Psychology is under threat! But not from the usual suspects of natural scientists or from those who see the study the mind as an aimless pursuit.

Today, Psychology is under threat from those who practice it themselves, more specifically, the clinical psychologists. Although, to be fair, I should be calling them certified nonsense-talkers masquerading as clinicians.

Let me explain where my disdain for a lot of the modern clinical/counselling psychologists comes from. As my regular readers know, last year, I was in conversation with a lot of people who had sought the help of psychologists to understand their experiences better. One of the most important things that I noticed in their experiences was how unethically and irresponsibly so many of the psychologists that these people visited were behaving.

“The therapist just told me that I should eat more healthy food and sleep on time and I was like, any one could have told me this.” One of the people I talked to said.

“She was like, why do you keep using the word depressed? It’s a very heavy word and why do you insist on using it over and over?” said another.

These experiences were numerous and unending. Almost all the people I talked to in these regards shared an underwhelming experience with a psychologist where they were judged and shamed for what they were going through. The job of a psychologist is to be non-judgemental and empathic. Yet, a lot of the psychologists practicing today know or understand neither of the two words.

This has two main reasons, 1) the lack of central certification for therapists who are qualified and 2) lack of accountability for people who misuse the trust of their clients. The consequences of these factors can be destructive beyond repair for a discipline that is just beginning to take roots in modern India.

  1. Anyone can call themselves a Psychologist/Therapist/ Counsellor

This is something I have faced both at a personal and a professional level. In order to call yourself a medical doctor, you need a certificate and license from the Indian Medical Association, the same goes for practicing law and for practically every other organized profession except for Psychology.

Anyone can be a psychologist. It doesn’t matter if you have a month long training program from an obscure ‘Guru’ or 7 years of arduous studying from some of the most reputed colleges in India. Professionally, the two of you are the same.

I still remember when I ran into a psychologist who had done a simple one-year long, distance learning diploma in counselling psychology and was now claiming to be a professional psychologist. The fees to see this ‘psychologist’ was close to Rs. 4000 per hour! This was her fees when psychologists who actually cross all the hoops and spend their time learning about therapeutic techniques on average charge close Rs 500-1500 per hour.

In fact, there are companies which are capitalizing on this loophole and offering Counsellor training for a few hours at just Rs. 99. Spend 99 bucks and become a counsellor! How beautiful the destruction of these counsellors would be when they enter the field? How traumatic the experiences of people who have the misfortune of visiting these untrained souls thinking of themselves as saviour angels?

  • The lack of accountability and ethical application

Students who have learned about counselling in their bachelor’s or master’s degrees know how important it is to have empathy for your client and being non-judgemental towards them. Sadly, that rarely translates to actual practice of the two in the clinical setting. The values and morality of a therapist, too often lead to judgement on part of the counsellor and the client can see that.

Imagine you are a person who is visiting a counsellor for the first time. You are scared of what it will be like. You are scared of what would happen if anyone else came to know of this visit. You are afraid of what you will end up saying and what will be received. This is your first try at improving yourself and you are understandably nervous. You overcome all the stigma and all the fear to visit the counsellor, only for them to say,

“You need to try and live a healthier lifestyle. Have you tried meditation?”

Before you could even explain what has happening to you, you received a judgement on what you should do. A sentence that you had heard already from everyone. Never again will you be able to visit a psychologist with the same trust. You have lost your faith in the practice.

Psychology in India today is full of absolute trash wrapped around in a beautiful bowtie and there need to be efforts made to ensure that this trash gets cleaned up. We need to take some steps. We need to call out our colleagues and our friends who are behaving unethically. We need to call out people who are moulding their own life experiences into a form of psychotherapy.

Psychology in India is under threat and if we don’t clean up our act, it wont be long before the layman gives up on it altogether.