More threads by Ryan Li

Ryan Li

Hi Guys,

Just wondering, what are the misconceptions that people have about psychology?

As a psychology student, quite often, I have friends (who are rather mis-informed) asking me for pointers on how to hypnotize or 'psycho' people. Haha! Somehow, they have the impression that psychology is all about 'psychic' abilities or ESP or the ability to control minds. Not that it really bothers me that much but it's quite interesting or rather ridiculous in a humourous way.

David, you mind sharing with us your experience on the interesting response people show when you reveal your occupation to them? Do they say things like "Oh...stay away from me! You mind-reader!" or "How do I hypnotize my girlfriend?" :)

Daniel E.
One idea portrayed by Hollywood is that therapists often develop cathartic, life-changing moments for their patients:

For example, in a more contemporary film, like 1997's "Good Will Hunting," Robin Williams plays a therapist (Sean McGuire) who takes a highly unorthodox psychotherapeutic approach with Will Hunting, portrayed by Matt Damon. In the climax of the film, the cathartic scene occurs when McGuire repeatedly states, "It's not your fault," moving one step closer to Will with each utterance. Will has apparently been harboring extraordinary self-blame and guilt, though nothing in the screenplay has suggested such feelings, and eventually breaks down and sobs as he recognizes that his abusive childhood experiences as an orphan were not of his own doing.

"The Cinematic Psychiatrist" (Psychiatric Times)

Sea Swirl

My interpretation has been that some people associate Psychology exclusively with "crazy" people and the 'shrinks' who try to make them normal again. Some people think that if you have a therapist, you are insane or close to it. I used to think that in high school, that mental health care was like the enemy somehow, and that needing therapy of any kind was an insult to one's mental fortitude.
Some young people might feel that way, because their parents can subtly paint psychology negatively. For instance, if a young person has "issues" or problems, he is sometimes just sent to a therapist, the way a pet is sent to the vet.
Like, "Here's my screwed-up animal. It's not my fault he's the way he is. Just fix it and send me a bill."
Well, we can do this to pets because they can't talk back. But with kids, a lot of their problems are caused by the adults in their lives (Bad parenting, abuse, substance problems in the home, etc.) and the adults just don't see it.
This sounds slanted because it is. :eek:) It was that way for me. When I had "problems," my parents just dropped me off at this guy's office, and seemed to totally deny any involvement or responsibility. It never occured to them that their weird parenting could have caused my problems, when I knew it did.
In retrospect, I'm sure the therapist knew it, too, but at the time it felt like all the onus was on me and everyone was against me. The therapist also never told me anything to remedy that. He never said anything like, "a lot of problems like this are the result of how your parents treat you," and actually he was not even friendly. Kind of stone faced and seeming not to care.

So, if kids and teenagers grow up with feelings like that, or they don't care for their therapist, and the therapy doesn't go anywhere positive, maybe they could become adults who have a negative view of psychology generally, and resent it and feel like all psychologists are just as clueless as their parents were.

Another misconception I can think of might be that psychology is a cold science. I knew a guy once who was majoring in Sociology (You can probably see where this is going, that sociology is like the warm, fuzzy version of psychology that everyone likes). I asked him why he chose Sociology instead of Psychology, and he said:
"Well, Sociology says that people are the way they are because of social and environmental influences. Psychology says that people are the way they are because it's natural and they're born that way, and I just don't believe that."

No joke. "Psychology 'says' THIS"... like Psychology is some kind of talking doll where you squeeze the hand and it knows 3 different phrases.
This was not some teenage guy who just hadn't had the time to learn differently, either. He was 30 something and at the university level.

I don't know why a person would feel this way, but maybe it has to do with the 'problem correction' angle of psychology and psychiatry. As soon as we bring in mental illness and disorders, and people become "patients" with "sessions," everything gets more serious and unpleasant.
I mean, it's easy to be loved when you're Sociology. Do you even have to go to therapy for that ?

I've also known people who were skeptical of Psychology because
they felt it was an attempt to mainstream/document people in an inhuman way. Because it identifies disorders by specific behaviors, it seems to be saying that personality is irrelevant; we all fall into this continuum of recognised behavior, and that is how psychologists view all human activity.
So that is like a nature documentary where a species is viewed as a collective, not as totally unique individuals with different personalities.
Of course this is not accurate, but for people who are looking for a way to criticize psychology, they can take that aspect of it and swing it very big and negative. Some people also don't realize and can't accept that humans do engage in a lot of thoughts and behaviors that are stereotypical across the board, so the nature of psychology to identify patterns in these things can be seen as offensive.

Overall, I think Psychology is like the rattlesnake of the sciences: vital and wonderful in its way, but very misunderstood and unfairly maligned, while surrounded by cuter, fluffier disciplines that get more of the positive attention. :eek:)



One of the misperceptions about psychology that most people have is that all psychologists are clinical psychologists. Many doctors of psychology (PhD) work in neuroscience and other fields of psychology and have no link or knowledge about working with people and their difficulties in life.
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