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The “Off Switch”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped and asked “are you analyzing me right now?” For a psychologist or a psychology student, we get asked this question or something similar in many social situations by strangers, our significant other, our family members, or our friends on a regular basis. It is almost this assumption that we can’t turn off. People in our lives are under this assumption that this is how our brains work, how we process information from everyone around us. But is this true? Do psychologists constantly analyze and diagnose everyone around them?

Truth is we have an off-switch, an ability to have a professional role, but also come home, relax, and live our lives as ourselves. Just like everyone else, when we come home from work, the last thing we want is to bring work home with us, to carry it with us. Just as a contractor doesn’t want to come home and do work on his own house, a psychologist, therapist, or psychology student isn’t desiring to come home and analyze their family or friends. Analyzing family and friends doesn’t come naturally. Truth is, we don’t want to think of our family members like that. As therapists, our roles work because we don’t have relationships with our clients outside of the room. We are able to think objectively, but with family and friends, it’s emotional and it’s not coming from a clinical perspective. All we want is to spend time living and with those we care about, without having a fear of assumptions about our intentions in interactions with others. In return, we offer the same to those around us.

So why do we have this presumption that all psychologists are constantly analyzing everyone? Well for starters, a lot of it seems to come from media representations of psychologists, counselors, and therapists. Oftentimes these portrayals of our field are less than accurate or ethical. On the Big Bang Theory, we see Leondard’s mom as a psychologist, constantly critiquing her son, his friends, and using psychological language in everyday life. We see it almost as if her role as a psychologist is her identity. On Lucifer, we see a psychologist breaking ethical guidelines and constantly critiquing her family and friends, and providing advice when it is never appropriate to do so with our close family and friends. We see this in multiple other tv shows and movies. Just as we see largely inaccurate portrayals of serious mental illness and the progression of disorders in clients for the sake of entertainment, we see these exaggerations in psychologists' behaviors with the same goal in mind. These portrayals could not be farther from the truth.

The next time you go to see your therapist friend or run into a psychologist, I hope you’re not concerned they're psychoanalyzing you, we don’t intend to. Just as nervous as you are to be analyzed, we are as nervous to be analyzed by you. We are just regular people whose goal in our careers is to help others and improve their mental health. But we do so when others seek it out and ask for help. You can rest easy in the knowledge that you are not being psychoanalyzed. Just like everyone else, we too have an “off switch.”

By: Elana McGraw

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