Disclaimer: The author is not a psychologist.
A recent conversation with a family member has left me horrified. This person, a fairly distant relative, had come home and I (obviously) had to sit around and make polite conversation. He asked me what my work entailed. I started to explain.
But he didn’t let me finish even my first sentence, which went along the lines of, “It’s to do with writing and psychology…”
He heard the word psychology and that was it. The mention provoked him immensely. In short, he was of the opinion that psychology as a discipline was a scam. He felt that this “sudden interest” in psychology has come from the “western influences”. According to him, this big, bad “western influence” was trying to convince people that there is something inherently wrong with us, and that “common sense” and “talking to friends” can solve most issues.
There is no need for psychology, he said, because the idea that “a person [psychologist] can inject something into your brain and you suddenly becoming happier or more confident makes no sense”.
That actually makes no sense. And that is because it doesn’t work like that at all. No psychologist or psychiatrist (yes, they’re different) will ever tell you that “injecting something into your brain” will make you a disorder-free person. This is no fantastical movie.
This person was against the study or practice of psychology because in his opinion, one cannot treat or improve oneself, or one’s condition, with the help of a discipline that is a western concept. He compared it to allopathy and English medicines, arguing that the British successfully took over India only because they managed to firmly establish their own superiority, and ensure that Indians believed in it.
A colonial context was brought into augment the validity of his argument. Yes, the colonisers established their supposed superiority to withhold power and control their colonies. Agreed. He did quote some facts to support his vehement opposition against allopathy (I do not know enough to comment on the subject, but he did have facts, or so it seemed. I prefer to refrain from addressing topics that I do not know sufficiently about).
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I definitely know that this association between psychology and allopathy (or colonisation for that matter) is completely skewed. Psychological disorders are medical problems with a scientific basis to them. They aren’t mere consequences of the “western influence” in our lives. I don’t even know what people mean when they say “western influence”, especially in a context such as this one.
He was of the firm belief that there would be no psychological disorders if we didn’t try to emulate the West. This thought process, or more so a belief system in his case, is excruciatingly alarming. That an educated person with a child (a factor which brings in an additional sense of responsibility, I would assume) could speak like this is in itself frightening. The worst part was that he was trying to enforce his point-of-view. He wanted me to agree with what he was saying.
I understand that every single problem that crops up in our lives or minds does not have to necessarily have a medical basis to it. However, psychological disorders are clinical issues that mostly require some form of medical intervention. Trivialising them to this extent, and invalidating them only shows incredible levels of ignorance. When I tried explaining how it actually works like, he dismissed me immediately because apparently, “everybody justifies what they do”. The irony is that I do not even do this. I am not a psychologist. I just have a general awareness that every person ideally should.
He closed his arguments by stating that the disciplines which he and his spouse worked with were the core necessities of humanity (branches of engineering), while subjects like psychology and psychiatry were abstract and unbelievable. This line of thought was so painfully ridiculous that I could not bring myself to respond.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything about such an uninformed, warped perspective. I do acknowledge that we’re all entitled to have our own opinions, but this is not about opinions. It is about a gross lack of awareness, understanding, and empathy. It is a dangerous thought process to say the least.
I wanted to do something, and one of the only things at my disposal is some space to type. I’ve tried to use that to my advantage. I request (and thank) every person who has taken time out to read this piece to please spread awareness about mental health and its significance in any little way possible.
Let’s do what we can to eradicate thoughtlessness.
Monica Rajgopal is a student of literature from Bangalore.