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Murder confessions and volatile behaviour: 6 things you didn't know about being a psychologist.

Murder confessions, an exposed penis, volatile behaviour and a Joey in a bag – this is part of the reality of being a psychologist today.

1. We are not mind readers, nor do we have a magic wand.

Dr Simon Kinsella, Clinical Psychologist of 27 years said that “probably the worst misconception is that psychologists should ‘just know’ what’s going on for someone, that we are so good at reading people that we should just be able to figure them out without any effort on the part of the client. We need clients to collaborate in their treatment, to try to be open, and to correct us if they feel we are misunderstanding them.”

Psychologist, Meredith Fuller added that some patients believe that “you can wave a magic wand and fix someone in one session” but in reality therapy “takes time.”

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Video by MMC

2. We do not sit around and chat all day – our job is complex and challenging.

*Liz, a psychologist of 15 years said that the job is “challenging and dynamic, and it can be very different every day.”

Being a psychologist involves much more that “sitting around chatting all day”, says Fuller and involves everything from lots of paperwork and note taking, prepping for each client, organising resources and homework, as well as specific challenges with patients themselves.

Liz told Mamamia that clients can often make the job quite difficult for various reasons. “Trying to make a connection with reluctant angry, dismissive, dysregulated clients, pressured to attend therapy is challenging.” There are also “thoughts of how am I going to talk to this person for the next 50-60 minutes, especially if you have additional variables like disruptive noisy children, passive aggressive partner, body odour, kids soiling their pants or mutism. “

Dr Kinsella said there are often very difficult clients who can be aggressive. “The worst types of patients are the extreme narcissists. They occasionally present for help, but can quickly turn on you and tell you what a hopeless therapist you are. They can be very vicious in the way they (verbally) attack. It can take a while to regain your confidence after such attacks.”

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3. No, we do not psychoanalyse everyone we meet- we are normal people just like you.

“We are ‘normal people’, our own lives are not necessarily perfect, we too get stressed, sick sad, mad, fail and have ruptures in relationships,” Liz told Mamamia.

For psychologists there is often a misconception that they are their job while this is definitely not the case.

People think that whenever we meet someone of we are at a party we “psycho analyse everyone we meet” Fuller said. “We are definitely not analysing everyone we meet, not our friends, or colleagues, or family,” Liz added.

what is a psychologist
" We too get stressed, sick sad, mad, fail and have ruptures in relationships.” Image: Getty.

4. We see therapists too.

“Psychologists are encouraged to see their own therapists to better understand themselves and how their patients are affecting them," said Dr Fuller.

The profession can be “exhausting and mentally draining, sometimes it’s hard-carrying client struggles with you. The importance of balancing helping others and self-care is a priority,” Liz explained.

*Mel, a psychologist of seven years said “the work can be depressing and anxiety provoking at times and in worst scenarios can have traumatising effects. Particularly if not supported by good supervision and self-care.

“Because of this we need to talk to a colleague or supervisor about our own struggles we have working with some clients.”

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5. We see strange and funny things.

Dr Kinsellea said he once had “a client who always carried a lot of bags with her. Half way through a session a kangaroo popped it’s head out of the bag. It was a joey, and the woman was a volunteer wildlife rescuer”.

Liz said “One day whilst working within a mental health service I was allocated a young man whom I had not yet met. He attended the clinic for his initial meeting with me as I brought him into the therapy room, he quickly pulled down his pants, leaving himself exposed. I asked him what he was doing, and that unclothing was not necessary nor appropriate. He responded by informing me he was expecting an injection by the nurse. I explained that was not me and that the goal today was to talk about his situation/mental health. He re-dressed and we proceeded to continue with our first session."

Meredith said she has seen “so many” weird and funny things in her time practising. One odd incident that stands out happened to her husband, also a psychologist. “My husband had a patient whose partner murdered someone the day before. She told this to him in their session. My husband convinced her to have him confess to the police which he did.”

6. We hear horrible things but love our jobs.

Psychologists deal with a wide variety of patients and some can share some devastating, horrible and traumatic experiences.

“Probably the hardest things are dealing with family members who’ve lost loved ones to suicide, or helping people who have a child who is dying of health problems,” Dr Kinsella said. Another more shocking case though was one of “Munchausen’s disorder by proxy. The mother of a primary school age child kept presenting her child for treatment of “schizophrenia”. The child had no symptoms of schizophrenia (and would have been the youngest patient ever with that condition). The motivation for the mother was to get attention for herself.”

Fuller said that she once a patient come in who was suicidal. “He had a car of guns and wanted to suicide and take others out too.” After an in depth session he said he “felt so much better” and decided against his course of action.

Despite the challenges, Dr Kinsella said that “being a psychologist is a privilege. People let you into their lives and place a great deal of trust in you. A close second is seeing people come through difficult times and flourish.”

Shona Hendley, Mother of Goats, Cats and Humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion.

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