Why are psychologists called shrinks?
As a therapist, I have often been referred to as a “shrink” by clients and even by some colleagues. But where did this term come from and is it rude to use it?
The origin of the term “shrink” as a slang term for a therapist is not entirely clear. Some sources suggest that it originated from the phrase “headshrinker,” a term used to describe a psychiatrist or psychologist in a derogatory manner.
So, where did the term shrink come from and is it rude to call a therapist a shrink?
The term “headshrinker” likely comes from the practice of some indigenous cultures, such as the Native American Iroquois tribe, who historically practiced the ritual of “shrinking” the heads of their enemies as a form of trophy-taking.
However, others believe that the term “shrink” simply comes from the idea of a mental health therapist helping a person to “shrink” their problems or feelings of distress. This explanation seems less derogatory and more in line with the modern, non-stigmatizing view of therapy.
Regardless of its origins, the term “shrink” has become a common way to refer to therapists, although it is not without controversy. Some therapists and mental health professionals take offense at the term, as it can be seen as dismissive or belittling of the profession. Others, however, may not mind the term and may even use it themselves.
Personally, I do not like being referred to as a “shrink” and prefer to be called a therapist or counselor. I believe that the term “shrink” can be seen as disrespectful and diminishes the work that therapists do to help individuals improve their mental health and well-being.
Why is a psychiatrist called a shrink?
But the most likely explanation, in my opinion, is the practice of “shrinking” or reducing the size of the brain. In the past, it was believed that mental illness was caused by an overactive or enlarged brain. As a result, treatments often involved physically “shrinking” the brain, either through surgery or other means.
This practice, however, has since been debunked and is no longer used in modern medicine. Despite this, the term “shrink” has stuck and is now commonly used to refer to therapists.
But while the term may have originated from a misguided belief, it has since taken on a new meaning. For many, the term “shrink” has become a playful nickname for therapists, a way to acknowledge the important work we do in helping individuals navigate their mental health.
So while the origins of the term “shrink” may not be completely clear, it is a reminder of the evolution of mental health treatment and the continued progress we are making in understanding and supporting the mind.
In conclusion, the term “shrink” is a slang term for a therapist that may have originated from a derogatory reference to indigenous headhunting practices. While some therapists may not mind being called a “shrink,” others find it disrespectful and prefer to be called by their professional titles.
It is always best to ask a therapist how they prefer to be addressed, rather than assuming that they are okay with being called a “shrink.”
- “The Shrinking Brain: A History of Trepanation” by Helen Fields (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420798/)
- “The History of Mental Illness: From Skull Drills to Happy Pills” by Lauren Slater (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360276/)