What Is Armchair Psychology, And Why Should I Avoid It?

By: Jon Jaehnig

Updated January 28, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

The term "armchair psychology" may have a familiar ring to it. Perhaps you've heard of an armchair quarterback? That is commonly used to describesomeone who sits at home and watches a football game, giving opinions about what their favorite team should do as if they were right on the field. This person likely has no real expertise in football. They've watched a few games, and maybe they've played once or twice with friends, but they act asan expert.

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Someone who practices armchair psychology also thinks they're an expert, but unlike the armchair quarterback, they can cause real harm. Armchair psychology can be destructive both to the person who practices it and the person who’sbeing analyzed. Read on to learn more about it and why it's best to avoid it.

What Is Armchair Psychology?

Armchair psychology comes from logic and introspection. Unlike a professional psychologist, the armchair psychologist does notbase their opinions on objective data and scientific observations. Instead, they think about how things have worked in their life and what makes sense to them given what they know. Then they go ahead and state what seems right to them without considering empirical data. While introspection can be a helpful tool, it can also lead to limited or incorrect views about others and the world. Furthermore, it can't take the place of professional help when you're having a mental health issue.

How People Use Their Ideas About Psychology

People who use armchair psychology usually feel like they have a good reason for doing so. They want to help someone by solving a problem or making a smart decision, so they try to put their thoughts about psychology to good use. In this section, we'll talk about the ways people tend to use armchair psychology.

  1. To Diagnose Themselves And Others

When you're distressed by someone else's behavior or by your own thoughts, feelings, or behavior, it's natural to want to put a label on it. Unfortunately, armchair psychologists usually choose labels for conditions they don't fully understand. They might diagnose someone with a very serious mental illness when the actual symptoms of that disorder aren't necessarily present. Diagnosis is a complex process that requires the supervision of licensed profesional, so it's rare to arrive at the correct conclusion by simply thinking about one's life or what one notices in another person.

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That's why diagnoses made by an armchair psychologist are usually way off base. For example, if an armchair psychologist sees someone sleeping too much, they may declare that the person is depressed. Depression may be at play, but it's also possible that a physical condition is making this person tired. If the person in question accepts the diagnosis of depression, they're unlikely to seek medical help and won't address the true source of their fatigue. This could ultimately put their life in jeopardy if the underlying medical condition is serious. Unlike an armchair psychologist, a licensed counselor would understand all of the possibilities, referring the person to a physician if needed.

Even if the diagnosis happens to be correct, the label can create more problems than it solves if the person being diagnosed doesn't seek expert care. A diagnosis can be an invitation to make excuses for behavior, or it can be used against a person. Either way, it isn't helpful to someone who may or may not need to speak with a therapist. If someone thinks you have a serious condition, you might or you might not. Either way, it is best to talk to a healthcare provider. They can help you understand exactly what's happening.

  1. To Offer Advice

Whether they're concerned, proud of their own opinions, or trying to control your behavior, the armchair psychologist loves to give advice. They think they know what you should do, and they back it up with psychological words, phrases, and labels to make you feel like they know best.

A therapist, on the other hand, won't tell you what to do. Instead, they'll help you examine your thoughts and feelings about the problems you're facing. They'll use sound psychological methods to help you identify the source of these challenges and come to your conclusions about what's best for you. Then, they'll guide you in thinking through your options, so you can make a healthy choice.

  1. To Make Important Judgments And Decisions

Sometimes, people act likeamateur therapists to solve their problems. If they have an important decision to make, they choose to approach it with psychology. However, they're not actually a counselor, so they often use psychological terms and concepts incorrectly. Thus, the decision comes from an incomplete or incorrect view of the situation and its psychological ramifications.

How Armchair Psychology Impacts The Person Being "Diagnosed"

When someone receives an amateur diagnosis, they are vulnerable to negative impacts. Whether you're thinking about your own issues or telling someone else about theirs, you can cause pain or trouble. Here are some of the ways you might impact the person you diagnose.

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  1. Decreased Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

When you tell someone what you think is wrong with them, they might believe you and begin to feel bad about themselves. They may feel they're abnormal even if they aren't. They may also start seeing themselves as inferior, weak, or different from other people. Ultimately, their self-esteem could plummet, especially if you keep repeating your judgment or telling other people. Then they may lose confidence in their ability to manage their own lives.

Therapists don't typically dwell on a diagnosis during therapy sessions (unless they're trying to teach). Instead, they focus on resolving specific issues and helping the client become stronger and healthier.

  1. Increased Stigma

Stigmas are a significant problem in society. When you put a label on someone and tell other people, that person may suffer from stigma and discrimination. People may begin to treat them differently. Even their close friends and family might begin to question their every word and action. You may not be able to eliminate stigma in society, but you can do your part by choosing not to share your opinions about someone else's mental health.

  1. Distressing Feelings Of Anger, Fear, Shame, Self-Consciousness, Or Being Misunderstood

When someone tells you that you have a mental disorder, it can bring up uncomfortable feelings. This is especially true if that person is close to you. You may feel angry, afraid, ashamed, self-conscious, or misunderstood. This can also happen if you hear it from a professional, but a professional has the knowledge needed to give an accurate diagnosis and can also help you manage any feelings that arise. This can take some time, but counselors are trained to stay with you until you find acceptance and understanding. An armchair psychologist may not know how to handle the situation safely.

  1. You Might Discourage Them From Seeking Real Help

Perhaps the worst thing about analyzing friends and family members is that you might keep them from getting help when they really need it. Instead of speaking to a professional, they may decide to live with your opinion, thinking you have all the answers they need. The same can be true if you diagnose yourself. If you don't work with a professional to learn proven techniques that can help you get better, your condition may never improve.

How It Affects The Armchair Psychologist

Practicing informal psychology doesn't just hurt the person on the receiving end. It also causes problems for the person who's using it. For one thing, it can disrupt relationships. It's hard to have a healthy relationship with someone who thinks you're mentally ill and can't help you recover.

Also, relying on introspection and logic to understand psychology discourages true learning about mental health. Therapists have studied mental conditions and treatments in great detail, and they've learned proven techniques. They've also had supervised clinical experience helping others. In other words, their hard-earned knowledge took a lot of work. If you want to know more about mental health, it's best to speak to an expert.

A Better Approach To Mental Problems: Professional Help

Given the fact that armchair psychology can be hurtful, what should you do if you or someone you know seems to be having mental health issues? First, be sure they know you support them, and then point them in the right direction.

Ask Questions, Listen, And Acknowledge Their Feelings

Even though you're not a psychologist, you're not helpless when someone you know is struggling. It's important to acknowledge that there are ways you can help and ways you can't, but you can help.

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As a friend or family member of someone who might have mental health issues, your first job is to support them. Have a conversation with them, paying attention to their words and body language. Do not judge or diagnose them. Instead, try to truly understand them. Ask them open-ended questions to give them space to discuss what's important to them. Ask how they're feeling, and acknowledge their emotions. Also, let them know you're ready to listen whenever they ask.

Encourage Them To Seek Help From A Professional

The next step is to point them to mental health resources. Don't try to force them to see a therapist. Instead, simply let them know that help is available if they're interested. Then, step back and leave the decision to them. If you're worried about yourself, know that it's okay for you to talk to a counselor, too.

For people who feel it would be inconvenient or embarrassing to go to a counselor's office, it's worth considering online therapy from BetterHelp. It's an easy way to connect with a licensed professional counselor from the comfort of your own home or wherever you have internet access. Online therapy can be an effective alternative to traditional therapy and is likely more accessible depending on your situation.An article published in Current Psychiatry Research and Reviews found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) had high levels of efficacy and acceptability in patients living with depression.Although various studies were covered in the article, the study’s authors noted that online therapy programs had an average of around 80% of both attrition and satisfaction rates. Participants reported high levels of satisfaction (90%) with recurrentCBT interventions.

As mentioned above, it can be easy to access online therapy resources. All you need is a working device such as a phone or laptop, and a connection to the internet. With a busy schedule and many things to do, you don’t have to drive through traffic to attend a traditional therapy session at an office. You can also connect with licensed online therapists through different modalities such as phone calls, live messages, and video conferences if you have specific preferences. You can change these modalities at any time and your convenience.

If you're not sure about online counseling, consider reading some of the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing a range of life's challenges.

Counselor Reviews

"I've gone through many counsellors in my life but none of them have been able to make a connection with me and get me on the right path. Although, we are in different countries and time zones Grace always replies in a timely manner and always has availability for an appointment. Grace has always made me feel extremely comfortable when it comes to talking about anything, that I can be open and has always made me feel understood. Grace has helped me overcome an eating disorder, helped me while I was in a really terrible work place, help with having difficult conversations with people and has given me so many useful tools that help to calm my anxiety. Grace has been a huge help with my personal development and definitely since signing up to better help I have noticed huge positive improvements in my life."

"Maryann is the easiest person for me to talk to in my life. I can actually tell her anything. After years of therapy, I have finally found someone who is genuine and willing to help me and does not judge me."

Moving Forward

Avoiding armchair psychology can be hard because it can feel like giving up on helping others or giving up on receiving help from friends and family. However, it's important to understand the risks, so you can take care of yourself and others. Professional help is the most effective tool for mental health care. If you or someone you know needs support, reach out today.


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