Popular psychology has really taken flight in the past years. It has been growing right along with self-help everything. As a psychologist I am of two opinions. On the one hand it is fantastic as many people now know more about psychology and the taboos get lifted by it. On the other hand I look at the developments with a little apprehension and a bit of fear as there are a lots of dangers to popular psychology as well which are not often spoken about or sometimes even ignored.. I, of course, can’t ignore them as I’m trying to help you better your life by giving you ALL the information. So here are the dangers of popular psychology that are important for you to know before diving in and taking its advice to heart.
- 9 Must Know Dangers Of Popular Psychology
9 Must Know Dangers Of Popular Psychology
1. Self-diagnosing without merit
Let’s start off hot with one that I personally find horrendous to see. Self-diagnosing. Now I am aware that self-diagnosing is quite a controversial topic as it is tied with not being able to find professional help. However that is not the part that I am addressing now.
It is absolutely normal to have some thoughts about what might be going on with yourself. Thanks to popular psychology a lot of psychological terms have made it to the mainstream levels of communication. All the work to Destigmatize mental health problems have also helped get the word out about psychological terminology. Both these factors have contributed to the thoughts not being descriptions of symptoms but more in line of “I think I have PTSD” for example.
The danger of self-diagnosing based on what all is out via popular psychology is that not all aspects that psychologists or psychiatrists look for are present in the mainstream. This means that the self-diagnosis has been done without the proper merits.
To come to a diagnosis it’s more than just ticking boxes of symptoms that belong to a mental health problem which is what often happens with self-diagnosis. There are comorbid symptoms that need to be looked at or biopsychological factors for example. The story doesn’t end at having the most common symptoms of mental health problems. Usually that’s only where the road of diagnosis begins. It’s there where the diagnosis gets its merit.
2. Trusting Inaccurate information
Even though popular psychology has made psychology and psychological help more accessible to many people it has also directly put them at risk of finding information that is anything but correct.
The dangers popular psychology creates in offering these incorrect psychological “facts” are many but let me address the most dangerous ones. Not believing correct information because it’s not seen a lot. The more people see something the more they can get convinced that it is correct or good depending on what they are seeing. It’s one of the reasons why people make so many commercials.
In an age where sending something to Australia is as easy as three clicks, spreading the false information is easier than ever before. The fact that spreading information is so easy nowadays contributes greatly to how often you can see something and as I said before the more you see something the easier it’ll be to believe.
When this inaccurate popular psychology lands in front of a psychologist and they speak up saying it’s wrong there is a real chance the masses aren’t going to believe them as they are one of few saying so. People will tend to follow the rule of “more people say X, so you few saying Y must be wrong”. In our share everything world the correct message will then not get shared as much thus allowing the inaccurate psychological information to live and thrive happily.
A second danger inaccurate popular psychological information creates is an obvious one of people acting on the information. Taking the information to heart and letting it guide them through their troubles straight to potentially more troubles.
3. Following Questionable sources
Us being able to share everything so easily is aiding us also in sharing things where the resources aren’t to be trusted. Not to be trusted or we don’t even know where the information we are sharing actually came from.
Besides us getting questionable information from things being shared with us, popular psychology is also offering a platform for science that hasn’t been properly vetted yet. With properly vetted I mean that the theories have been tested with some type of research. Examples of such testing are peer reviews or replication of a study by a different research group. Of course these testings are not the end all be all as no research method is without its faults however it is better to have had more pairs of eyes on a question than just the ones heavenly believing in it prior to testing.
4. Not getting the full picture
This was mentioned shortly above but popular psychology doesn’t always offer the full picture of the problem. I sometimes even consider it nothing more than a highlight reel of psychology.
Of course I have to put this in perspective that some things are just too heavy to be dealt with by popular psychology. If it would, things could get dangerous on a whole other level. This goes for entire subgenres of psychology too, and here comes the dangerous part, parts of illnesses that do get discussed but not as a whole. It’s quite like the focus of the lamp is narrow and all the rest stays in the shadow.
When not all parts get discussed it can be “easy” for people to recognize symptoms that they have in a mental health problem. The question that needs answering then is: are these symptoms the core symptoms of the problem? Do they indeed meet the criteria such as, for example, the periods of time given? These questions and a few others will then determine whether the self-diagnosing that is going on is correct. It could very well be that it’s not the case and what they are experiencing is just part of living a “normal” human experience. Nothing to worry about. However this is something they can only know when able to look at the full picture of mental health issue.
5. Not seeking actual help
With the absolute wealth of information provided by popular psychology it is in a way harder for some people to find their way to actual help.The number of times people have told me that they don’t seek help because they already know what is wrong (self-diagnosed) and what they need to do to make better is astonishing. Now before I break this down completely, I have to pause and insert a disclaimer.
I am at all not against people trying to help themselves. I mean you are reading this on a platform that is literally catered to those who want to help themselves. I fully believe in the power of people to be able to help themselves given that they have the accurate tools and information, however this does not mean that everything can be done alone or on your own (yes, there’s a difference). That’s why My Story Of I offers the self-help shop but also coaching for when you need extra help or want guidance in your process. Helping yourself is a yes but seeking professional help is also a yes. Both have their place and should be used according to how they can meet your needs.
Disclaimer out of the way so let’s unpack. The gist of it is that even though you have self-diagnosed correctly meaning what a psychologist tells you have and what you thought match, it still means that your treatment plan could be wrong. So let me explain this further with an example that is often used for self-diagnosing and it honestly irks my soul but that is for another post.
Anyways, depression. Lots of people claim to be depressed without having seen any kind of mental health professional because one or two of the symptoms are floating online. The most common treatment plan of depression is also floating online*. But did you know that there are several types of depression? With each their own way of best treatment plans? And that those treatment plans are all made with a clinical depression in mind that does not include all factors a life can have?
Do you see where I am going with this? People are not seeking help and using treatment plans that might not fit them all because in popular psychology it is found that depression is best dealt with in x,y,z fashion. This is highly dangerous as some treatment plans will not work for a specific type of depression and can make matters worse, but because people think they have already found the answer they are not seeking help to be told that what they are doing is shooting their later selves in the foot.
*I am deliberately not naming them as I do not want to encourage the practice of not seeking help.
6. Not getting to the core of the problem
Because popular psychology is not catered to the individual but to the masses, and the general masses that is, it cannot come to the core of the problem. It can come to the core of a specific part of a topic but that is where it ends.
The danger in this is that the core of your problems remain untouched and it is exactly where you need an intervention. Of course the intervention starts at the top and then works its way down. When you exclusively follow advice stemming from popular psychology then the process of working down might not happen if the resource you are using doesn’t cater to your specific problem. Even if it does sometimes the funnel down does not happen as it has to remain appealing to a lot of people.
Your uniqueness gets overseen in this case. It could very well be that more people are dealing with the same problems. Let’s take the example I used above again. Many people have gotten the label of depression. Let’s say we’re talking about a mild depression, that is already a bit more specific. What caused the depression? Losing a loved one, but which one? A brother. Older or younger? I can continue this train of thought with quite a number of questions however popular psychology doesn’t always, in most cases, go that deep. It stops at brother. Why? Because most people can relate to that. However I think we can all agree that the relationship is different with a younger or an older brother. Then we still have questions about how that relationship was as it impacts the experience of the depression. As said these are things not always brought up in popular psychology, thus effectively not getting to the core of the problem.
7. Overdiagnosing without any nuance
With all the information that popular psychology provides it can become quite overwhelming. Especially when a lot of the information has overlapping symptoms. What I see happening a lot is people then overdiagnosing. Overdiagnosing is diagnosing for things that aren’t actually present.
The fact that a lot of things that are discussed in popular psychology contain symptoms that are found in several mental health issues makes people think that they have them all, which of course is not true. We need to look at more factors which in this case is called looking at the details of the criteria set for the specific issue.
Another factor to take into account is the fact that many people could be on some kind of spectrum without actually having a mental health problem at all. It’s just part of the “normal” human experience.
8. What’s popular changes all the time
This is one I feel many people do not realize and I personally find it hilarious. Why? Because it is such a give away at how fluid and how not serious popular psychology should be taken from time to time.
What is popular or to stay on trend ‘’in vogue’’ changes rapidly. Currently we’re in a wave of everyone being traumatized. Doing or not doing something out of trauma to be more precise. The wave before that was depression, this is one that comes back quite a few times. The one before depression was narcissism. Mind you this was all in the span of 9-10 months. People diagnosing others, thinking they have it themselves; it’s a whole mess. And all this without any intervention by a professional, which I truly believe would help.
9. Invalidation of sufferers
Between self-diagnosing based on half information, hopping on popular psychology trends thinking you or someone you know has it and over diagnosing are the people who are actually suffering from mental health issues.
Even though popular psychology has done a lot for people in terms of psychoeducation and destigmatization, it has also caused an invalidation. The invalidation simply comes from people who don’t know all the facts of an illness or problem saying they have it and it’s no big deal. Their reason for saying it’s no big deal is not something I am going to discuss as that requires a personal conversation with everyone saying it. The thing I am saying and speaking on is if you are saying it is no big deal purely on the basis of following popular psychology measures then you are part of the dangers of popular psychology.
Everything that I have said above gets summarized in ‘’no big deal’’ as it is a big deal. People are forming opinions on half stories, half truths and potentially questionable sources. This means that the people fighting a mental health problem now have to stand their guard against stigmatization and people who have read something somewhere and thus know what’s up. That’s invalidating people who have sought help and know their symptoms.
I am not saying that those who suffer from a mental health issue are the ones that can diagnose/police others, leave that to the professionals. However they do deserve some credit for their knowledge on the topics since they are literally living through it.
Popular psychology is not proper psychoeducation. Can it help inform the masses in general? Yes, it can and totally does which is amazing. However there’s more to the story which needs to be addressed.
Recommended: Psychoeducation: What It Is & Why It’s Super Beneficial
The dangers of popular psychology are equal to the benefits I have heard, just that we need to stay conscious of the dangers in order for them to not overtake the benefits of popular psychology.
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