Thoughts on why I didn’t go into psychology

I had an interesting conversation some time ago where I talked about why I didn’t go into psychology.  About 20 or so years ago I wanted to be a Psychologist (actually, a Psychoanalyst).  I even went to the University for a year majoring in psychology.  In the end, I was glad to get out of it. 

Basically, what I found is that, though psychology was interesting, there were problems with the idea of practicing it upon the general population.  It didn’t take a genius to see that psychology isn’t a science.  In fact, I don’t think it should be considered a science (at least in the sense of chemistry).  Psychology seems more like an “inquiry” that is very much dependent on one’s point of view.  Many of the problems of psychology, really, are problems of point of view, of how you want to look at things.  From a certain point of view the theory will seem solid and true but from another point of view it’s all wrong.  I saw this every time I turned around in psychology.  Much of psychology is nothing but a lesson in how point of view changes things.  Typically, each point of view treated itself as ‘scientific’ and, therefore, ‘proven’ to be true.  It generally seemed that way too, as if they were all ‘scientific’ and ‘true’, but they often contradicted each other and, sometimes, proved each other wrong.  I learned to not be all that believing in any theory. 

I found that the theory I “accepted” was the one that went along with my sentimentalities and points of view, not because of any ‘scientific proof’, though I could convince myself that this is the case.  I noticed this same tendency with other people too.  It was our ‘personality’, so to speak, that determined the truth.  As a result, the different schools of thought in psychology really reflected the different points of view people have.  You could say that there’s a ‘liberal’ school of thought and a ‘conservative’ school of thought, for example.  Noticing this, I became skeptical about imposing the effects of what I thought was true onto other people as a practicing Psychoanalyst or Psychologist. 

Because of these ‘supposed’ truths, psychology often had this quality of being similar to religion, with all its ‘proven’ points of view as well.  I often called psychology the ‘modern religion’ for this reason.  Some of the debates in psychology resembled religious debates too, with an endless war of points of view.  In some cases, the issues of psychology and religion were very much alike, making them appear almost identical. 

I was also particularly bothered by the fact that much of psychology was not culturally related.  That is to say, it seemed like a ‘theory’ imposed upon people from without, and not reflecting their own belief system.  In a way, its like having the Chinese come over and start putting their ways onto us.  I became convinced that, for any psychotherapy to work, it must be bound and intimately related with the culture it is in.  In other words, a psychotherapy cannot be a ‘cold’ rigid mechanistic thing, much like chemistry theory.  Psychology, after all, is human.  Therefore it must be human to work.  It requires human techniques and human principles.  As a result, because psychology is human it inherently has the weakness of ‘humanity’ in it.  This is inevitable and unavoidable.  This means that there is nothing absolutely “certain” in psychology. 

For me, any psychological point of view that I took became “as it seemed to me” and I did not treat it like some great scientific truth.  I was very well aware, from experience, that this could be proven wrong or something like that.  I thought it silly to write a great ‘treatise’ in psychology, as if it was some great discovery, or that it was worthy of a Doctorate degree.  Believe me, I’ve seen quite a few Doctorate thesis’ and I could have done better!  This is why I don’t believe a Doctorate in Psychology means anything.  It doesn’t mean anyone is any more ‘qualified’.  A person with a Doctorate in Psychology just think they were. 

In fact, I felt that schooling in psychology doesn’t necessarily make anyone ‘qualified’.  I don’t care if you got A’s.  I don’t care if you got a degree.  All it means is you passed what the University wanted.  In my opinion, this does not make a Psychologist.  In fact, I feel that the University training actually hampered psychology by imposing all the silly nonsensical ‘qualifications’ and red tape that a person has to go through.  From what I saw the University curriculum tended to squash the future Psychologist rather than help them.  It seemed to destroy insight and depth by forcing people to be more rigid and shallow.  In the whole year I was up there I don’t think I saw one insightful thing!  They did all these ‘studies’ and ‘lectures’ that seemed almost mechanical and involved mechanical things.  Before I wanted to become a Psychologist I wanted to be an Engineer and quite a few times I wanted to say, “My god, this isn’t engineering!” 

There was almost this pretend game of seriousness with psychology.  People were trying to make it into this serious formal thing, trying to turn it into a science.  This ‘attempt’, in my opinion, helped destroy psychology. 

Overall, though, I felt that psychology was hanging between science and religion but not being either.  As a result, it was in a ‘limbo state’, as if not sure where it is.  It is like a field that cannot necessarily be ‘pegged’ or put in a specific place.  It had a quality, I think, of a pendulum, swinging back and forth between two opposing qualities (the certainty of science and the uncertainty of religion).  But, at the University, they tried to “force” it to be a ‘certain field’, something it is only partially.  They had to make it this way, though, because it was being ‘taught’ as a defined field with defined function and a defined profession.  This, to me, is like trying to force a square peg in a round hole. 

Personally, I always felt that the best time to be in psychology would have been the early-mid 1900’s.  This is when psychology was ‘beginning’ but it was not treated as a defined thing yet.  In a way, it was as it truly was . . . in limbo.  This is when we have some of the greatest psychological observation and insight that has ever been in psychology.  Once it became ‘certain’, with a ‘rigid’ curriculum, that insight died

As a result of psychology becoming ‘certain’ and ‘rigid’ there became the beginning of too much ‘official’ stuff  in psychology.  There became too many games.  There were also a lot of ‘power plays’ as well.  Theories and schools of thought almost fought it out in battles.  In other words, psychology had developed a ‘politics’ of its own.  This only moved psychology further away from insight and depth. 

But what finally made me get out of psychology was when I heard that you had to get a 3.8 GPA or most Universities would not even look at you (this was in the late 80’s . . . I don’t know how it is now).  Frankly, this is the thing that made me ask myself how much I wanted to go through the schooling to be a Psychologist, as I had no desire, whatsoever, to go through all the University ‘crap’.  Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to have to go through all the nonsense to get a consistent 3.8 GPA, and still risk being denied.

This requiring a high GPA stunned me as it excluded the most productive people:  the average student.  I couldn’t believe that a psychology department at a University would be stupid enough to believe the ‘straight A myth’.  Historically, the straight A students are not the productive ones.  They are often the worst people to have.  In fact, I felt the straight A student mentality would destroy psychology.  From what I’ve seen, it has.  Years ago psychology seemed insightful and had depth.  Now, it’s almost a joke.  They conduct studies over the most stupidest of things.  They come to some of the silliest of conclusions.  I know, as a fact, that a lot of this is done to get a grade to pass a course or get a degree.  I sometimes get the impression that it’s just a bunch of people dressing up mundane things to make it look important, so they can get good grades or get a degree.  These are things I expected from the straight A mentality, the turning of psychology into a cold dead superficial thing, and that seems to of happened. 

Another thing that I felt would undermine psychology is the prevalence of females.  I was never much impressed with females play-acting the “mother” in psychotherapy.  Many of these girls think psychology is nothing but ‘feeling’ or ‘caring’, an expression of their motherliness.  I could see that this was actually beginning to create a branch of ‘pseudo-love-based-scientific-psychology’, which is really no psychology at all.  In a way, they tried to turn their ‘motherliness’ into a form of psychotherapy.  I also think this tendency inspires many females to go into psychology.  Many mixed it in with ‘formal’ psychological theory which tended to distort it I found.  They were more ‘mothers’ than psychologist. 

I don’t think people realize how much law influences psychology too.  This is particularly true, nowadays, with all the lawsuits and such as well as the preponderance of legal thinking in things.  Often, ‘legally accepted’ diagnosis of illness and their ‘legally accepted’ treatment determine how things are looked at and what is to be done about it.  One way this is done is by following the recommendations of an officially acknowledged organization, such as the American Psychological Association.  By following its guidelines, such as in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (used to diagnose illness), is one of the ways to ‘cover your butt’, as they say.  This way, if anything bad happens one could fall back on the fact that its ‘legally accepted’.  This is particularly true if you are dealing with public situations, such as being a Counselor at a grade school.  In the more private sphere it may not be as critical, particularly with adults.  I can see that this legally minded mentality makes psychology even more rigid and restrictive.  It also means that you have to diagnose and treat according to a specific guideline.  This hinders the development of depth and insight.  As a result, legal-mindedness in psychology actually ends up strangling it.

As I look back on it now I can see that psychology is a unique field:  part science, part certainty, part philosophy, part religion, part insight, part ‘guesstimation’ . . . in a limbo state.  The question, really, in being a psychologist is if you are willing to accept this condition AND if you are willing to practice this condition on the general population.  If you are then you can be a psychologist.  If your aren’t then you probably don’t want to pursue this path.  I chose the latter.

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