Reflections from a Young Psychologist

The Lonely Way: Reflections from a Young Psychologist

by Victor Morasse

When I started university in 2007, I didn’t know it would turn out to be so lonely. For me, becoming a psychologist was mostly about the very serious business of understanding everything about the human mind, and having answers that nobody else had. Psychology was a science and I remember very well that I thought I could master it completely.

I spent seven years in school, studying every approach and reading about many theories. I have been taught about diagnosis, psychopathology, treatment, evidence-based practice, CBT (and its efficacy of course), research methods and so many other things that were supposed to help me in my professional life.

Now, professional life has arrived. I’m a certified psychologist. I have spent the last year or so speaking with people about their lives, their fears, their problems, their hopes and their solaces. It’s a great job, as fulfilling and full of bliss as I had expected. But every single day, when I try to understand and sometimes help people who enter my office, I have the same reflection.

This is not what I have learned in school.

Psychotherapy (I’m still searching for a better term, since the word ‘therapy’ involves thinking that there is sickness somewhere) is not about knowing everything. It’s about humanity, doubts and uncertainty. It’s about reaching out and reaching in, authenticity and honesty. It’s the most demanding thing I have ever done, because I’ve fully involved myself in this work; I use my own feelings, scratch away at my existential issues and try to care as deeply as I can for people who choose to enter my office. Sometimes, I know exactly what helps and what doesn’t. Sometimes, I have no idea. In a very odd way, it’s the most professional attitude I can think of.

But it is also the lonely way.

I feel lonely every time I read the newspaper, because most discussions about mental health revolve around diagnoses and illnesses. Nobody seems to realize how silly it is to use statistics and measurements for invalid concepts. Yet when I try to explain this, I always feel clumsy and obscure, as if someone had stolen the right words to speak clearly about those things.

I feel lonely every time I speak with colleagues. Over the years, the vocabulary of mental illness has become completely obsolete to me. I realize I don’t need to use it with my clients (luckily, in Québec, most insurance companies don’t demand an official DSM diagnosis for reimbursement). Part of this model’s weakness is its explanatory power, since it rarely takes personal history into account. The fact that emotions, thoughts and behaviors are transformed into “symptoms” makes no sense to me, a sad mockery of medicine based on the personal opinion of so-called experts.

I know that, if you’re reading this, chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about. Mad in America has been my ideological refuge for a long time, full of bright ideas about how things should and could be different. But most “clinical discussions” I am a part of use the words of the DSM as foundations for comprehension, diagnosis and treatment. I shouldn’t be surprised, after all this is what was taught to me in university. This is what is promoted in institutions all around North America. So, when I speak my mind, as I said, I feel very lonely.

I want to fight back and do something about this. I have turned down two job offers because of my ideas. I don’t want to stop being idealistic, and I hope I will forever be too young for that. At the same time, challenging the existing model is not easy. Powerful and respected people have built careers and lives out of these concepts. I’m searching for a way to tell them it has no scientific value and has caused more harm than good. I’m searching for a way to make a whole system realize it has been living in cognitive dissonance for a very long time. I want to do this without an open war, without a useless confrontation of egos.

So, I keep walking the lonely way. This text is an attempt to get a little company on my path.

I have started a book project. (It’s in French, by the way. Another obstacle on my route is the fact that many people in Québec don’t read or understand English very well.) I’m calling it “Porter Préjudice”, and I will offer you the pleasure of finding out what it means by yourselves. I have divided the book in ten chapters, each of them exposing a lie of the medical model. Here is a preliminary chapter list:

  1. We can establish valid diagnoses in mental health
  2. The progression of science is what allows us to better recognize, diagnose and treat mental illnesses
  3. A chemical imbalance in the brain is recognized as the origin of mental illness
  4. Psychiatry has always been a medical discipline using good science and proven techniques and treatments
  5. We understand the mechanism of action of pharmaceutical drugs mechanisms and we know they have a positive effect in the long-term
  6. Pharmaceutical companies and professional associations use objective science in the development and marketing of their products and treatments
  7. Depression is a discrete illness (a neurobiological or neurodevelopmental disorder) and antidepressants correct a chemical imbalance in the brain
  8. ADHD is also a discrete illness and stimulants work to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain
  9. There is no alternative model to the medical model
  10. People who critique the medical model have no empathy and deny the suffering associated with those conditions.

 

I know, that looks like an all-you-can-eat menu. I tried to remain more specific, but there is so much to share on this subject that I couldn’t reduce the list any further. If you think you can help by pointing out useful information, sharing ideas or even writing something about any of those chapters, please feel free to contact me. I would be very happy to get any help you can offer.

The biomedical model is taking away humanity from us. By transforming our emotions into “symptoms” we have to numb, it takes resilience away. By transforming our thoughts into “symptoms” that need to be put back in the box of “normal”, it takes creativity away. By transforming our behaviors into “symptoms” that need to be fixed so that we can all be the same “normal” beings, it takes diversity away. We will need those things in the next few decades more than ever before in the history of humankind. I choose to fight this model with all my heart because I refuse the world it implies. I walk the lonely way every day, hoping it can make all the difference.

Copyright © 2015 Mad In America Inc
All photos published are licensed under Creative Commons Zero


Gary Ruds

3 years ago

I totally agree with you Dr. The way the world stigmatize those with mental illnesses because I truly believe that they don’t understand how unique that individual are. In my opinion, we all have some form of “mental illness”, some of us just have better ways of handling them (e.g coping skills, self-control, etc.). That doesn’t give us any reason to try and make those who are as capable of controlling their emotions feel less of a human being. So Dr I stand with you to help wake up the world and give them the knowledge they need in order to keep this world from losing all of it’s unique creativity, which is in ALL of mankind, whether classified as a mental disorder or not.

Sincerely,

Gary Russ Jr
Mental Health Tech (Aspiring PsyD)

Modern Psychologist

3 years ago

Thank you for your note Gary.

Rose Miletic

2 years ago

Dr. Morasse, transforming emotions, behaviors, and thoughts into symptoms, is how a person outside of the subject tracts abnormality. You’re suggesting the manual requires a critique? I think it also lies heavily on clinical judgment, which is not something you are directly taught in school, I agree. It could be suggested that you are experiencing loneliness because the body of your peers are not using empathic strategies or skill sets to manage diagnosis. I’m interested in what you have to say.

Christine Titus

2 years ago

Your walk is not as lonely as you think. I boldly assume that your words resonate deeply with many. I feel I have no authority to speak out loud on such topics at this point in my psychological journey, because I am merely a 2nd year in a PsyD program, yet your words give me courage. From the beginning of my training, many of your points surfaced in my head and weighed heavy on my heart. I too, do not wish to wage war, but to have an open dialogue about your many valid points – to voice concerns, be heard, and give change a chance. You are not alone…

Ym psyd

2 years ago

You should have studied psychodynamic theory instead of focusing on a medical model such as cbt.

Robert Hammel

2 years ago

Brilliant piece. Thank you.

Carly Snow

2 years ago

As an evolving Graduate student and future Psychotherapist, I am also noticing the path I am walking is excruciatingly lonely at times. I believe there are others like us and it is time to tend softly to one another as we take a chance for the soul to truely live free.

Within the medical model, I also feel very strongly–a cringing face. Our ideas, our personal and very unique selves that which have been labeled, categorized, and interpreted to be something that needs to be fixed, taken away, and spoken of in a distancing way–away from humanness. Your words and gentle thoughts are soothing and encouraging. I am with you –with the intention to nourish and speak to the soul–cheers to the depths of the unknown.

Jean Reyes

2 years ago

An interesting read. Although I am not a psychologist I was shown a path that pointed me in the way to best understand how we reason and the hidden dynamics that psychologist frequently visits, yet may not entirely understand. Bert Hellinger’s work with Family constellations widened my perspective on family systems and their interactions. I don’t think I may be able to explain it, but you can do you it own research and perhaps get something out of it.

Laura Olivos

2 years ago

You have resonated within me the mantra to never stop questioning and to never assume our work is done in evolving as not only a professional but a human being. You aren’t as lonely as you think. Thank you for sharing your story.

Alexa

2 years ago

I have never left a comment before on anything and in doing so now feel I risk being judged against the psychological “experts.” It started beforehand, but after the past year of working with the Hispanic community and hearing the entirely different complaints they have surrounding mental illness and resposnses (not to say that these are perfect either), I think we underestimate how much these diagnoses are interpersonally caused, maintained, and need to be treated. Attachment and the genetically wired needs we have for relationships have been misdiagnosed and treated as individual ailments to be treated individually. The focus on the individual over and above community is not valid at best and at worst will cause detriment to a couple generations. I say this as someone newly coming to this realization sadly, but still new in my career and so filled with hope.

José F. González Pabón

2 years ago

Greetings Victor:
Your essay is not only a refreshing note in our current dominant landscape of mainstream clinical psychology, it is a relevant and significant indictment of the main theoretical and conceptual fallacies masquerading as sound empirical ground legitimizing current clinical practice. Your list of issues to be addressed in your forthcoming book represents content areas where a critical examination is not only needed but required reading. As for myself, I am a retired clinical psychologist with over 43 years of experience who, like you, had to struggle with incongruencies between formally acquired knowledge at graduate training and my strongly humanitarian role as an adult psychotherapist with ‘counter-culture’, clinical approaches and perspectives. Naturally, it was difficult to hold formal and informal conversations with more conventionally oriented colleagues. Nonetheless, I was frequently surprised by how close their more spontaneous views and perceptions were to my own but, nonetheless, they acritically continued to practice according to the dominant mores of the field and seldom spent time inquiring further and/or questioning the assumptions or principles governing their practices. Similar to your plans, my perceived aloness was generously mitigated by dedicating efforts in writing two books ( written and published in spanish, the language of my culture) where I formally illustrated my clinical performance together with the humanist-existential-analytic-narrative knowledge and experiences informing my work. Thus, my best wishes for your journey of resistance. Your seed will reap and resonate favorably with a large group of colleagues that right now may be standing doubtful, experiencing mixed felings or are simply surprised at their discovery that much of current bio- genetic- neuroscientific- medicalized standards are simply not as sound and/or warranted as it appears.

P. Forget

1 year ago

We so need people like you. Surtout en français, surtout au Québec! ^_^ Please, don’t stop your fight.

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