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How psychologists have failed 80% of the population

Psychologists are experts in human behavior and emotion. Over the past several decades, the field of psychology has amassed tremendous research and knowledge about the human condition, including both human suffering and human betterment. Clinical psychologists who work directly with clients or patients apply this psychological science to help them.

However, most clinical psychologists were trained only to work with people who have mental health disorders, i.e., people who are having problems functioning in their jobs and personal lives due to psychological pain and suffering.

According to the best estimates, roughly 20% of the population at any given time is suffering from a mental disorder – disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia – to the extent that it is interfering with their daily functioning in areas such as work/school, relationships, and/or overall safety and well-being.

This means that 80% of the population has largely been ignored by psychologists – yet there is so much we can offer them! Psychologists are the best-positioned professionals to help people live full, meaningful lives. Yes, we understand psychological disorders - but we also understand mental health. There is solid research that shows we can help normal-functioning people increase their levels of contentment, achievement, productivity, creativity, and well-being.

Sadly, some practicing psychologists would say that helping healthy people be happier and live more optimal lives just doesn’t hold the same urgency that treating a person with a mental disorder does.

I vehemently disagree.

When individuals improve their lives and are happier, they are more creative, they are better problem solvers, and they are able to contribute more. Society benefits tremendously from individuals thriving rather than just surviving.

For example -- If a client doesn’t have a mental disorder, but feels stuck in a job she doesn’t find fulfilling and doesn’t know how to pursue something more meaningful, is she contributing all that she can to society? Just think what she could do, what she could contribute, if she was engaging in work she was passionate about. And think how those around her would indirectly benefit from this as well. For example, if she’s feeling stuck, she’s probably not feeling happy or grateful, and she’s probably not a great joy to be around. If she’s doing meaningful work, she has more energy and is more likely to be optimistic and present-focused – which will positively influence anyone she comes in contact with, including her family, friends and coworkers!

Similarly, if another client has tremendous potential or knowledge in an area but lacks self-confidence to pursue big dreams, he may never meet his full potential, meaning the world could miss out on his innovations.

Think about a role model you have. What would you, and the world, be missing if that person had never pursued their work because of underdeveloped self-confidence, wavering motivation, or lack of a clear plan?

Psychologists and mental health professionals can make a huge impact in the lives of healthy people. There is a body of psychological research that shows us how we can be happier, more at peace, more productive people – even if we don’t have a psychological disorder. It’s time more psychologists realize the importance of this work. This would not only benefit the other 80% of the population, but also the psychologists who can enjoy more balance and fulfillment in their work by serving these individuals.


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