The Biggest Threats to Psychology as a Profession

It is wise to prepare yourself for threats to your chosen profession.  Last year, I was asked to address my colleagues at the Annual General Meeting of our regional Australian Psychological Society (APS) group about my experiences as a psychologist in regional practice.  I’ve had some requests from those who could not attend to share some aspects of the presentation.  So, below, I’ve posted the bits I mentioned in relation to the things that I believe threaten psychology as a profession.  Let me know what you think!

 

If I had to sum it up in one word, the biggest threat to psychology in our region is “ourselves”. If I’m allowed a few more words, the biggest threats to our profession are threefold: anxiety that stops us from taking action, laziness, and charisma.

Psychologists, as a breed, tend to be kind natured, intelligent, but easily frightened. I think it’s some sort of anxiety, but psychologists tend to prefer to be very solo in their work. They get in a comfy place and hide there. If a client needs some advocacy or the system isn’t working, it’s easy to shrug your shoulders and say “oh well – not my concern” – but as a psychologist, this is your concern. I have written many a strongly worded letter – like the time I noticed a liquor store application next to the skate park. I have ongoing dialogue with Victims of crime providers and politicians.

These are conversations we psychologists need to be a part of. As I have repeatedly said to many clients “it’s okay to ask for something, but it is also okay for the other person to say no”. If we don’t ask, or tell, or share an opinion, we decrease the chance of change. Get out from your comfy corners and speak up about what bothers you on behalf of your clients and your colleagues

The danger about being an anxious profession is that we avoid things that make us grow. I’ve very often heard people say, “but I don’t have the experience”. I think it’s naïve to think that all clients come with nice neat cases of depression and anxiety. I say, go and get more skills about more complex clients – ask your supervisor, do some reading, sign up for a webinar – It’s these things that could differentiate us from other mental health practitioners – that we confidently apply our knowledge to client’s problems and if we don’t have the knowledge, we should not freeze and refuse a service – we should go and get some knowledge and support for new work with more complex people.

Whilst we value a high standard of ethics, I think some people use the as anxious avoidance. I’ll give you an example.

Our office was trying to help a very suicidal man who called our office but refused to give his details. He said he was calling from a car and was contemplating driving himself and his son (who was in the car) into a wall. While I chatted, others in the team called emergency services who could do nothing without a name or location and he was not giving us those details. He did, however, say he had been seeing a psychologist, so a member of our team phoned this psychologist to see if we could get some identifying information. We got in touch with his treating psychologist who could identify the man from the description of the situation, but said he could not share information because he did not have a signed consent form. Luckily his GP was more helpful and the man and his son were soon safe and the GP followed up.

I was furious! Ethics are there to promote safe and moral practice, not to evade a difficult client. Use ethics to promote safe practice, not to hide behind in times of discomfort – these seemingly small moments threaten the usefulness and professionalism of psychology.

The other threat to our profession is charisma. I like to think about charisma as a special kind of mullet. You know how a mullet is “all business up the front and party out the back” – charisma for me is business up the front, very shiny business, but nothing at the back. Charisma is the false promise that you and your fancy words and your fancy memberships and fancy bits of paper on the wall are helpful. When clients come to a psychologist the expectation is that they will get psychology – not just a chat. Speaking of mullets and all things hair, a chat can be had at the hairdresser or local pub – and you also get a new hair do and a beer from those places. You want more than just a chat from your psychologist. Charisma is a threat to our profession – people soon notice that there’s nothing behind the façade and will refer to someone who will actually do a job, not just give the impression of doing it.

Sadly, for whatever reason, there is a tendency to some laziness in our profession – Scott Miller’s latest research is now telling us that a lot of what make a good change agent is the amount of time spent thinking about/formulating and processing your clients work. So, those of you who see a client, chat and then put the file away ….maybe you should learn to cut hair as well.

When an agency or employer is looking for someone to work with clients, they are looking for someone who will work effectively with clients, not hide from discomfort, and not pass clients around like hot potatoes. The biggest threat to psychology locally is anxiety, charisma and laziness.

It only takes one or two rotten bananas to ruin the bunch. So, let’s prepare ourselves against these threats – seek out new learning and support, express appropriate professional opinions to bring about change (real ones, not just shiny ones) and don’t rest on any laurels and avoid complacency when doing out professional work.

 

There was much more in my rant (changes to to registration over the years, what I think psychologists need to focus on and CPD).  Let me know if you’d like me to pop those bits up, too.

 

One thought on “The Biggest Threats to Psychology as a Profession

  1. Hi Shona,

    Thank you for this call to honesty and integrity! I’m going into honours and hopefully will be an intern after that.

    I hope, like you, that the psychological profession remains helpful to clients and patients. I also hope that our ranks are filled with courageous, good-intentioned people who create trust and help others face their fears. This will differentiate us from clandestine online counselling services and any other unregulated untrained groups who aim to help people without understanding their needs.

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