Can Your Psychologist Help You if They're Younger Than You?

If your psychologist doesn't have children, can they help you with bonding problems with your teen daughter? If your psychologist is only 25 years old, will they know how to guide you in your marital problems? We answer these and other questions.
Can Your Psychologist Help You if They're Younger Than You?
Loreto Martín Moya

Written and verified by the psychologist Loreto Martín Moya.

Last update: 26 November, 2022

A widespread misconception or myth concerning therapy is that a younger psychologist won’t be able to help. You go to therapy with problems that you can’t solve, complex emotions that you don’t understand, or emotional relationships that seem to have no solution. You go to find a solution. So, can a young psychologist help you when it’s unlikely that they’ve gone through any similar experiences?

However, we don’t expect a surgeon, who’s about to perform a procedure, to have experienced the same problem as their patient. It’s the same for a psychologist. Our erroneous thinking lies in a question that isn’t easy to answer: what does psychological therapy really consist of?

Oracle, sage, father: What a therapist isn’t

Frequently, a patient is looking for something in a psychologist that they aren’t. Because a psychologist doesn’t indicate what’s right or wrong. They’re not parental figures who validate or invalidate decisions. Nor are they sages who dictate moral axioms to tell their clients how to live. They don’t have long white beards (unless they choose to) to stroke while they unlock lessons and morals for their clients.

A psychologist is a mental health professional whose work is limited. The APA (American Psychology Association) defines their work as a problem-solving exercise, where emotion, thoughts, and behavior are worked on tangentially (ABC model) (Ellis, 1955). The theoretical models that have been developed work on these elements from different approaches. However, the objective is always the same, whether working on the past, focusing on behavior, or deconstructing cognitive schemas.

Psychological disorders, if we want to label them, are based on dysfunctions in one of these elements. These difficulties may have their origins in many different aspects, which will be reviewed in the therapeutic process. The therapist is the individual who facilitates the work on these factors, based on their knowledge of dialectics, the relationship between context and human development, and the impact of different experiences on certain processes. For instance, attachment, bonding, or self-concept.

psychologist with senior patient

Science and conceptualization of psychology

The confusion between youth and wisdom isn’t unique to psychology. However, in psychology, it tends to be linked to the root problem of psychology as a discipline. Psychology is a science. Ribes-Iñesta (2009) states that no one questions, at this point, the research methods or the mathematical formulation of psychology. Nevertheless, psychology continues to be understood as something that’s not a consequence of:

  • The establishment of causal relationships with objects from other disciplines. In fact, the pressure to seek complete and infallible explanations of the human psyche leads psychology to have an imaginary and mythological domain (Ribes, 2009). Moreover, it loses sight of its empirical knowledge. Indeed, empirical knowledge of psychology doesn’t seem sufficient.
  • The introduction of the ‘context’ variable threatens the objectivity of psychology. It appears to be less scientific because context is such an important element.
  • Ribes (2009) states: “Psychology does not have a theory, nor does it have defined limits with other sciences, from which it is indistinctly nourished by concepts, techniques, models, and measurements”. This makes the psychological process confusing.

While psychology is a science, people often conceive of it as a totally subjective and random discipline, based, not on years of study, but on the specific characteristics of the therapist. These characteristics are often associated with wisdom. Therefore, therapy is seen, not as a study of emotion, behavior, and cognition in search of problem-solving, but as being merged with philosophical disciplines. This would suggest that it seeks to answer questions that a psychologist can’t solve, no matter how old they are.

The professional skills of a young psychologist

Certain skills influence the therapeutic process, either facilitating or complicating it. Several meta-analyses have been conducted that have tried to shed some clarity about the abilities that specifically influence the psychological process.

The main vehicle for conducting therapy is dialectic. This has been extensively studied. Dr. Muñoz Rivas (2017) exposes some of these abilities as expertise, attractiveness, and reliability. More specifically, expertise and reliability could be the skills that we naturally -and erroneously- associate with age.

  • In expertise, we find the perception of usefulness by the patient. It may be based on experience, maturity, specialization, or the social evaluation of the role. Depending on how the patient assumes the professional’s expertise and, above all, what it’s based on, the therapeutic process will be more effective.
  • In the case of reliability, this is based on verbal congruence, reputation, and honesty. Once again, like expertise, the indicators that are relevant to the individual will be those that build their reliability.

Age is another indicator. This may or may not be an element of reliability and expertise. If the individual links middle age with expertise, it’ll be easier for them to see a senior psychologist as more effective. However, if indicators such as social valuation are also important and the individual doesn’t ‘believe in psychology’, age will be irrelevant: the psychologist won’t be an expert, regardless.

If age isn’t an indicator of reliability for a person, if a young psychologist is honest, efficient, and dialectically skilled, then they’ll be reliable. Psychologists aren’t more reliable just because they’re older. It’s the patient’s assessment that converts age into a relevant element (or not).

The psychology of wisdom

Wisdom has been studied at a conceptual level. Baltes (2000) defines wisdom as “expert knowledge of life’s problems”. Expert knowledge isn’t a skill or requirement that’s appeared in studies conducted on psychologists’ skills. Neither is age.

Furthermore, expert knowledge of the problems of life need not include the ability to bring about change in those problems. That’s because the change isn’t caused by the psychologist but chosen by the patient. In fact, the most active figure in therapy is the patient. They make decisions, build their values, and eliminate or enhance behaviors.

Teenage psychologist with patient

Decisions are made by the patient, not the psychologist

The patient doesn’t go to therapy to have the psychologist choose their path for them. They go to work on the emotions or cognitions that they either haven’t chosen, or the choices they do make are contrary to their value system.

Age, like gender, doesn’t influence the effectiveness of therapy. However, it is influenced by the opinion that the patient has of their therapist. This opinion is based on many constructs that have nothing to do with science or the objective efficacy of therapy.

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with a young psychologist, before asking for a change of therapist, perhaps you could review what you’re looking for in therapy. Looking for a father, oracle, or wise man who’ll make you choose the best option may be causing your role as a patient to be passive rather than active. This may mean you’ll tend to trust an older psychologist, even if other indicators suggest that they’re not the one you need. Moreover, by choosing a psychologist just because they’re older, you’ll be following your usual patterns of connecting with your environment. But these patterns are exactly what you’re seeking to change.

Therefore, in light of the information in this article, perhaps you should reconsider the question of whether age really is a differentiating factor in determining a good psychologist.

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  • APA (2012). Entendiendo la psicoterapia. Recuperado de: https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/entendiendo-la-psicoterapia
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  • Ribes, E. (2009). La psicología como ciencia básica. ¿Cuál es su universo de investigación? Artículo objetivo: psicología como ciencia básica, 1(2), 7-19.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.