I’ve got a certificate in armchair psychology

The Guardian’s Lay Scientist blog has an excellent piece on the misguided and intrusive habit of getting psychologists to comment on the mental state of people in the public eye.

Although the media must take some responsibility for encouraging such crass and unhelpful speculation the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the psychologists and pseudo-psychologists who are happy to waffle for their fifteen minutes of fame.

There are two possibilities for a psychologist talking to the media about somebody’s mental health. Either they have treated the subject in a professional capacity, in which case the details should be confidential, or they haven’t, in which case they aren’t qualified to comment….

But forget about my opinions – if you’ll excuse me quoting myself, let’s go back to what the British Psychological Society told me about their guidance last year in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death:

“A guiding principle of the British Psychological Society (BPS), echoed by psychologists I have spoken to, is that professionals should not comment publicly on the mental health of celebrities….”

In spite of guidelines like these, we’re fed a diet of pop psych speculation based on second- or third-hand media reports, dressed up as meaningful analysis through the presence of a media-friendly expert.

It’s true to say that a lot of this opinion parading as professional insight comes from people who are self-appointed ‘body language analysts’ or have simply written a book about ‘relationships’ but it comes surprisingly often from legit psychologists.

But as Dr Petra has noted in the past, the guidelines are rarely enforced by professional associations and the immediate rewards in terms of further media work are a big encouraging factor.

Link to The Lay Scientist on celebrity pop psych waffle.

2 thoughts on “I’ve got a certificate in armchair psychology”

  1. My college psychology textbook for an abnormal psych course suggests that Michael Jackson had Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I know this is most likely an idiotic assumption, but I couldn’t understand why something that was clearly produced by the tabloids (ie, not at all a proven fact) would be in a college textbook to be taken as truth. If they did treat him, why is confidentiality being breeched; and if they did not, then how did these people get away with publishing this?

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