I am trying to remember when I first understood what my dad did for a living. As a kid I think I knew that he helped people, but that’s about it. I remember when he built a psychiatric hospital but at the time I was focused on playing on the construction site like a jungle gym. I don’t think I really understood until high school when I also began to find myself increasingly interested in psychology.
Since high school, people who knew my father was a psychologist have often expressed sympathy, as in, “It must be so hard to have a parent that is always analyzing you or wanting you to talk about your feelings.”
The therapist-parent archetype they seem be referencing feels akin to Richard Dreyfuss in What About Bob? Sometimes what was implied was a belief that therapists are more “crazy” than the typical parent, and that I am fortunate to be so well-adjusted. Far be it from me to disagree with such a characterization of myself, but I do disagree that having a psychologist for a dad has been a burden. In fact, aside from working most evenings at home or occasional phone calls from clients, there were very few ways I noticed his profession influencing daily fam- ily life.
My dad never pressured me to pursue any particular career path, including psychology, and didn’t initially think I was serious when I decided to pursue a Psy.D. I remember trying to explain that this was something I had always wanted to be, which may not have been completely true.
At some point in my life I think I had archaeologist, architect, writer, teacher and filmmaker on the list as well. I believe that my dad’s influence on my career path was largely subtle and indirect, more the result of shared personality characteristics, such as psychological mindedness, high verbal ability and an interest in helping others.
Once I started graduate school, our conversations about psychology helped to validate a sense of “fitness” for the profession. Grad school is not the real world (fortunately), and because our discussions on psychological issues typically made sense to me and felt comfortable, it boosted my confidence that I would also feel comfortable with real world colleagues. Perhaps this is why I never felt the urge to find a “mentor” in grad school, because that’s the role my dad has always occupied for me.
For those of you who have children but don’t have a psychologist parent, remember not to raise your child in a Skinner Box or otherwise treat them like a psychological experiment. The best influence you can have is being yourself, even if you cannot always demonstrate unconditional positive regard. Try to use what you’ve learned about psychology, but be sure to watch What About Bob — as a cautionary tale.
And don’t feel bad if your child doesn’t follow in your footsteps, because Congress will eventually approve the Medicare SGR cuts in reimbursement.
Anthony S. Ragusea, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice with his father (Stephen A. Ragusea, Psy.D.) in Key West, Fla. Anthony may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org