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Does Reading Books on Psychology Make You A Psychologist?

Does Reading Books on Psychology Make You A Psychologist?

Antonio Mulatu (MA)

Thorough knowledge on a subject matter and related professional experience would bring fruitful results and confidence in one’s work and professional life. A step wise journey of thousand miles enables you to see your destination in the yonder. If the journey is characterized as a “great leap forward’’, it would be indescribable, pretty much tantamount to trying to catch a descending cloud! What made me raise this issue is that, these days it is becoming a common trend to listen Ethiopian FM radio presenters acting like psychologists discussing different psychological issues on their programs. Mere radio presentations and discussing on common psychological issues may not mean much but the danger is when non-professionals act like psychologists without any training in psychology. This primarily refers to possession of adequate knowledge on the subject matter, hands-on experience on the issues, and observing ethical standards. More often than not, some of the aforementioned radio presentations at best sensationalize the subject for ordinary media consumption while presenters visibly lack the necessary knowledge.

Highly influenced by their academic background and field practices, many prominent psychologists had developed and introduced theories of psychology. Their works came to existence after they have conducted different researches and field studies.  This is to mean that to be called psychologist any person should start from the middle of nowhere. Plus, taking a shortcut to a professional status does not sound just and ethical. People are committing such kind of mistakes not because they don’t understand what makes one to be a psychologist; the drive to make money at any cost regardless of professionalism is to blame. . This act of abuse will create confusion on the audience regarding psychology by portraying psychology to mean a simple provision of advice and information. In reality this is not the case. Counseling is not merely providing information and advice. In addition, the manner in which the FM Radios are depicting psychology is hindering professional psychologists from carrying out their job accordingly.

Then, the question would be what makes an individual a psychologist (at least in the context of Ethiopia)? The answer is simple: studying psychology, having credential and certification. Moreover, reading books on psychology alone does not make one a psychologist..

One might argue that since these individuals are fond of psychology and they are doing their job based on genuine interest about the profession, there is nothing wrong. To me, any profession which starts from a middle point of view is like a small blanket: when you cover your head, the lower limbs remain naked, and the reverse is true.

I consider the work and profession of psychology as engineering. The former one is all about human engineering and deals with human behavior and the later one about construction. A good architectural design cannot guarantee a good physical construction. It takes a professional engineer to change the paper work into reality. For this it demands a deep understanding and knowledge of engineering. The same is true for human engineers, unless they are equipped with basic theories, paradigms and approaches of psychology, it is very difficult to understand human behavior and give explanation for certain phenomena. The backdoor cannot always tell us what the exact situation of a home environment looks like; in the same vein mere passion and shallow knowledge do not allow you to swim in the deepest waters of Psychology. Anybody could have ‘good’ and empathetic personality but in contrary unless this personality is shaped with virtue and professional ethics (initiated by formal education) cannot assure you to jump to the conclusion ‘Though I’m not professionally a psychologist, I can understand and help you with anything’. Superficiality leads to biases and mistakes which emanate from lack of well-grounded professional and work experience which later cause unprofessionalism.

Generally, unless you are a professional psychologist, never dare to act like a psychologist. And if you want to be a psychologist, first study psychology.  Reading several books on psychology is not a guarantee for you to be a psychologist. It is always better to start from the foundation else you would cause much harm to the needy.. I rebuke those pseudo-psychologist radio hosts for their superficial knowledge and inability to distinguish common sense from professional psychology. I hope that my views don’t convey any pessimistic message. Do not get me wrong: I believe that this world requires both optimists and pessimists, while the optimist invents a plane the pessimist will produce us a parachute to minimize risks in life.