–inspired by Maria of Ex II.
When my husband was a couple of years into his grad program in clinical psychology, a friend confessed to me that she had been horribly intimidated by him when she’d first met him. The reasons she gave: he sported a beard (post-BYU affectation; he started growing it precisely the instant he graduated) which he liked to stroke thoughtfully, and he often wore cardigan sweaters. This friend and her husband would occasionally come over for dinner or dessert and games, or we would go to their apartment for the same, and she described herself as having spent several uneasy evenings with us, sure that every word she spoke, every gesture she made betrayed her deepest secrets, that my husband’s characteristic calm, thoughtful demeanor meant he could see straight into her soul.
The reality, of course, was that my husband wasn’t even thinking about her, particularly. He was wholly, fiercely absorbed in whether Professor Plum had done it in the study with the revolver. Games, particularly games of strategy, trump everything for him. He plays Settlers of Catan with the complete and killer focus of a Grand Master, and he’s not above resorting to subtle and blatant manipulation of other participants and even outright bribery. Except insofar as it might reveal a weakness he can exploit, psychoanalyzing other participants is the last thing on his mind.
Being married to a psychologist has allowed me to experience our culture’s weirdly reverential feelings about psychologists secondhand. People tend to react to the news that I am so married in one of two ways: (1) nervousness: “I would hate to be psychoanalyzed all of the time!”; (2) wistful projection of personal desires: “Wow, your husband must be such a great listener.” But of course, the fact that my husband is a shrink does not mean that he is my shrink. When he gets home from work, he wants to put up his feet up and tell me about his day, like any doctor, lawyer, or garbage-truck driver. He doesn’t have a great deal of interest in the minute particulars of my neuroses, and he’s not an unending well of compassion. He rightly expects reciprocity.
Psychology is our culture’s magic, and psychologists are our priests. Being the shrink’s wife sometimes means that a little bit of the sparkly dust rubs off on me. I’ve been amazed at the personal and family problems people I’ve barely met will confide in me on that basis alone, it has sometimes seemed, hoping for some particles of secondhand wisdom to fall from my lips. (These hopes often make me sad, since I have no particles of wisdom whatsoever, first or secondhand.) Those of you who’ve seen the movie Mumford: think of the final scene, in which the fake psychologist is carted off to jail, and the driver starts in on his marital problems. There’s a reason the famous psychologist told people on airplanes he sold shoes. The poor guy wanted a little time off.
I’m often stunned at the assurance with which people will confidently assert that “a psychologist” has endorsed claim X, psychotropic Y, behavioral theory Z, disciplinary approach A. Psychology is like any other profession. There are the various schools (the East-Coast Freudians, the West-Coast humanists, the cognitive-behaviorists) and the rivalries, the grand and petty feuds, the theoretical disagreements and the office politics. Psychologists are no different from economists in the range of their opinions. It’s practically guaranteed that no two psychologists will see an issue or a case in precisely the same way. And of course, there are excellent psychologists, and there are terrible psychologists. Having interacted with psychologists-in-training socially for a number of years now, I’ve met some who strike me as people I would readily confide in, many who are probably perfectly adequate, and a few so troubled themselves they should be flushed from the profession. Let the patient/client/consumer (the term depends on one’s theoretical and economic model) beware.
Especially in a culture drowning in pop and TV psychology, I’d like to see us put a lot more thumbscrews to psychologists’ claims rather than, as we so often do, accepting them on the basis of authority alone. People concoct the most fantastical pseudo-psychological chicanery, often on the most questionable assumptions and with the slimmest foundations in any empirical evidence, and market it as so much snake oil. (Ah, now there’s a pleasant thought. The Pop Psychology/Self-Help section of every bookstore in the country is forcibly re-labeled “Snake Oil and Quackery.” Well, a girl’s gotta have her dreams. Or so I’ve been told by a number of grinning charlatans peddling snake oil.)
I adore my husband, I believe, more than anyone else alive. But he’s not magic. He’s just a psychologist.
So…how ’bout a little Settlers? The night is young!
- 8 May 2007