Feel Free to Call Me Doctor

Maybe psychologists have been too well hidden>

In my office, I often invite clients to call me “Ann.”  Dr. Becker-Schutte is a bit of a mouthful.  And I deliberately choose to try to level the playing field as much as possible. I don’t need my clients to acknowledge my training just to make me feel better.

But I am wondering now if that is the right approach.  Not really in my office–Dr. Becker-Schutte is still a mouthful, and not very conducive to conversation.  But outside of my office, I think that I may need to claim the title more often.

This isn’t really about me.  It’s about contributing to the bigger conversation.

I had a really interesting conversation this week. I was in a conference call with five other doctoral level psychologists. One of the issues that we were exploring was the identity crisis that seems to be present in psychology today. Psychologist and coach Dr. Susan Guirleo said, “It seems as though psychologists have always allowed other people to define them from the outside in.” Another was the concern that many of us have that the general public has absorbed some negative ideas about therapy. The reason this came up was this story, told by another mental health professional:

“While I was in a surf shop, the clerk was talking about struggles he was facing, including suicidal thoughts. He eventually said, ‘I probably should get some help. But I don’t want to be stuck in a room with some asshole.’ Clearly, if that’s the image of coming to therapy, we have a problem.”

In addition to this conversation, I have been thinking a great deal recently about the marginalized position of mental health in the bigger healthcare ecosystem.  You may have gotten hints of this in the posts that I wrote after Medicine X, when I reflected that mental health practitioners have a lot to offer other health care providers.

So, using my title is about a bigger picture. It’s about standing up for my belief that mental health issues are just as valid and just as worthy of treatment without barriers as physical health issues.  Not only that, it’s about shining a light on research that suggests that treating mental health concerns can lead to improvements in physical health.  So, as long as we are keeping mental health in its own sequestered closet, we are fostering stigma and failing to contribute to the best possible health outcomes.

We talked on our conference call about the fact that most practicing psychologists aren’t terribly comfortable with the spotlight.  We don’t want to brag about our training.

But I am coming to realize that there is a difference between bragging and educating.  If I don’t stand up and point out that a licensed psychologist has generally completed rigorous clinical training and supervision–oh, and education in assessment, human development, cultural diversity, research analysis, and social & biological bases of behavior, to name a few–I am not giving people the information they need to make informed decisions.

If I don’t state that psychologists are excellent at focusing on strengths, encouraging healthy development, AND helping people deal with painful experiences, I’m contributing to the culture of misinformation.

So, if using my title means that I get a broader audience to hear about the value of mental health care, and its place in health care overall, then feel free to call me Doctor.

4 thoughts on “Feel Free to Call Me Doctor

  1. Hi Dr Ann,

    Why don’t you ask your patients to call you “Dr Ann”?

    It’s much less of a mouthful than your surname. I too have a double barrelled surname which is a monthful all its own even without any Dr honorific.

    Another fellow I know has a single, long and complicated surname. He is a science and medical guy, an actual Doctor, famous on TV here in Australia. Because of his long and complex surname, he is universally known by the title “Dr Karl”.

    So, Dr Ann, why don’t you do the same? You get the benefits of both worlds then, plus it’s a fun little in-joke over the complexity of your surname vs. the simplicity of Dr Ann – and should work beautifully, despite the infinitesimal drop in formality due to the title Dr being used with your first name rather than your last.

    Over to you, good Doctor!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts–in fact, many of my older clients call me Dr. Ann. That seems to help them feel more comfortable in my office. My decision to go by my first name is often a deliberate step toward leveling the power imbalance that is often present in therapy. At the end of the day, inside my office, I want my clients to feel as safe, comfortable, and empowered as possible. Outside of the office, or in spaces online, I am very comfortable using my title if that helps my message be heard better.

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