The fine line of not being a psychologist

In L&D we have a long list of trainers and consultants helping to deliver services and solutions to clients in many ways. That can range anything from MBTI to leadership development to coaching to unconscious bias training to NLP.

Some of these have a sound basis in psychology. Others just don’t. There is a difference in understanding a topic so well that you can design and deliver training on it, and having read The Chimp Paradox and think you have a superior grasp on emotional intelligence, leadership or high performance.

There is a line we as trainers cross quite regularly where we start talking about psychology and how people learn or what makes people tick or how to be a better salesperson. And that line needs to be traversed everso carefully.

That ethical line is important and I fear too many just don’t think about the implications of the stuff they may think they’re sharing. What I mean to say is that too often trainers overestimate their insight into the human condition and believe they can support clients beyond just delivering training and crossing into being life coaches.

Trained psychologists spend years of their time learning their subject. And even then, they’re really only learning about one area of psychology. No one person can be well studied across all of psychology. And there are many areas – cognitive psychology, educational psychology, occupational psychology, counselling and psychotherapy, evolutionary psychology and much much more.

We can fool ourselves very easily into believing that because we’ve read books or watched a TED video or heard a speaker at a conference that we’ve got the same level of insight into the human condition – and sometimes even thinking we are better informed because we’ve read a range of things!

The challenge is to not get so confident about this understanding that you think you are a psychologist by default. Faux thinking around things like:

  • I understand how the brain works even though most neuroscientists can only give you specific information about specific aspects of the brain and I’ve never done any research into how the brain works myself
  • I understand how people learn because I can design and deliver training – they are not the same things
  • I understand how to enable high performance because I deliver training on coaching
  • I understand how people think even though there are many many theories about how people think
  • I understand how to influence people because I’ve read a book on how to influence people

I could easily go on.

And I’m cautious. There are those we work with who are genuinely well personally studied in the area of psychology. They have taken the time to really go deep with their thinking and their practice. They have valuable insight because of their deep study and thinking. I’m not talking about those people. They aren’t pretending to be something they’re not.

This fine line I’m talking about is when you have someone have so much self-belief that they just spout stuff which has little basis in actual psychological insight and is nothing more than their opinion.

There is a level of humility I think is missing from many who deliver training and try to delve into psychological topics of which they have a superficial understanding. To be able to understand when you as a trainer are entering into a conversation which you are clearly untrained for. That you don’t need to fake it to make it. That you don’t have to meet the need of the client in that moment because their need is for better support and intervention than what you can offer.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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