High school was drawing to a close and it was time to decide a major for university. The goal was always to do computer science but I had fallen out of love with it and preferred sociology. My friend Milton suggested that I do psychology and the rest, as they say, was history.
It seemed like such a perfect fit. It had to do with people (like sociology) but went more into behaviour and why we think the way we do. But there was a shadow reason. I knew there were some things that were off about me, but they were things I didn’t have the courage to talk to a stranger about. I didn’t even know where to begin and I thought that that was a problem.
So I decided that psychology would be great because I could learn how to diagnose and treat myself, and avoid strangers that I didn’t trust and were probably hacks anyway. I didn’t want my life in the hands of someone else. That thought is a good indication of someone who probably does have some problems.
In my final year, I was asked to give a speech to the first year psych students who had just finished orientation. I made a prediction. “Some of you are here because you genuinely want to help people, some of you are here because you want to get some therapy and make a career out of it, and some of you want both.” I was surprised that so many people nodded and smiled for the second and third points.
But the burning question is, was it worth it?
Alan Watts once made the point that one cannot outsmart oneself.
“You cannot teach a selfish person to be unselfish… Whatever a selfish person does, whether that be giving his body to be burned or giving all he possesses to the poor, he will still do it in a selfish way of feeling. And he will be able to do this with extreme cunning, marvellous self-deception and deception of others besides.”
Prior to my speech with the first year students, I knew that I wasn’t the only one who studied psychology because something was wrong with them. I saw it in the behaviours of my classmates, and I’m sure they saw it in me. We were all in on it.
But because we were damaged people trying to get fixed, our approach to studying personality theory, abnormal psychology and the like yielded a couple of hypochondriacs, demonstrations of defence mechanisms and group meetings with shadows.
So no, studying psychology was a horrible substitute for therapy. To this day, I wonder what would be if I had just gone to the shrink on campus a few times per week instead of palling around with my friends as we ripped on each other and checked out girls.
I didn’t even stick around to get my Master’s. I went to work as a researcher a year after I graduated. I realised that what I had thought I’d get in school wasn’t what I expected, and I didn’t want to be in school anymore. Moreover, school took a subject I loved and crammed it down my throat. I like quesadillas but I don’t liked to be choked with them.
I decided that I’d learn on my own and that life would probably teach me what I needed to know about myself and what I could do or learn to be healthier.
That has proven to be right on the money.
Psychological principles and nomenclature that I learnt in school helped me a lot and afforded me the opportunity to help others who were very much in the dark about psychology due to its taboo nature that it’s all about the crazies and mad people. But life also showed me that we’re all a little mad, some more than others, but we’re all fighting trauma of some kind.
I’ve been wanting to go to therapy for years now, but oddly enough, once I make the decision to go, I end up solving my problem. And because I’m no longer feeling a malaise, I don’t think to go. Some would say that I should still book an appointment, but it’s difficult to wrap my head around going to the doctor when I’m no longer sick.
Buuuut I can see that it couldn’t hurt either. As Watts alluded to, it’s hard for someone with the sickness to alleviate the sickness themselves. Even if they could, there could be some other issue that they miss. It’s good to talk to people.
Earlier I had said that I didn’t want to put my mind and my life in the hands of a stranger, but I didn’t even want to do that with friends. I kept things to myself until I bled — the tragic tale of so many men. I’m thankful that I externalise my thoughts now and I realised that I entrust my life in the hands of strangers every day for transportation, food, shelter and connection. That’s what a society is.
So if anyone’s thinking that studying psychology on your own will make you better, think again. It may help you, but if you think something’s wrong with you, why would you think that your problem/s wouldn’t manifest itself when you’re trying to be the solution?