Advice, Education, Health, Learning, Life, Living, Mental and Emotional Health, Teacher, Teaching

One Good Reason to Help People

SUMMARY: Psychologists treating their patients might be curing themselves by doing so.  This seems related to the often remarked upon fact that teachers learn subjects they teach especially well compared to subjects they don’t teach.

(About a 2 minute read)

Sometime in my sophomore or junior year at university some 40 years ago, I began to notice something.  All the psychology students — at least the ones who planned to go into clinical practice — were a bit messed up, a bit more dysfunctional than seemed the average student.

At first I was suspicious that I might be misjudging them, but when I spoke with others about it, they usually agreed with me.  Then one day, I was talking with a psyche student and she brought it up on her own.  It was a common joke among psyche students, she said, that they were more messed up than the people they would treat upon graduation.

I filed it all away under the heading of “curiosities”, and left it at that for many years. But sometime around mid-life I would now and then come across a therapist in the Springs, and I began to notice that, while the young ones fit the stereotype, the older ones seemed to be among the healthier people on the planet.

But why was that?  Once I began asking the question, it didn’t take me long to speculate that it might come down to either or both of two things.  First, I could guess that psychologists most likely became patients of other psychologists.  After all, if you know you have some problems, and you believe in your discipline to help with them, why wouldn’t you make use of your colleagues to help you solve those problems?

But another reason occurred to me as well.  Namely, that there might be something in helping others that could come back to help you yourself.  Trying to cure someone of depression, for instance, might work to help you with yours.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that second reason comported well with my own experience. By mid-life, I was frequently being asked for advice — usually about relationships, love, and sex, but sometimes other more general life topics.  What I saw was that giving advice — no more than merely giving advice — helped me to take it myself.

It didn’t even matter if the other person took my advice.  It seemed I was learning more from giving it than I had learned in learning it in the first place.

Of course, all my life, I had heard that teachers learn more about a subject trying to teach it than they do merely studying it.  But it had not before occurred to me that psychologists could heal themselves by trying to help others.

The one catch, of course, is that your advice or help needs to be accurate and useful.  I don’t think offering people quack remedies is going to boomerang back to your own benefit.

Questions? Comments?

 

14 thoughts on “One Good Reason to Help People”

  1. Ha! This reminds me of the first psychologist I saw. She’d told a friend of mine – who was suffering depression which later developed into full-blown psychosis – to pull her socks up. She’d twiddled her fingers while another friend collected one phobia after another. It didn’t bode well. On my third visit to her I told her that I’d given up smoking in the previous week. She asked me why. I explained that I no longer cared to smoke. I was so depressed that nothing mattered any more. she opened her filing cabinet and pulled out tobacco and papers and tried to make me accept a roll-up. While she rolled her cigarette, she ranted, saying that I could do whatever I liked – my mother (who had nothing to do with it) had no right to tell me I couldn’t smoke. She lit the roll-up. By now she was shouting about how her mother had tried to control her, but she wouldn’t be controlled. After that, every visit turned into a rant about her mother. At some point she said I didn’t need to see me any more. I don’t know which one of us she thought was healed, but a few years after that I spotted her in town. She’d had a child, and she was as mad as a bucket of monkeys raving at the poor kid. By that time I had turned my experience into a funny story, but at the time I was traumatized by her behaviour.

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      1. She wasn’t popular with her colleagues, but to be fired from a job like that I think you have to be found guilty of gross misconduct. Forty years ago, Brits didn’t like to go through official channels to complain about their treatment, especially those suffering from depression. Stiff upper lip, old chap. One doesn’t complain. It’s simply not cricket.

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