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

Medically reviewed by Jerry Crimmins, PsyD, LP
Updated March 19, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

An “armchair quarterback” is someone who is watching a football game at home, giving opinions about the team's decisions, even though they usually lack professional expertise. But what about “armchair psychology?” 

While an armchair quarterback is on the other side of the screen, the words of someone who practices armchair psychology may have a more significant impact. In addition, they can potentially have a destructive effect on the person on the receiving end. 

Armchair psychology usually isn’t based on objective and scientific observations, unlike the advice that someone might receive from a licensed online therapist or mental health professional. So please keep reading to learn about armchair psychology and how to avoid it.

What Is Armchair Psychology?

Have Questions About Armchair Psychology?

Armchair psychology typically comes from the logic and introspection of an untrained layperson. Unlike professional psychologists and therapists, armchair psychologists are not certified, licensed, or trained to issue mental health advice. 

Instead, they might think about how things have worked for them, what they've read online, and what makes sense based on what they know. Then, they may state what seems right from their perspectiv. 

While introspection can be a helpful tool, it can lead to limited or incorrect views. And armchair psychology can't replace professional help for those experiencing mental health issues.

How People Use Their Ideas About Psychology

People who use armchair psychology usually feel they have a good reason for offering advice. For example, they may want to help someone solve a problem or make a decision.

This section will discuss how people might use armchair psychology.

1. To Diagnose Themselves And Others

When someone feels distressed by their behavior or that of another person, it's natural to want to label it. But without training, they're likely to choose labels they don't fully understand. As a result, they might decide that someone has a serious mental illness when the symptoms aren't present. Diagnosis is a complex process requiring the supervision of a licensed professional, so it's rare to arrive at the correct conclusion without training in psychology. 

Diagnoses made without formal training are usually incorrect. For example, if an armchair psychologist sees someone sleeping too much, they might decide that the person is depressed. And while depression may be at play, it's also possible that a physical condition is making this person tired. If the person accepts the diagnosis of depression, they might not seek medical help to find the physical source of their fatigue.

If the underlying medical cause of fatigue is serious, this could put the person's life in jeopardy. A licensed professional would have a better chance of understanding the possibilities and referring the person to a physician if needed.

2. To Offer Advice

While their motivation can range from concern to control, most armchair psychologists love offering advice. They often think they know what's best and may use psychological words, phrases, and labels to back up their advice.

A mental health professional, on the other hand, won't usually tell someone what to do. Instead, they'll likely help the person examine their thoughts and feelings and use sound psychological methods to help identify the source. Then, they may help the person come to conclusions and consider their options to make a healthy choice.

3. To Make Important Decisions

Sometimes, people might use armchair psychology to solve personal problems or make critical decisions. However, since they're not a trained counselor, they may misuse psychological terms and concepts.

How Armchair Psychology Impacts The Person Being "Diagnosed"

When someone receives an amateur diagnosis, they may be vulnerable to adverse effects. Whether the armchair psychologist is thinking about their issues or someone else's, their advice has the potential to cause problems. Here are some of the potential effects.

1. Decreased Self-Esteem And Self-Confidence

When someone hears an opinion about what they might be experiencing, they may believe it and begin feeling bad about themselves. In addition, they might start seeing themselves as inferior, weak, or different from other people, which could damage their self-esteem and confidence.

Trained therapists don't usually dwell on a diagnosis during sessions. Instead, they typically focus on resolving issues and helping their client overcome them.

2. Increased Stigma

When an armchair psychologist labels someone and tells others about their opinion, that person may experience stigma and discrimination. As a result, people — even close friends and family — might begin to treat them differently.

3. Distressing Emotions

When an armchair psychologist offers opinions about someone's mental health, the person may feel angry, afraid, ashamed, self-conscious, or misunderstood. While there is a potential for the same feelings to occur when the words come from a professional, a licensed therapist or psychologist has the training to base their assertions on objective and help their client manage emotions that arise. 

4. Not Seeking Professional Help

Instead of speaking to a professional, someone who receives an armchair psychology diagnosis may decide to live with the opinion they receive, thinking that the person has all the answers. The same can be true if someone uses armchair psychology to diagnose themselves.

How It Affects The Armchair Psychologist

Informal psychology can potentially cause problems for the person using it. For example, it might disrupt relationships – for example, it can be challenging for a person to have a healthy relationship with someone who thinks they're mentally ill.

Additionally, relying on introspection and personal experience to understand psychology might discourage the person from seeking professional help for any issues they may have. Licensed mental health professionals have studied mental conditions and treatments extensively. They've also had supervised clinical experience helping others.

A Safer Approach To Mental Problems: Professional Help

Armchair psychology has the potential to be hurtful. A safer approach to mental health problems is usually to let the person know they're supported and consider suggesting professional help.

Ask Questions, Listen, And Acknowledge Their Feelings

Have Questions About Armchair Psychology?

People can offer help to those who are struggling without armchair psychology. They can offer conversation, support, and a non-judgmental environment. Additionally, they might ask open-ended questions and give the person space to talk. 

Encourage Them To Seek Help From A Professional

A next step might be pointing the person towards mental health resources. This doesn't mean trying to force them to see a therapist. Instead, it's about letting the person know that help is available if they're interested and then leaving the decision to them. And if you're worried about yourself, you might remind yourself that it's okay for you to talk to a counselor, too.

For people who might feel uncomfortable about going to a counselor's office, it's worth considering online therapy from BetterHelp. Online therapy makes it easy to connect with a licensed professional counselor from the comfort of your home or wherever you have the internet. Online therapy can be an effective alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy and is often more available. 

An article published in Current Psychiatry Research and Reviews found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) had high efficacy and acceptability levels in patients experiencing depression. Although the article covers various studies, the authors noted that online therapy programs had an average of around 80% of both attrition and satisfaction rates. In addition, participants reported high levels of satisfaction (90%) with recurrent CBT interventions.

All that's needed to get online therapy is an internet connection. With a busy schedule and many things to do, you can skip driving through traffic to attend face-to-face therapy. And you can connect with licensed online therapists through your preferred methods, such as phone calls, live messages, and video conferences. 

If you'd like more information and clarification about online counseling, consider reading the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing various life challenges.

Counselor Reviews

"I've gone through many counselors 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 workplace, 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."

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Avoiding armchair psychology might be challenging, and it may feel like giving up on helping others. However, it's essential to understand the risks. Professional help is the most effective option for those seeking mental health care or support.

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