Here at RMKM psychologists are in large demand. They are also very, very well respected. I think, given the admiration they receive and the awe in which they are held, they are considered equitable to rocket scientists and brain surgeons in intelligence rankings. I am flattered by the often-held assumption that I am a psychologist or – after the bashful truth is known – praise that I am an honorary psychologist owing to my astronomical IQ of 97.
We have no fewer than three fully trained psychologists and two in-training. Yet for all the psychologists we throw at the problems here, the children are rarely assessed; the role of the psychologist is largely reserved for teaching people to work with children with developmental disabilities. That, and to put yellow garlands on people at lengthy, dull ceremonies and functions. Their role in interacting with our children is limited.
Eight weeks ago a new psychologist moved into the hostel. It’s common for new staff to have difficulty getting the children on-side and this psychologist was no exception, repeatedly failing to gel with the kids in a productive manner. The most important tool we have is patience, the ability to rise above unpleasant situations and persist to hammer a message home. Bad behavior is not tolerated, and I’ve worked diligently to help staff understand the benefits of stoicism in face of bad temperament (although I often fail in my patriarchal duties).
In early May I was surprised to find the new staff member, anonymously called psychologist-walla (mainly because I can’t spell his name) taking two of the most-popular children for a morning walk across campus. How sweet, I thought; he’s actually engaging the children (hitherto not within his realm). Five minutes later he returned hand-bound with a kid on either side. The two children, smiles beaming, were gloriously munching on sweets bought from the store on the edge of campus. Outraged! The new psychologist-walla had used bribery to get the two most-popular children on-side!
I learned lessons from this episode, most importantly that psychologist-walla really understood the psychology of the children and would exploit this for self-serving purposes, uprooting the work of dedicated hostel staff. But he clearly didn’t understand our work enough – or find it important enough – to realize that he had set a precedent for the children and how they could be treated if only they were manipulative enough.
It made me think about the wider work of psychologists on campus and how little they achieve, despite their over-arching presence in all matters. They are rarely questioned, even in cases like this. As a rude generalization, they often act with the demeanor of a spoiled and out-of-touch monarch, elevated to an undeserved level of respect and incapable of carrying out their work. It’s almost as if they trained (or are training) for the position simply because it brings unadulterated praise and respect.
It turns out that I don’t get on with most psychologists because of their patronizing nature, which turns me into a frenzied goblin. I’m also genuinely frustrated by the fact that between three psychologists we have yet to conduct a coherent and effective assessment of the children just once, let alone on a regular basis. But that’s endemic of most entities here in India. Lots to brag about but little to show for it. The question of outcomes is rarely asked. ‘You have three psychologists and you put a garland round my neck?! I will sign this cheque imminently’.
It is psychologists who most often refer to me as having special needs because of my hearing loss (I am grateful that they stop short of full-out mental retardation). This is regularly mentioned when we have oblivious guests who can be awed by my ability to stand up straight and drink water without dribbling down my chest, such is their understanding of special needs. This misappropriation seems reserved to psychologists, despite their so-called study of the subject. Teachers and other staff are far more generous of my ability as a person with disability to be a role model for their children.
It’s probably not fair to make sweeping generalizations about psychologists. But the scale of my bad encounters with members of the profession is a cause for frustration. But there are exceptions.
There is one psychologist who – in my experience – is genuine, capable, and caring. At times he seems on an endless quest for knowledge, completely dedicated to understanding his field. I’m very lucky to call him a friend and a mentor. Owing to his conscientious attitude, he was recently promoted above the remit of psychology into management. But he has remained diligent and been a great ally in effecting change on campus; his IQ is evident without a name plaque featuring the abbreviations of fourteen qualifications. Yet I do worry that his presence in the upper-echelons will reduce him to a career in placing yellow garlands on chief guests who are three hours late.
Maybe I’m just bitter than I haven’t endured the necessary requisite of intense study to receive acclaim. But I think beyond that, I’m bitter that so much faith, time, and resources are invested in these people to help our work here, and yet we have so little to show for it. Perhaps, actually, taking steps backwards (see child bribery, above). But what have I done about it? The sorry truth is that for all my frustrations and complaining, I haven’t actually done anything to fix the problem yet.
And that makes me a bitch.