Will the Real Shrink Please Stand

My Aunt Alice asked me to speak to a group of Hadassah women. She told me that the payment would be seventy five dollars. I accepted the offer, although I was dismayed with the fee. Alice then informed me that it was traditional for the guest speaker to donate the fee back to the Hadassah. At that point I was livid, though outwardly quite calm. I agreed, as I frequently do despite my total commitment to the opposing point of view. She didn’t even wince when she asked me to agree to the charitable donation, as if she knew of my basic passive-aggressive character. Alice took advantage of me, her favorite nephew.

I entitled the talk, “Reflections of a Shrink.” When I told her the title, she remarked, “…but I thought that only psychiatrists were called shrinks.” That did it! I smiled, even laughed at her verbal abuse. My outrage was totally smothered in charm and wit. Of course I was a “shrink “. I had a Ph.D. and not an M.D., but nonetheless, at that time, I had been a “shrink “for 12 years. At that moment I was quite proud of the title, “shrink “.

My aunts’ naiveté was forgivable, but I was left with several revived, yet unresolved conflicts. Foremost was the desire for the real title of Doctor. By that I mean the Doctor of Medicine, i.e. M.D. I had been granted a Doctor of Philosophy in 1969. The title sounded grand, but I had never taken a philosophy course. Besides, everyone knows that the only Doctor worthy of that title is the M.D. type. Veterinarians, optometrists, psychologists and rabbis are granted the title of Doctor, but there is something almost immoral about their use of the title; “Thou shalt not call thyself Doctor, unless thou hast laid bare a cadaver, and/or written a prescription.” (Quote from Hippocrates).

Another stressful monologue that I recited behind my eyes, were the implications of the word “shrink “. Witch doctors, cannibals, and voodoo priests were my images of head shrinkers. If I did anything to clients, it was mind expansion, and character enrichment, and not brain shrinkage. How did the word “shrink “become part of the lexicon of psychology and psychiatry? Perhaps “shrink” is derived from the Chinese, as in shrunk, as in, “My shirt is shrunk “as in the hand laundry sense of Chinese. Nevertheless, my Aunt Alice unknowingly raised serious concerns about popular confusions regarding psychologists and psychiatrists.

The initial confusion appears to be due to the shared first four letters, p-s-y-c-h. Both professions borrow from the Greek word, psyche; that is breath, life or soul. The ” trist ” in psychiatrist is derived from the Middle English word for sad, and Middle French, triste. That leaves us with Psychiatrists who ponder, “sad souls “. The “gist “in Psychologist is derived from the Latin, jacere, meaning more adjacent, or the essence of a matter. Enfin, the Psychologist concerns himself with the essence of souls. The linguistic approach clearly suggests that both Psychologists and Psychiatrists do not engage in “shrinking “anything.

There are several differences between the two disciplines that are noteworthy. Psychiatrists usually charge higher fees for a therapy session. Psychologists sometimes refer to their patients as clients. Psychiatrists never refer to their patients as anything other than patients. Psychiatrists can admit patients to a hospital mental ward, whereas Psychologists usually cannot. Psychologists administer and interpret intelligence and personality tests, and Psychiatrists give drugs. They have more drugs to administer, then Psychologists have tests. Many psychologists would gladly turn in their test kits for the right to prescribe drugs, and watch the ‘ cures ‘ roll in.

Every Psychologist envies the Psychiatrists prescription pad and the power it holds. One might ask, who came first, well I’ll tell you. At the beginning there were Philosophers, the likes of Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. Following that philosophical tradition, the “science “of human behavior evolved to be studied by Psychologists.

The treatment of mental diseases has traditionally been the province of the medical profession that is psychiatry. Historical events, such as the World War II, prompted the rapid emergence of the Clinical Psychologist as a “shrinker.”  There now exists an uneasy truce between the two professions, and peace will reign as long as the number of patients and, or clients remains high. In recent years, the Social Worker has joined the fray.  The competition for “sad souls” will be fierce should humankind achieve a greater measure of self-worth and good will.





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