’m from. Apparently there’s an accent.
I mention my work in psychology. Person asks: “Are you analyzing me?” I never am, but I doubt they believe that.
The third scenario is the only one that happens no matter where I am. Icelandic and world citizens alike seem equally concerned that because I work as a psychologist, I might be somehow able to see into their thoughts and interpret their behavior in order to make a formal assessment of their character and personal problems. Most often, I am just attempting to have a conversation. All the years I have spent studying and practicing psychology have not left me with any superpowers and I am no more able to read minds than I am able to tell someone’s blood pressure by looking at them.
These situations are so frequent that Freud himself would be thrilled to hear how much influence he has had on people’s view of psychology. I bet at least half the people who ask that third question, picture therapy as involving a “patient” lying on a couch (like this) and a nodding “shrink” with a clipboard attempting to reveal the hidden parts of the patient’s psyche to figure them all out.
Unfortunately, there have been plenty of examples throughout the history of psychology of people being labeled, behaviors misinterpreted, and oppression carried out by folks who abused their authority and power. Considering that, mistrust of psychologists has been warranted.
But to those who might be concerned that my conversational nods mean I am taking mental notes for later report writing; rest assured. Analysis is not my cup of tea and I am a firm believer that therapy is effective when done with people, and not to them.