‘Karen*’ has become famous. Karen has a lot to say about a lot of things. Karen wants you to know what they know - and they know a lot! A Karen is a person who has opinions but lacks the evidence - valid evidence.
A Karen may start conversations with, “Have you ever tried X?” (‘X’ equals a home remedy, behavioral strategy to manage ADHD-related symptomatology in your child, or any number of possible areas of ‘expertise.’) Typically, a Karen’s sources come from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and various questionable websites. Karen’s main source? ‘They.’ A Karen will let you know the latest about what ‘they’ are saying about nutrition, working out, taking supplements… But most distressingly, what to do to manage your psychological health. A Karen treads into dangerous territory when doing this, but Karen likely doesn’t even know they’re doing it.
As a psychologist, I have a specific interest in ensuring that I do the very best I can as a professional to embed my interactions and recommendations in evidence. Evidence does not exclusively mean experimental data (though that’s a great place to start!). It can mean more qualitative approaches. It may be based on clinical experience, coupled with strong and meaningful theory. Psychology is, at its core, a science. Over time, there has been some diffusion of the science aspect of psychology and perhaps an overemphasis on the art of practice, but the fact remains that my roots as a psychologist lie in evidence. Our regulatory boards take that commitment seriously, and so do I.
So, it concerns me when others, who may or may not understand the difference between a psychologist and a well-intentioned individual, are provided with advice from folks who, best intentions aside, have no accountability or responsibility for the claims they are making. I’d offer an example that may be familiar to you but unfortunately, there are too many to choose from (understand that I am not discounting alternative approaches to psychological wellness). There are, without question, certain things people can do that may enhance psychological wellness that are not based on evidence. But that is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about folks who make recommendations to vulnerable people based on little to no (to verifiably false) evidence.
Be a good consumer of psychological advice. It is wise to ask yourself a few questions before engaging in a path to wellness that may be lacking in valid evidence:
Who is the source? Some people take on personas of expertise and what they say sounds great! But what is their background and experience? Just because someone has experienced personal trauma does not make them an expert on your trauma. We can all empathize with someone else’s pain and their hopes to support others who have had a similar experience, but personal experience does not exclusively imply expertise.
What is the motivation? We all want to be liked and admired. Is that perhaps what is driving the narrative they are promoting to you? Do they stand to gain financially? Full disclosure: I get paid to be a psychologist. Do I gain financially? Yes. Is that my motivation? Absolutely not! I would have bailed on such a demanding career were it not for the non-financial rewards of feeling a sense of pride and connection with my clients and students. Is a Karen looking for personal validation? For more social media followers? What drives them to try to steer you in a certain direction?
What about those who are qualified? Is their advice always to be taken at face value? Nope, not at all. Again, full disclosure: I have provided some miserable advice to my clients in the past, but I have learned from my mistakes. I also acknowledge when I’m wrong. I have never claimed to be an expert (though others have called me so), but I do claim expertise in certain areas and work exclusively and only within those areas. It’s dangerous and potentially unethical for psychologists to deviate from their areas of expertise or to offer recommendations to clients that could be, in many cases, harmful. I know of at least two psychologists who have recommended drinking to their clients/followers. Okay, I mean, we all have our strategies, but if the best you have to offer as a psychologist is ‘drinking through it,’ perhaps it’s time to brush up on your clinical skills.
Engage in optimistic skepticism. Maybe something good is being said to you, but don’t swallow the pill until you know what the medicine is.
*The use of the name Karen does not intentionally or unintentionally represent any real persons named Karen! Apologies for any unintended offence to any real person whose name is Karen. I know you’re better than this!
Dr. Brent Macdonald has over 20 years of experience working with individuals with a variety of complex learning profiles. He is a highly sought-after lecturer, speaker, and has provided professional development for schools and businesses on mental toughness, anxiety, complex learners, and other topics of interest. For more information on the services Dr. Brent and his team offer at Macdonald Psychology Group, call 403-229-3455 or visit complexlearners.com.
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