Unlike other focus areas in the field of medicine, psychology provides nothing that is concrete. It’s not like saying, “Your blood pressure is 130/80 mmHg.” Instead, the mental health professional, or in the case of a psychiatrist, mental health medical doctor, must craft a diagnosis from various guidelines, many of which are vague. This makes any of the subfields of psychology inherently difficult to study and practice. Some forms of psychology are more difficult than others, however.
By its very nature, parapsychology is even more vague than “traditional” mental health practices. It’s the study of nonquantifiable phenomena, such as telepathy, telekinesis, extrasensory perception, and mind reading. Because the existence of these phenomena are not universally accepted, parapsychologists must operate under a certain stigma. Often, those who are more outlandish than others are considered charlatans and quacks even if they are serious about their studies and their practices. The field has, however, gained respectability in the 21st century as there are at least six peer-reviewed, respected journals dedicated to parapsychology.
2. Forensic Psychology
Practitioners of forensic psychology are often called profilers. Despite the glory of such a job as depicted on CBS’s excellent crime drama “Criminal Minds,” the job requires painstaking attention to detail and is often unheralded. Being behind the scenes is part of the job. The job entails working with victims of crimes and figuring out how the criminals themselves operate. It is not unusual for both the mental health and the very lives of crime victims to depend on the diligence and accuracy of the forensic psychologist. These professionals also must earn an additional degree in clinical psychology before beginning to operate in their field.
3. Those Who Focus on Rare Disorders
Imagine that you’re a psychologist and that you receive a referral from a colleague about a patient whom your colleague cannot treat because the patient’s condition has stumped the colleague. Further, imagine that the patient has a panic attack in your office just because you have three or four exquisite paintings on the wall. Unless you’d heard of Stendhal Syndrome, you might be stumped too. Two centuries ago, doctors who had patients cut themselves institutionalized them, sometimes forever, when only a few weeks of therapy could have given the patients the proper coping mechanisms. Psychologists in the 21st century have better tools, to be sure, than their 19th-century counterparts, but there are new psychoses and other mental health conditions being postulated and discovered all the time.
Take what might be the most insidious condition of all: death row syndrome. It comes out of the process designed to safeguard prisoners against wrongful execution yet destroys their minds in the process. The study of such conditions and diseases is trying in the extreme for the mental health professionals but is absolutely necessary for the field of psychology to continue to grow.
Psychology and psychiatry are tough careers. Both present obstacles today that might not have ever existed before yesterday. Both require a special kind of person to be successful in them. But, both can be rewarding when you treat a patient effectively and “lift him or her from the darkness.”
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