Psychology is very much a victim of its own success. The uptake of ideas, techniques and language in contemporary society is prodigious. On the plus side it is possible that some people may be more sensitive and empathic towards the different psychological issues of themselves and even others and therefore better equipped to help when necessary. On the more negative side, however, as with all kinds of knowledge, unless it is combined with wisdom and integrity it can be distorted, harmful and manipulative.
I rarely go through an entire day without observing what I call ‘the misappropriation of psychology’. Whether it is an unbalanced and disproportionately negative news programme or article, a commercially motivated and dishonest advertisement or business venture or just everyday talk; it happens all the time in a multitude of ways.
You may wonder what triggered these thoughts, in other words, you’re asking one of my favourite questions: “why now?” Maybe, in this pandemic-fuelled catastrophising of mental health, I have heard one too many perfectly functional person talk about their ‘phobia’ or some money-making venture claiming to ‘care’ about people’s well-being. The former is a good example of the dramatising and trivialisation of what is actually a serious clinical disorder that, by definition, impedes every aspect of an individual’s everyday life. The latter is just cashing in on people’s need for kindness and love.
As a psychologist I am sensitised to the type of language, the style of communication and the content of what people say and don’t say. I’ve noticed, ever since the pandemic began, two things especially: firstly, there is a huge increase in ‘psychopathology talk’ from people about themselves and about others and the second thing is that, try as you might, it is harder and harder to tune out from such talk.
I imagine readers asking: “So what?”, another very useful question. My main reason is to hopefully reassure others who are concerned and to put things into perspective. We live in an age saturated in psychology so it’s to be expected that during a major health epidemic the spectre of mental ill health will loom large and yet, look around, life is going on.
Perhaps we can all try to notice more the mental health that is so evident in the many ways people are adapting in their everyday lives through their work, their relationships and their attempts to look after themselves physically and mentally. We need to look at the evidence within the detail of our own personal lives and weigh this up against the barrage of negative public reporting and be curious about the possible motivations behind this. Sadly, it is so often the case that financial and political gain is involved but we can take heart through looking at the smaller, more personal picture and resist the pressure to :“take the entire world into our heads.” Maybe psychology can help here but only that which is coming from an ethical and fully informed basis. In my next four posts I am going to share a few thoughts on how we can look after our own psychology and through doing so, help others to whom we are connected. .