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This is the blog for the Free Your Mind campaign which aims to battle stigma towards mental illness through the use of music, art, film, and culture.
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Monday, 5 March 2012

The Problem with Armchair Psychology

An "armchair psychiatrist" is a person whom is not trained in, or has no background knowledge of psychiatry, but will still continue to give advice concerning, and often attempt to diagnose, the mental health of others.

Although people do perform these same type of armchair diagnoses of physical conditions, it is more commonly done with mental illnesses.

I believe that armchair psychology is a problem because the armchair psychiatrist is often under the impression that diagnosis of a person's mental state can be simplified down to a list of symptoms. It seems to me, armchair psychiatrists often see mental health diagnoses as capable of being easily sorted into neat categories by using a set of simplistic lists of symptoms.

But, I feel, this particular attitude towards mental illnesses, in many ways, trivialises mental health conditions as those whom are often the givers of this sort of "advice" seem to fail to understand the true complicated nature of mental illnesses.

I think people feel more confident to give uninformed diagnosis' of mental health conditions, as opposed to physical illnesses, due to the non-visibility of mental illnesses, which to a layman can make mental illnesses seem possible of diagnosis by observation simply by use of lists of symptoms.

I believe another large contributing factor towards the simplistic views of  armchair psychology is the regularity of so-called "experts" giving their opinions on the mental health of those in the public eye, or "celebrities", despite the fact that the discussing "expert" would never actually have had any contact with the person under discussion; certainly not in a context where they would be able to provide an informed opinion of that person's mental health!

Because, in reality, if this person really was under the care of the "expert" giving their "informed" diagnosis - or, to term it more accurately, their opinion - of another's mental health, then said expert would be bound to the rules of confidentiality and, therefore, would be unable to provide any public comment of the condition of that person's mental health.

Armchair psychology can be a problem due to the simplistic nature of an armchair diagnosis, particularly as the arrogance (for lack of a better word), often displayed by an armchair psychiatrist in the accuracy of their highly uninformed opinion of complex mental health conditions, not only trivialises mental illnesses; but, also, to a layman, a seemingly simple and easily reached diagnosis can make treatment of a condition also seem simple and easily accessible when, of course, this is often not the case.

I understand that engaging in armchair diagnoses of complicated mental health conditions can be a fun past-time or activity, but armchair psychology can have a damaging effect especially when an armchair psychiatrist begins to condemn another for disregarding their advice concerning their mental health - regardless of the fact that the armchair psychiatrist is, ultimately, wrong in giving their uniformed and/or simplistic "diagnosis" or opinion, of a complex condition.

Armchair psychology simplifies mental illness - and, in many ways, trivialises it - as it instills confidence (or arrogance) in what is generally an opinion born out of ignorance, or out of a lack of understanding and knowledge, of either mental health conditions and/or the person under discussion proceeding an armchair diagnosis.

This, I feel, is the problem with armchair psychology.


  1. Interesting read,The Armchair Psychologist likes to analyze and classify all humans except, usually, themselves.While they will admit that they too are just a product of human evolution and experiences, they tend to believe that due to their psychological awareness they are more stable and healthy than most.

    1. "they tend to believe that due to their psychological awareness they are more stable and healthy than most." Self awareness is considered a state of mind that allows us to be more stable and psychologically healthy. So yes, generally psychologists are more stable individuals but in turn have a higher rate of emotional disorders due to their need to understand underlying causes in peoples mental state. They become detached. Armchair psychology is a thing of the past, in truth the only path to mental stability is to want it, analyze where your stresses and/or anxiety originates and ask yourself why. Its all a matter of therapy (or pin pointing the triggers that cause episodes), treatment (self control to realize the problem and engage with a healthy response), and diligence/support (the ability to recognize relapses or to rely on others to honestly point out potential relapses), then re-engage in treatment if need be. See what I did? Is that armchair psychology or is it actually a healthy way to engage our problems. Armchair psychology is the same thing, perhaps your psychologist doesn't know whats wrong with you, but that doesn't mean that he cant help. You have to want it.

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  3. Thanks for posting this helpful and interesting article.
    I think 'amateur psychology' or 'amateur diagnosis' fits your description better.
    'Armchair psychology' seems to be usually defined as: "A form of psychological inquiry or therapy that is based on introspection and rational processes without reference to an empirical observation". And I would definitely agree that both are problematic.
    There is a tendency in amateurs to extrapolate from information provided by the patient according to cookie-cutter profiles. People like to think they know better than sufferers themselves what the 'real' root of their problems are, from their own projections or on the basis that, say, 'Someone else had something like that and, as it transpired, they were a sadistic maniac. Therefore you are probably a sadistic maniac.' It doesn't help anyone to introduce this kind of cartoon villain profiling in the canon of psychological diagnosis, but then criminal psychologists have little interest in clinical therapy.
    I think it would help both professional and amateur psychologists if disorders were defined with greater empathy and understanding of the patient's experience, with less glibness of authority, with acknowledgement that definitions are vague and prognoses uncertain. Sadly, a number of influential historical works do not meet these standards, and I feel like the literature is clogged with misleading armchair generalizations and thinly veiled personal diatribes.

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  6. Thanks so much for sharing this information. People can be so damaging to others. Often because they have nothing more interesting to do themselves perhaps? Have a great christmas :)