Note: The following post was written with Professor Mark Griffiths and has recently been published on PsychCentral. The full reference is: Van Gordon, W., Shonin., E., & Griffiths, MD. The Four Types of Psychologist: Ineffective, Satisfactory, Gifted, and Gone Beyond. Psych Central. Available at: http://pro.psychcentral.com/the-four-types-of-psychologist-ineffective-satisfactory-gifted-and-gone-beyond/0016491.html
Most introductory books on psychology inform readers that there are many different types of psychologist such as clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists, developmental psychologists, social psychologists, cognitive psychologist, health psychologists, occupational psychologists, sports psychologists, counselling psychologists, neuropsychologists and research psychologists. Clearly there are many other types of psychologist in addition to the list above, and there are also numerous sub-types of psychologist that specialise in a specific area within one of the aforementioned domains.
In this article, we deviate from the traditional model of categorising psychologists according to work setting and/or study perspective, and suggest a new schema that focusses on the underlying qualities and competencies of the psychologist. Our approach is not intended to supplant the aforementioned traditional categorisations. Rather, it is solely intended as ‘food for thought’ by suggesting a method of categorisation that emphasises the core skills and values that are common to the job description of all psychologists (i.e., irrespective of whether they work in clinical, occupational, or developmental settings, or adhere to a specific psychological perspective, etc.). Consequently, we have based our schema on the assumption that regardless of the particular setting or perspective in which a psychologist specialises, there is an expectation that all psychologists – at least to a small degree – have an understanding of the scientific workings of the human mind and behaviour that exceeds that of the average lay person. Our method of categorisation is also founded on the assumption that, based on this greater degree of insight into the mind, all psychologists have a duty to guide others toward a better understanding of their own minds and behaviour, and where appropriate, toward improved levels of psychological wellbeing. Our ‘food for thought’ model comprises four categories of psychologist.
1. Ineffective Psychologists: The first class of psychologist are those that actually do more harm than good. There are various reasons why a psychologist might fall into this category, but in general it is due to shortfalls in either their attitude and/or ability. Therefore, it is possible that a psychologist in this category may sincerely wish to help a person, but they happen to be ineffective in this respect (i.e., they have the right attitude but lack the ability). Alternatively, a psychologist belonging to this category might be capable of treating people in a manner that helps them to grow as human beings, but they are uninterested in doing so (i.e., they have the necessary ability but the wrong attitude). One explanation of why a psychologist might have the required ability but inappropriate attitude is because the primary purpose for them performing their role is to accrue wealth or reputation.
2. Satisfactory Psychologists: Unlike the first class of psychologist, the second class of psychologist do more good than harm. However, although they create and spread more positivity than negativity, they are not what one might call ‘natural’ in the manner in which they embody and perform the role of a psychologist. In general, when this category of psychologist takes it upon themselves to better the psychological wellbeing of another human being, they are relying heavily on the various theories, models and practice guidelines that they have studied and trained in. These theories and practice techniques are normally evidence-based, and as such, they are generally of assistance to the other person. However, the fact that this second type of psychologist is heavily reliant upon processes and theories, means that there will always be a degree of disconnect between them and the individual they are interacting with. To a certain extent, this disconnect can be useful because it forms a protective barrier that the psychologist can work behind. However, it can also create an obstacle that prevents the ‘core’ of the psychologist’s being connecting and communicating with the ‘core’ of the other person’s being.
Put simply, it is rare for this type of psychologist that a meaningful ‘human-to-human’ interaction takes place, and as such, the person they are attempting to help invariably feels that they are the subject of a process or service. Consequently, an individual in the hands of this category of psychologist is unlikely to feel truly nourished or renewed. In summary, satisfactory psychologists do not embody and live the practice of psychology, and they are invariably unskilled at drawing upon and integrating their life experience into their work.
3. Gifted Psychologists: Individuals belonging to the third class of psychologist are much more natural at performing their role compared with those in the satisfactory category. In fact, one could probably go as far as to say that an individual belonging to this category of psychologist is ‘gifted’. They have an in-depth knowledge of all of the relevant psychological theories and techniques, but they understand that these models and processes are only tools. In fact, more often than not, this category of psychologist develops their own models and psychological techniques and they use these in their work and interactions with others. However, when they interact with other people, it is not entirely accurate to state that they are applying a theory or model. Rather, they are directly connecting with the individual on the ‘human-to-human’ level and they allow their intuition and instinct to guide how the dialogue and relationship evolves. The way in which they do this is still aligned with proven methods and practices, but they are not constrained by these methods and are spontaneous in the manner in which they help others.
Gifted psychologists have an in-depth understanding of their own mind, and as such, they understand well the mind and behaviours of others. When a patient, client, or another individual meets with a psychologist of this category, they immediately feel reassured due to knowing that they are in capable hands. This type of psychologist is confident, positive and energetic, and they inspire and invigorate people. They take the responsibility of being a psychologist and human being seriously and they are, by all accounts, impressive members of society.
4. Psychologists that have Gone Beyond: The fourth type of psychologist is an individual that has transcended all conventional criteria for evaluating the competency of a psychologist. Consequently, accurately determining whether a psychologist falls into this category requires skill, and it is easy to misinterpret their behaviour as evidence of them meeting the inclusion criteria for one of the three aforementioned outlined classifications. The rules that govern the decisions and strategies employed by ineffective, satisfactory, and gifted psychologists no longer apply here. Psychologists that have Gone Beyond are individuals that have studied and investigated their own mind and behaviour to such an extent, they are no longer limited by it. They understand fully that, much like a spider’s web that spreads out in multiple directions, they are deeply connected to all other life forms and phenomena in the universe. Their insight and wide-ranging perspective means that they have a much more expansive selection of tools, techniques, and materials at their disposition. Psychologists that have Gone Beyond know and make full use of the fact that each of their thoughts, words and actions will reverberate throughout space and time, and will eventually come to touch all other beings. In this manner, they understand that they are a sculptor, and they use the world and its inhabitants as their raw material.
Psychologists that have Gone Beyond are truly remarkable beings – everyone they meet becomes their ‘client’, but in the majority of instances, individuals are unaware of the fact they are being helped. Irrespective of who a psychologist of this category meets or interacts with (e.g., a supermarket cashier, neighbour, work colleague, partner, or even a person wishing them harm), they provide the individual with exactly what they need in order to help them evolve as a human being. Except for a small number of individuals that also want to become Psychologists that have Gone Beyond (and who are searching for a suitable mentor), the work of psychologists belonging to this category often goes unnoticed. However, they are not in any way demotivated by this and in the majority of instances, maintaining a low profile allows them to perform their role more effectively.
Ven Dr Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon