Why do we Call a Psychiatrist a Shrink?

Good question!

Shrink in this case is an abbreviation of headshrinker, which was a slang term for a psychiatrist (or mental-health professional in general), from around the late 1940s or early 1950s. I guess it came about because patients felt like the pressure of treatment made it feel like their heads were being shrunk. Some also think it refers to the deflation of the patients’ egos.

It’s telling that shrink is sometimes used to refer to both psychiatrists and psychologists. People often get confused between the two, because they both deal with the mind. Psychology is a broader field, dealing with human emotions and behaviour in general, with psychologists tending to specialise in certain fields. Psychology, appropriately enough, means knowledge of the soul, derived from the Greek psyche (soul) and -logia (study of).

A psychiatrist, on the other hand, specifically treats mental illness, and the word’s etymology is also appropriate. It means healer of the soul: psyche + iatreia (healing). An appropriate title for what must be an incredibly challenging job.

13 thoughts on “Why do we Call a Psychiatrist a Shrink?

  1. But psychiatrists also conduct psychotherapy, too, is that right? This is an interesting distinction to ponder. I never knew that the root of the term psychology derived from “knowledge of the soul.” That softens the concept a bit for me, making the field seem somehow more approachable, less intimidating.

    Daniel J. Siegel talks about the differences between the mind and the brain (i.e. subjectivity, neural integration) in his book “The Mindful Therapist…”.

    Fascinating topic. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I think psychotherapy can be delivered by either a psychiatrist or a psychologist, depending on the type.
      I find it really interesting that we use the Greek for “soul” to create so many words related to the mind. Even though we don’t always think of the soul and the mind as the same thing, it makes a kind of sense.

      Liked by 1 person

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