• Irena Kolbuszewska

Identifying Stereotypes about Mental Health Professionals


Identifying Stereotypes about Mental Health Professionals

This post is divided into the following parts:

1. Who is this post addressed to? Who can benefit from it? 2. Short introduction about myself, why I decided to tackle topics related to psychotherapy. 3. Addressing stereotypes regarding mental health professionals. 4. List and short description of some stereotypes. 5. Conclusion.

You will also find a short vocabulary section at the end of this post for words or expressions marked in italics.


As a means of introduction, before I actually start the post, I owe you an explananation. This post is mainly directed to mental health professionals, mostly psychotherapists who would like to work with English-speaking clients. However, I really believe other professionals such as psychiatrists, coaches, motivational speakers, mentors, teachers and others might find it useful as well. General English learners might also find some useful vocabulary and information (as long as they are interested in the subject). I am an English teacher and for the last 4 years I’ve also been working with psychotherapists who are my English students. Soon after starting working with them, I realized they expected me to help them communicate in English in their workplace. I had no previous experience in teaching English for Professional Purposes to any kind of professional. However, I was willing to experiment, talk about therapy with other people working in the field and read about it to make sure I was able to fulfill my clients’ needs and help them work with clients whose first language was different from their own. Right now, I feel confident enough to call it my niche.

Anyway, let’s start with our first topic, which is identifying and addressing common stereotypes related to mental health professionals (mostly psychotherapists, but not only). You’re about to begin working with a new patient. They often come with certain expectations and sometimes preconceived ideas about what psychotherapists should do for them. How do you address these issues in your second language? How do you challenge or dispel stereotypes about your profession? How do you address them? How do you deal with them? Do you feel confident talking about them?

Well, before we start thinking about it, the first step is to identify these stereotypes. You need to know how to describe them in English if you want to work with clients whose native language is different from yours. I had my student (a professional psychotherapist) brainstorm some of these stereotypes. This is what he came up with: 1. Psychotherapists are a bit crazy. According to him, and I tend to agree, there are still a lot of people who believe that psychotherapists practise their profession because they have problems. Or maybe their profession has such a nasty effect on them.

2. Psychotherapists who dress in a certain way or have a specific hairstyle are even more prone to behave in a strange way (to say the least).

3. Psychotherapists are extremely smart. They are such experts in human psychology, conscious and unconscious processes and behavior, that they only need to look at your to be able to guess your deeply hidden inner thoughts... Quite a scary prospect, I must say.

4. They are omnipotent. Indeed, they seem to have replaced God. It’s just a more accessible version of it.

5. Psychoanalysts are always silent. They just sit and analyze, let you say what is on your mind, but they never respond to it nor give you any feedback.

6. Men psychotherapists are really smart. Women psychotherapists sometimes happen to be smart. Somehow your gender can influence your personality, qualifications and your level of intelligence. Hmm...

7. Psychotherapists have a lot of complexes, especially the inferiority complex. They project it on their patients. They have a recipe for a perfect life, but they can’t apply it themselves.

8. Strangely enough, some people also tend to think the opposite; that psychotherapists have a perfect life, perfect relationships and overall, are very successful at everything they do. In addition, they always come up with perfect solutions to someone’s problems and give extremely valuable advice.

9. Others say that psychotherapists have nothing to offer besides psychobabble. Besides, they are just too positive, overoptimistic, lack strong opinions etc.

10. Some people are afraid that a psychotherapist will take away from them their normal, everyday life and turn them into a goal-setting machine.

What do you think? Would you add some more to this list? In my next article, I would like to explore with you some ways in which you can address these stereotypes in English. That will be another post, otherwise this one would become a little too long. I’d say this list is quite accurate although, unfortunately, not exhaustive. I believe you most likely had to address at least some of them, at one point or another of your professional career. This topic will unavoidably come up while working with an English-speaking client too. So, I think it’s worth to learn how to talk about it in English as well.

So let’s just explore some vocabulary we can use when talking about these stereotypes.

Vocabulary To address common stereotypes – It means to deal with them and try to improve the situation.


Preconceived ideas – If you have preconceived ideas, you have formed an opinion about something or someone before you have enough information or experience to fully understand the issue. To dispel stereotypes – To get rid of them. In general, we use the verb “to dispel” when talking about false beliefs.

I had my student (a professional psychotherapist) brainstorm some of these stereotypes. To brainstorm means to come up with new ideas, in no particular order of importance, and to discuss them as they appear.

A nasty effect – A nasty effect is an extremely unpleasant effect.

Prone to behave in a strange way – If someone is prone to do something, they are likely to do something or to be affected by something (eg. a person can be prone to fall sick).

Deeply hidden inner thoughts – Our inner thoughts are the ones we don’t express out loud, they stay inside us.

A scary prospect – In this context, when we say that something is a scary prospect, we mean that it’s a real possibility that scares us, makes us feel afraid of the future.

What is on your mind – When something is on your mind, you are worried, concerned about it.

The inferiority complex – It is an intense feeling of inadequacy. For some reason we believe that we are worse than other people, inferior to other people. It simply shows lack (absence) of self-esteem.

Some people also tend to think the opposite – Some people usually think the opposite.

Psychobabble – A way of talking about feelings that sounds scientific (but in reality, it often isn’t).

Lack strong opinions – They are not willing to support a particular idea or option. They don’t want to clearly say “Yes” or “No”.

The list is not exhaustive – This list is not complete, you could add many other items to it. I hope you like this article and you have learned something from it. As you can see, there are many ways to learn a language effectively and therefore make your language learning story more enjoyable and less frustrating. Let me show you some of these ways. If you still feel stuck and you would like to change the script of your language learning story into a positive one, please contact me at passionate.language.story@gmail.com or DM me.

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