The Armchair Therapist…Ugh!

I, like most people in my profession, started my journey in order to become a psychologist, way back in 2010 when I made the firm decision that I want to work in the mental health field. I had just entered 11th standard at the time. Since then, I’ve completed my bachelors, my masters and my PG Diploma, along with a number of smaller courses, and internships/training. Despite all this, I feel like I am NOWHERE near done, and still have further studies on my agenda. Why am I telling you all this? Frankly speaking, I’m pissed off, and like thousands of professionals out there, I’m tired of these armchair therapists.

The Armchair Therapist

I know the article has already started, but I just want to put it out there that I’m not interested in mincing my words about this topic. Anyway. This is an individual who has no appropriate qualifications, skill set, ample supervision and adequate experience in anything related to mental health. Note how I used the word ‘and’ and not ‘or’. What they feel, they say. There is no objectiveness in what they preach. They are self-proclaimed experts that create their opinions based on their bias and judgements, when in reality they don’t have a clue about how important empirical data and observations are. They advise, rather than guide. In short, they are NOT professionals. Unfortunately, they are in abundance and them playing make-believe is dangerous.

A Real Therapist VS An Armchair Therapist

A real mental health professional not only has experience in working with patients with mental health issues, but also has standardised tools and manuals at their fingertips (oh by the way that they’re trained in and have studied) to assess and diagnose an individual. I’d like to ask the armchair therapist what tools they use besides their judgement. By not having the appropriate education, they are just labelling a person without any evidence or any data. You, my friend, are labelling a human life, not the containers in your kitchen. Oh and guess what? They don’t have the appropriate treatment measures to carry out once the label machine is used, simply because they aren’t trained. For example, if a patient comes to me with both psychological symptoms and physiological symptoms, I’m trained enough to know that I need to possibly refer the patient to a psychiatrist in order to sort out any medications that may be needed to manage his physiological symptoms.

Let’s come back to remark I made on judgement, shall we? A trained, ethical therapist comes from a place of non-judgement and is bias-free. They don’t give advice or force their personal opinions on the individual on what they think is right or wrong. Nope. Time to bust a myth- we don’t give advice. We guide the patient into making his own decisions and choices through mentally healthier means. That’s our goal.

Lastly, let’s talk about the language used. Have you heard motivational speakers and/or influencers say those positive, uplifting statements? News flash! They’re vague and generalised. They can apply to the masses. You’ll feel all positive and motivated for sure, not discrediting them about that, but that’s it. Mental illness is far more complex. Trained therapists LITERALLY tailor make the therapy plan for each patient. There’s this thing called individual differences, remember? Each symptom is analysed and thought about regarding how a particular technique from a specific therapy can be best suited for that individual. So no, we don’t just talk to the individual and have an uplifting, positive chat with him/her. Don’t underestimate the work that goes into a therapy plan.

Why Is Armchair Therapy A Big No?

Honestly, I don’t even know why I have to explain this. It’s so self-explanatory. But I think the ones in the back may need an explanation, so here we go. Okay, let’s work with an example to simplify it. Say you cut yourself quite badly and you’re losing blood. You have two options- go to the hospital and get it stitched up, or slap a band-aid on it. If you’re still confused, let me clarify by saying that the band-aid is equivalent to the armchair therapist. You will not get the proper, ethical and sound treatment for your problem. I understand wanting to be there for people and supporting them through their problems. Go ahead. It makes you a empathetic human being. But if it’s something mental health related, do the responsible thing by referring them to a mental health professional. That’s also a form of support.

Since the pandemic started, the topic of mental health has been trending, which is downright ridiculous, since it’s a severe issue and not a hashtag. But students that haven’t even finished their under grad/post grad think it’s okay for them to fast track their education and careers by offering helplines and therapy sessions. To them I say, you’re disrespectful of your own profession, and you need to gain perspective if you genuinely want to be in this field. Just because you’ve learnt or are learning the theory, when dealing with a live human being, that’s a different ballgame altogether. Along with these there are people with zero qualifications or background in psychology, but have done ONLY some random two month “counselling” course or some pseudo and/or alternative therapy workshop or course, and then claim to be able to do diagnoses, assessments and give therapy. Looks like I, along with other professionals, are idiots for putting in a decade and more into developing our skills. Lastly, how can I forget these huge social media influencers and some motivational speakers that think therapy consists of just positive vibes, rainbows and butterflies. Give. Me. A. Break.

To all these people, on the behalf of the entire mental health community, I’d like to say, please stay in your lane. You’re doing a disservice to every individual going through mental health issues and you’re undoing the work and awareness created by us professionals. Especially in India just because we don’t have a very defined framework/licensing procedure, this doesn’t give you the permission to take advantage of it.

Until next time,

Sneha

(M.A. Clinical Psychology, PGD Counselling)

P.S. ^You see that there? Those are called qualifications.

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