Why do some people choose to become psychiatrists?
Because, deep down, they’re terrified of criticism. Far more terrified than the rest of us. That’s why.
See, when feeling ragged on or otherwise aggressed against in some fashion, one of the defense mechanisms built into our human nature will prompt us to impute to our perceived assailant some sort of mental or emotional imbalance. For instance, we may come back with something along the lines of, “You know what you’re problem is? You’re just angry at the world, and you’re taking it out on me.”
If we do respond thus, the other person, naturally, will then likely question our qualifications for making such an assessment: “Oh, are you a psychiatrist or something?”
At this juncture, the mental health laypeople among us find ourselves at a pronounced disadvantage, for we must now sheepishly concede our dearth of credentials in that field. This, in turn, provides the cue for our opponent to don a supercilious smirk and deliver his coup de grace: “Exactly. So if you don’t know what you’re talking about, why don’t you just shut up!”
At which point, needless to say, we’ll feel set upon anew, and the cycle repeats itself: We’ll inform that person, once again, what his or her problem is, and he or she will, once again, gently remind us that we’re not qualified to make that determination.
Alas, we just can’t win.
Under otherwise identical circumstances, a mental health care professional, on the other hand—be it a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, or some other licensed psycho-something—can simply flash his or her badge, and now the offender is the one left hanging in a lurch. In a sense, such a job title functions as a shield against any kind of criticism, real or perceived, that may ever come its holder’s way, as it confers official authority to turn the couches and deflect every unwanted challenge back onto its sender (e.g., “I can hear the pain in your voice. You want your father to hug you so badly. I understand.”). And when a psychiatrist tells you what your problem is, you can’t really play the “you’re not qualified” card in response, can you?
Therefore, a certifiable psychologist emerges victoriously from every confrontation by way of meting out irrefragable appraisals from their learned high ground.
The rest of us, who are in a comparatively poor position to cream pesky muggles with psychoanalytical ordnance, were obviously born with thicker skin, or else we’d have embarked on a career in mental health in order to enjoy that added layer of personal protection.
Now, I do not mean to suggest that all, most, or even a statistically significant minority of trained psychologists selected their vocations primarily, or even tertiarily, for reasons of self-defense. My point is merely to demonstrate how ridiculously easy it is to pathologize virtually every type of behavior, including the behavior of having entered the field of psychology.
Show me what you do, tell me how you think and feel, and I’ll tell you what your problem is. With a modicum of imagination, coming up with some kind of “issue” that afflicts the person across from us is so easy a caveman can do it. And so can you. (If you really want to drive people up the wall, analyze them back by analyzing their analysis of you. If you can’t think of anything else on the spot, just tell them they’re projecting: “Your calling me angry at the world goes to show how angry at the world you are.”)
The mere fact that we can all do it, of course, says nothing about the validity of our diagnoses, whose inherent unfalsifiability furnishes added incentive for diagnosing merrily away. After all, if you dispute my analysis, you’re in denial. Simply as that.
The other day, I read that sarcasm—a technique I have been charged with resorting to every once in a while—is a means for those who employ it to “indirectly [express] aggression toward others and insecurity about themselves.”
That may well be so.
However, said diagnosis is just as easily made as it can be flipped on its ear. Who’s insecure? Someone unafraid to alienate, or the never-sarcastic individual whose self-esteem rides on garnering universal approval and affection?
Might not a person’s chronic eagerness to come across as loving and congenial—as evidenced, for instance, by an annoying habit of tacking fifteen smiley faces onto every tongue-in-cheek utterance so that even the sloppiest reader will identify it as such— suggest a deep-seated fear of rejection? A fear so profound, perhaps, that it may require treatment (as by someone so scared of criticism that he became a psychiatrist)?
Sure it might. Because every behavior on the planet might be symptomatic of some underlying disorder.
But then again, sometimes a blue dress is just a blue dress.