Having been an educational psychologist for more than 10 years, I’m aware that people have a range of thoughts about this question. I’ve been told that being a psychologist must be like working for the tax department. The lovely lady who informed me of this, at my friends’ 40th birthday party, told me that people probably didn’t want to talk to me because I knew things about them just like the tax department did. I’ve been told that it would be good for psychics and psychologists to work in the same office building since we do similar things. I’ve had people say that they don’t want to talk to me because I will be able to tell what they are thinking. There’s a theme running through these comments. Some folks seem to think that psychologists can read minds or magically can tell what someone’s intentions and actions are. Sadly that’s not true. It would be super handy if I could tell what someone was thinking, although I can think of examples when I definitely wouldn’t want to know what someone was really thinking! In fact, people who are drawn to the profession of psychology probably are very interested in what people think and do but we can’t know without someone telling us just like everyone else. We also have the challenge of people telling us what they think we want to hear, just like everyone else does.
To provide an answer to my original question, educational psychologists are experts in helping people solve complex, persistent problems that interfere with a young person’s learning (credit to the psychology workforce group for this statement). We do what we can to provide a better understanding of the situation, taking into account the perspectives of the child, the parents or caregivers and the educators. I have been a qualified teacher for more than 20 years, and have always had an interest in how to teach so that children can learn, especially those children who learn in a different way. Educational psychologists take their knowledge of the theories and research around learning, and educational practice, and combine that with psychological knowledge or the knowledge of how people think and behave. All registered psychologists have undergone extensive training including a Masters degree and training beyond a Masters. We have a good understanding of research methods and how to evaluate research to ensure that the best evidence is used to support what we say and do.
Hopefully next time you meet a psychologist you are reassured that they don’t know what you are thinking.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.