Both therapists and practicing psychologists get asked a lot of regular questions by both friends and strangers. It’s funny to me that these questions come up regularly, because I’m not sure a plumber or an astrophysicist gets a similar grilling.
What are some of the questions most therapists and psychologists get asked? And how do they usually answer them?
Are You Psychoanalyzing Me Right Now?
This is by far one of the most common questions a psychiatrist or psychologist gets asked. It comes from the mistaken belief that a therapist or psychologist is always seeking out the ulterior motives for how people are acting or what they are saying. The answer is nearly always, “No.”
The fact is, being a good therapist is hard work. Therapists labor to understand not only their patient, but the patient’s background, significant life experiences, and what their current thinking is like. Putting all those details together paints a cohesive picture of the patient, one the therapist works with during therapy to help them overcome their concerns.
This is not some superpower a therapist can just beam at a stranger and know everything about them. (Although it would be cool if it were.)
You Must Be Rich, Right?
Somehow it became the conventional wisdom that psychologists and psychiatrists (and by extension, most therapists) are making a financial killing off of doing psychotherapy. The truth of the matter is that unless you’re doing a very specific kind of therapy (psychoanalysis) working within a large urban environment (think Manhattan or LA), you’re not making a huge six-digit salary. Most helping professionals making a decent living, with psychiatrists the highest paid of them all. But most therapists don’t think of themselves as being “rich,” and beginning therapists often struggle financially.
In short, the vast majority of therapists don’t do psychotherapy because it pays extremely well. There are many other professions that pay far better for far less education. Most therapists are doing psychotherapy because they want to help others.
Do You Take Your Client’s Problems Home With You?
The surprising answer is, “Yes.” Although therapists learn through their training, education, and experience on how to compartmentalize doing psychotherapy and keeping it largely separate from their personal lives, it would be a misnomer to suggest that therapists don’t bring their work home with them.
It varies from client to client, of course, but there are very few therapists who can breezily leave all of their clients’ lives at the office. It is part of what makes being a good therapist so difficult, and one of the main drivers of therapist burnout. The best therapists learn to integrate what they do within their personal lives, while keeping solid boundaries.
What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist & a Psychiatrist?
If you are one of these two professions, you get asked this question all the time. The simple answer is, “a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who, in America, spends most of their time prescribing medications for psychiatric disorders, while a psychologist goes to graduate school and focuses on learning how to do different kinds of psychotherapy and research on human behavior. Psychologists don’t prescribe medications, although some specially-trained psychologists in a few states can.”
In countries other than the U.S., psychiatrists often still do more psychotherapy in addition to prescribing. But in the U.S., psychotherapy is mostly conducted nowadays by psychologists and lesser-trained therapists (such as clinical social workers).
Do You Ever Get Tired of Listening to People’s Problems All Day?
Yes. While therapists have extensive training on how to balance listening to a client with attending to their own needs, it doesn’t mean there still aren’t days where the job is overwhelming and tiring. While a good therapist gets more out of doing psychotherapy than they give, even good therapists can suffer from a bad day where they are simply tired of listening.
Good therapists learn to brush off these bad days, just as a professional would do in any other job. They also know to take such days as a potential warning sign that they may be getting overwhelmed by work or stress, and need to engage in more self-care. Or maybe it’s a sign that they just need a vacation.
Remember, therapists are human too. And while their training and experience helps prepare them for the challenges of doing daily psychotherapy, they aren’t going to be perfect 100% of the time.