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The Real Poop

Sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar.

"Your mother forced you to wear her prom dress to your first prom?" the psychologist asks. "What’s wrong with that?"

"Um…I guess what felt strange to me at the time was the fact that I was a boy and had a tux already lined up for the evening," James says.

"Let me get this right. You felt like your masculinity was threatened, because your father sexually possessed your mother. It's a classic Oedipus complex. Wow, we are out of time, but really good work today. How does it feel to make a breakthrough?"

This guy is clearly making some major headway.

"I’m feeling more confused than when I came in to tell you about my stressful new job," James says.

Psychology comes from the Latin word psychologia, which means study of the soul. Today, psychologists tend to bypass the soul and instead focus their studies on how the mind works. Or why some guys wear prom dresses. Much of the brain is still unexplored territory. Vasco de Gama tried arranging one expedition there, but he couldn’t get the funding. Neuroscientists and psychologists are still trying to find out all the ins and outs of mankind's most complex organ. No comment from the peanut gallery, please.

Not all psychologists conduct sessions with clients. Research psychologists use scientific methods to conduct research in order to find out why certain behaviors occur. Research and experimental psychologists are employed mainly by universities, businesses, and governmental organizations.

For example, Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, who currently teaches Introductory Psychology at Stanford University, shocked the psychology world in the 1970s. Despite his long career at Stanford, his popular PBS-TV series Discovering Psychology and numerous publications, he is best known for the "Stanford Prison Experiment." Zimbardo wanted to study the psychological effects of becoming a prison guard and prisoner. He selected 24 students to act out a mock prison in the basement of Stanford. All of this was shocking when revealed, but the results were more unbelievable. Prisoners and guards took their roles to heart. It took only six days for things to get out of hand. Guards severely punished prisoners, which led to one of them going on a hunger strike. The guards would stay longer on site than they needed to for the experiment. It shed light on a person’s ability to completely internalize roles.

Obviously, not all psychologists research the mind in an academic or laboratory setting. Most of their hard earned psychological knowledge is put to use in a therapeutic role. Clinical and counseling psychologists treat or advise patients. There are various fields within clinical psychology that students can choose to focus their efforts in, such as neuropsychology, child psychology, health psychology, and geropsychology (helping the elderly). While you are less likely in this setting to make some brilliant discovery that leads to a better understanding of the human mind, at least you are directly assisting others and can see the immediate effects of your work. It might beat spending every day in a lab examining brains. Then again, maybe you’re into that sort of thing.

With all these areas of psychology, do any of them work? The benefits of going into therapy vary from person to person. Obviously, it didn’t stop Tony Soprano from killing people. As an aside, he saw a psychiatrist and not a psychologist on the show. Maybe if he’d seen someone who wasn't all uppity about attending med school things, would have turned out differently.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that psychologists use to help people suffering from anxiety, depression, phobias, eating disorders, grief and chronic pain, to name a few. While many people find ways to cope or work past their mental illness, some people need medications, which is when psychiatrists pop into the picture.

There are numerous different types of psychology:

Developmental psychology is a scientific study of the changes during the course of one's life. For example, changes in perception, emotional changes, and systematic psychological changes.

Social psychology is a scientific study of people’s thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors and how they are influenced by their environment and others around them.

Forensic psychology works within the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists testify in court, assess criminals, and interview people to see if they are legally competent to stand trial.

Clinical psychology is an area of psychology that includes psychological assessments and psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists may be reserachers, or may diagnose mental illness, provide psychological testing, and treat clients.

Child psychology focuses on treating children. In addition, child psychologists study how people emotionally, mentally and socially develop.

Geropsychology concentrates on the elderly. Clinical geropsychologists help older people overcome any mental or physical problems that they may experience late in their life.

Counseling psychology is a branch of psychology that encompasses research, counseling, training, and health. Those in this field focus on social, vocational, emotional, health-related, and developmental concerns.

Health psychology is a field of psychology that is concerned with how cultural, biological, and environmental factors affect an individual. Those in this field help people cope and recover from illnesses.

Neuropsychology studies the brain. Often, those in this field treat people with neuropsychological problems.

Those getting into the psychology field may be interested in human behavior, but not keen on dealing with people. It may shock you, but not every science-minded person is the most social creature you've ever met. Research psychology fields may be the best option for such individuals. Those who do love working with others may be attracted to clinical psychology, child psychology, geropsychology, or counseling psychology. Oftentimes, psychologists in these fields complain of feeling emotionally drained after long days of seeing patients. Maybe those psychologists could benefit from seeing a psychologist.

Before you run out to buy a white medical lab coat, psychologists are not medical doctors. They are often confused with psychiatrists, but there's a big difference. Psychiatrists go to medical school to earn their MD before starting their four-year residency training. They prescribe drugs, baby! Actually, many types of brain candy (drugs) have unpleasant side effects like nausea, weight gain, decreased sex drive, diarrhea, and dry mouth. It's not a picnic for your brain’s synapses, but some people need to have them. Psychologists go to a college or university for five to seven years to earn their doctorate degree. Those who focus on research earn a PhD, while those who want to treat patients can earn either a PhD or a Psy.D. It can be deceiving, because you are putting in a lot of years in school, earning a doctorate, and adding a very doctor-y sounding suffix to your name, but no one is going to let you operate on somebody's spleen. As much as you may want to.

After you've earned your Psy.D, you're ready to intern for one or two years before applying for a license to practice on your own. Sounds like a lot of training before you’re able to ask, "How does that make you feel?" It's important for clinical psychologists to receive enough training to diagnose and treat the breadth of psychological disorders out there. They also need to have it hammered home that they can't be caught saying things like, "That guy is crazy!" or, "Are you out of your mind?"

Uh… yeah. She might be slightly unstable.

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are over 300 different manifestations of mental illnesses. You can easily find out if your Uncle Charlie suffers from Caprgras’ Delusion (the feeling that someone you know has been replaced by an imposter) or if your mom’s fear of George Clooney might be linked to androphobia (fear of men). The DSM is used to diagnose mental disorders and bill health insurance companies. While the DSM may be used to diagnose a patient, it doesn't shed light on how to treat someone. That part is up to the psychologist. Being a psychologist means having a lot of responsibility. If someone with multiple personality disorder comes into your office, you can't just tell them to take two Aspirins and call you in the morning. One or more of their personalities may not particularly care for being so drastically misdiagnosed.

Stress is a major factor in psychology. However, the rewards can keep you going. Helping people navigate their way through life is rewarding. Excavating the mysteries of the brain helps humanity. To quote the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, "A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist." So you see, it’s often a case of the unstable leading the unstable.