When we make a career choice, we almost always have a good reason for that.
A medical doctor to save lives, a lawyer to bring justice to innocent people, a teacher to help set young people on the right path. However, motivations can go beyond these. A medical doctor might have chosen to become a doctor because he or she lost a family member from a preventable disease and wants to address health inequity in the society. A lawyer might have had suffered extreme injustice at the hands of authorities and doesn’t want the same thing to happen to anyone. A dearth of good teachers in school and college could be someone’s motivation to become a good mentor for the upcoming generation.
Most psychologists and psychology students say the reason they chose psychology is because the subject is very interesting. That is indeed true. But it’s only half the story. Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. As much as we want to understand the collective behavior and mental processes of human beings, we want to understand ourselves too as individuals. Maybe a decision to study psychology in the first place is because we want to understand and help ourselves as well, and not just other people. But sometimes life happens. We hit rock bottom. There are so many triggers we can’t keep track of. In those moments we forget everything we learned in psychology lectures and textbooks. In other words, we fail psychology. And in some of the cases, we are likely to suffer from mental illness(es). That’s the kind of burden people who are associated with the field of psychology have to live with. They are expected never to feel any negative emotion because they are expected to have all the answers to questions that revolves around their behavior and mental processes. Human beings experience both positive and negative emotions. No one is immune to feeling sad, rejected, angry, depressed, anxious, etc. Not even psychologists. Medical doctors take care of their patients but that doesn’t mean they are unlikely to suffer any kind of physical illnesses themselves. Psychologists too feel vulnerable from time to time because vulnerability is an inevitable part of human existence. And psychologists should not feel bad for something that’s universal among human beings.
Perhaps, there is something psychologists and psychology students can learn from the unnecessary burden they feel they have to live with. By asking the fundamental question, ‘Why did I choose to study psychology?’ there is hope for getting some perspective when times are hard and difficult. The question should be asked with self-compassion, of course. In order to better explain what I mean let me share a personal experience. When I came to Edinburgh, I had a decent amount of idea that things were going to be a bit complicated because it wasn’t the first time I was away from home. However, I was proven wrong in many ways. I felt socially isolated to an extent that it affected my mental well-being. Someone who is shy, an introvert and an international student would closely relate to it. Things started to get better when I forced myself to ask the ‘why’ question: why did I choose psychology in the first place? Why did I decide one day to leave economics and pursue psychology? I realized it’s one thing to understand a subject intellectually and it’s another to apply it in real life. I was more inclined towards the former. In other words, I failed psychology. It did not take me much time to start practicing what I was learning during the lectures and in textbooks. I felt liberated. I got a better sense of my ‘self’. I started understanding much more deeply why I was behaving the way I was and how my brain was trying to trick me into thinking peripheral things. Of course, I didn’t do it all by merely asking a question. I had full support of my family. Nevertheless, that single question helped.
Is it wrong to engage with a belief when we know well enough that it is completely irrational? Should we feel bad that we are not able to liberate ourselves from it even when we have a decent amount of knowledge as to how cognitive behavioral therapy works? I disagree.
As mentioned before, we are humans. Sometimes it is inevitable to miss out on practicing what we are preaching/want to preach. As long as we are mindful of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviors, we are better off. No person on this earth is perfect, least of all those who pursue psychology. What is needed is self-compassion and a realization that people who study psychology have an ‘added advantage’ because they understand the intricacies of human behavior and mental processes. And that added advantage is something to be grateful for and it’s something we can use for our own mental well-being.
If you would like to talk to someone about your mental health right now, here are some resources that can be a good starting point: