The "shrink", the one who psychoanalyzes you, who lets you vent and gives you advice... A curious mix emerges from the misinformation about the professional figure of the psychologist, so much so that he is seen as a professional halfway between the good friend and the fortune-teller, between the dream interpreter and the guru dispenser of wisdom. Let's therefore clarify the characteristics of this specialist and the way he works: who is the psychologist and what does he do? What are the main prejudices that deform his image?
Although the role of the psychologist was recognised in Italy by the institution of the Professional Order in 1989, this figure has always been surrounded by an aura of mystery and even today prejudices and clichés make it difficult to ask for his intervention. On the occasion of the opening of the RAISE column, it is intended to shed some light on this professional, on his role and on the false beliefs that concern him. Often, in fact, psychologists are involved in issues concerning the evolutionary age and intervene in different ways on educational, relational and diagnostic aspects concerning children and adolescents.
Who’s the psychologist and what does he do?
Article 1 of Law 56/89 defines that:
"The profession of psychologist includes the use of cognitive and intervention tools for prevention, diagnosis, rehabilitation and support activities in the psychological field aimed at the person, the group, social bodies and communities. It also includes the activities of experimentation, research and teaching in this field".
A psychologist is a sanitary professional, operating for wellbeing: the aim of his job is to promote change, empower resources and accompany individuals, couples, families and organizations (schools, companies, etc…) in difficult moments. The psychologist deals not only with psychopathology, but also with other important areas of intervention related to a multiplicity of situations, personal and relational, which can be a source of suffering and discomfort. It can therefore be of help in everyday life contexts such as: life cycle phases (childhood, adolescence, pregnancy), education and growth (parenting support, orientation, training processes), health (lifestyles, nutrition, security), traumatic life events (bereavement, illness, separation, loss).
How do you become a psychologist?
In Italy to become a psychologist it is necessary to:
- Graduate in Psychology (5 years, as in 3+2)
- Make a one-year internship (1000 hours) post-lauream
- To obtain the qualification to practise the profession by means of a State Examination;
- Registering in the professional register.
Only professionals enrolled in the Register are qualified to exercise the activity of Psychologist, to which citizens can refer to verify if a professional is qualified. (https://areariservata.psy.it/cgi-bin/areariservata/albo_nazionale.cgi).
- The therapist is for crazy people
Psychologists not only deal with those who suffer from severe illnesses. Among the people who turn to the psychologist we also find those who want to improve their quality of life through a path of self-knowledge and others who are experiencing limited problems (emotional or relational difficulties, moments of crisis, stressful events ...). Each of us is faced with critical issues throughout life: qualified help can make a difference because it allows us to get out of it quickly.
2. The therapist is for the weakest (and I want to make it on my own)
This belief is incorrect at least for three reasons:
- Trying to find solutions to our own problems is healthy, but when we fail to find a working solution, why shouldn’t we ask the help of a professional? Does anyone was ever ashamed to get a cardiology check-up? Our mind should be object of prevention and care like any other vital organ
- Recognising discomfort and personal limitations is a great act of strength: actually, those who are brave turn to the psychologist, those who accept their faults and are willing to work to improve themselves;
- No one can face in our place the discomfort we feel, even within a psychological path the responsibility and the merit of change are exclusively personal.
3. The therapist could manipulate my mind
Article 4 of the Psychologists' Code of Ethics states: "In the exercise of his profession, the psychologist respects the dignity, the right to privacy, self-determination and autonomy of those who make use of his services; he respects their opinions and beliefs, refraining from imposing his system of values."
4. That’s how I am (it’s impossible for me to change)
Many believe they are born with a certain attitude and that they can’t do anything to change it. Actually, in most cases, each of us can shape our actions according to the circumstances. This is possible if we work on ourselves individually or with the help of a professional.
5. Nobody can understand my pain / How can someone who hasn’t lived the same situation understand how I am feeling?
It is important to note that these beliefs alone are capable of sustaining and nourishing the malaise and hindering recovery. To counter these beliefs it is necessary to know that the psychologist uses specific tools, useful also to be able to face situations that he has not experienced first-hand: experience gained over time, continuous training (mandatory!) and empathy (i.e. the ability to put oneself in the other person's shoes to understand his point of view).
6. It is impossible to solve concrete problems just by talking
Language, opposite to what is commonly believed, isn’t only useful to describe reality, but it is also the means we can use to build our reality: speaking helps us change the meaning we give to the world
“The journeys that lead to the greatest discoveries are not those in which we see new worlds, but those in which we see known worlds with different eyes.” (Marcel Proust)
7. The psychological path is too long
This idea comes from the knowledge of the "old" psychoanalysis, which provided for up to three sessions per week and sometimes lasted for a decade. Today, however, the duration of the path varies greatly: it can end after a few sessions or continue for a few months, or for years. It all depends on the reason for the consultation, the therapist's approach and what was agreed in the first sessions.
8. Therapy costs too much
This is not always the case: in some cases, there are routes at a moderate price, such as in public service or accredited private facilities. Even private studios can offer cheaper fares, for information you only need to consult the specialists directly. In any case, the money spent is a real investment in your well-being!
9. Why should I turn to a therapist when I can talk to a friend?
Talking to therapists is not like talking to friends, acquaintances, mentors or spiritual fathers. Without wanting to belittle any of these important figures in the life of each of us, psychology is a science, a method and an art together. Those who have not had specific training in the subject can give advice, but not cure people. If a friend's advice is useful, a professional opinion is crucial: would you entrust the fate of your legal case to the opinion of an acquaintance, or would you turn to a good lawyer? The friend relationship and the professional-client relationship also have different characteristics. The psychologist in fact:
- is focused on the patient, the patient is focused on himself and this creates a useful space for exploration and change
- is not involved in emotional dynamics with the patient, and is therefore more objective
- he is legally bound to professional secrecy
- he does not judge what is reported to him in session.
10. Oh... you're a therapist?! Then I have to be careful what I say or you analyse me... / Last night I dreamt about this, what does that mean?
Actually, the psychologist doesn't have paranormal powers (fortunately!!) so he can't understand you at first sight. As far as dreams are concerned, on the other hand, not all psychologists work with them and they acquire meaning only within the individual's life (and therefore no, they have no fixed meanings!).
Beside the prejudices above mentioned, a cultural aspect deeply rooted in our society can inhibit the possibility to ask for help: rarely we question our needs and we aren’t educated at the idea of taking care of ourselves.
Many times, people are so disconnected from themselves that the appearence of a discomfort is experienced as a nuisance and as such is ignored. In the frenzy of daily commitments, responsibilities and the thousand things to do in modern life, it can happen that one adapts to poorly satisfying conditions, losing sight of what would really make one feel better. It even happens that one takes actions that, instead of improving the situation, create vicious circles and end up maintaining the discomfort over time.
The intervention of a therapist can really improve people’s wellbeing, but on its own it cannot work wonders. Indeed, the individuals who are willing to follow the path are those who have the hardest time. Moreover, facing one’s own problems by questioning oneself is certainly tiring and achieving the desired changes requires a great deal of energy. But it is precisely the investment in self-care and the commitment we put into our path of change that make it possible to achieve a better quality of life.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Sara Bergamini