Before the 1970’s, mental health issues were not spoken about by the general public. If an individual required help for conditions like anxiety, depression or schizophrenia they consulted a psychiatrist. The doctor was seen as the all-knowing guru who understood how to diagnose and treat.
Before the 1970’s, patients did not readily share their stories. In those days, there was shame attached to being mentally ill. Group sessions were new and there were no other forums in which to share.
The World Wide Web which has allowed information to be shared readily, globally and for free has changed all that. Social media and forums provide a space where people can document their psychological journeys. Facebook has proven that people love to share their lives with others as well as comment on and engage with their friends’ activities.
TV and radio hosts such as Oprah have brought into the open how many people suffer from anxiety and depression. Oprah was also masterful at sourcing experts who were media savvy and happy to be the expert on her show.
Self-publishing has enabled anyone and everyone to write a book and peddle it as a legitimate source of information. Publishing Houses in the past were relied on to have done due diligence and only publish legitimate stories. Blogging is the opportunity for every Tom, Dick and Harry to have their say and to get it out to millions of fans.
All of this has led to confusion and blurring of lines. Who is an expert? Who is handing out valid information or spinning a yarn? Who is endorsing a product because they are being paid and not because they truly believe in it? Who is sharing their story and presenting themselves as knowledgeable when, in fact, they only know their own truth?
My job is not to discredit others but to point you in a direction where you can be safe and secure knowing that what you are being told is solid.
Tips to source credible psychological information:
- Psychology is a science, not an art. This means that when a psychologist gives you advice it is based on research. Always check that the advice you are given is backed by research.
- A personal story makes a connection. Listen, enjoy, relate to the story by all means but do not necessarily follow the same path or believe it is the only path.
- Each person’s experience is unique and therefore may not suit you. In contrast, research means that large samples of subjects have been tested and the results are validated. The opinion of a psychologist is not the result of his/her own story but based on test scores of thousands of subjects worldwide.
Belinda is a blogger. She describes, in length, the terrible side effects she had when taking anti-depressant medication. This freaks out her readers – many of whom now want to go off the medication (which would be detrimental to them).
Belinda’s side effects are rare. Millions of people who are on the same medication globally have not had the same experience. Therefore, a doctor would be safe to tell one of these concerned readers to stay on the drug. He knows, based on research that the side effects experienced by Belinda are statistically unlikely to happen to the reader.
- An expert in the mental health area will have credentials. A psychologist must have at a least a 4 year degree from a reputable university. Since there are random colleges that call themselves universities, and second tier universities, even a psychologist’s degree can be checked out. Do not be shy to ask a psychologist where and when they studied.
- In addition to the basic 4 year undergraduate degree, in Australia psychologists who wish to practice therapy need to do a further 2 year practical in a placement, or a masters or doctorate degree. When someone is giving advice to anxiety sufferers they need to have completed any one of these pathways and had some practical experience. Obviously a psychologist with 5 years’ experience will have more knowledge than one with 6 months experience.
- Be very wary when buying a psychological product. Today one can buy CD’s to cure anxiety on late night TV. Those shows look exactly like the ones selling vacuum cleaners. Really??? Is that what psychological treatment has come to? Many professionals have sold themselves to promote a product to make big money. Check them out. What else do they do? Are they still in practice? How much are they being paid to say this CD works?
- I believe that face to face diagnosis and treatment is best because self-diagnosing is notoriously flawed. Even if you only go for an initial psychological assessment, it is worth it so that you pursue the correct treatment for your mental health condition.
- If you choose to receive online treatment, there are excellent online courses for anxiety run by reputable universities and hospital clinics.
- Psychologists are ethically not allowed to publish patient’s testimonials. If somebody is doing that, their ethics are questionable.
- Just because somebody says they are “The best psychologist in Sydney”, it does not mean it is true. In fact, it is ethically not permitted. It is permitted to give one’s degrees and credentials but never putting oneself as better than the competition.
- Credible professionals belong to their professional body which has a code of ethics. In Australia it is the APS, Australian Psychological Association.
- Do not be shy to ask questions. If you read something on the web, write to the author and ask for credentials. Otherwise feel free to contact me for my opinion.
- One last thing – “If it is too good to be true, it usually is”. Check what the majority of other psychologists are saying and you will find that there is a lot of consensus. The one who is the maverick, promising unrealistic cures in a way that is different to the way others do things, is usually not to be trusted.
It is wonderful to have the internet. It is incredible that patients today can glean information about their anxiety or depression from professionals who share their knowledge abundantly. However, the onus is on each of us to be discerning and responsible.