Why Do They Call Therapists Shrinks?

Why Do They Call Therapists Shrinks?

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Therapists and other people employed within the mental health industry have an important role in helping people to overcome their problems.

They will provide a supportive and judgment-free environment in which patients feel comfortable talking about their issues.

You may have heard someone refer to a therapist or psychiatrist as a shrink. What does the term mean? Where does it come from? This guide will tell you everything that you need to know about the origin of this outdated label. 

Why Are Therapists Called Shrinks?

Therapists and other professionals in the mental health industry are regularly referred to as shrinks, which is a shortened version of the term “head shrinkage”. 

This phrase refers to a shrunken head. During this historical process, a severed human head would be prepared so that it is significantly smaller than its original size.

Typically performed on one’s enemy, these shrunken heads would then be kept as trophies. 

Unfortunately, this term is rather outdated. The term “shrink” emerged as a way of describing psychologists and therapists in an era in which it was considered shameful to receive treatment for mental health.

Today, many people continue to use the term “shrink” without being aware of its origins and potentially problematic connotations.

It is continuously used in literature, film, and television. Thankfully, there is less of a social stigma surrounding the need for mental health treatment. 

The exact origin of this slang term is not fully known. The term is believed to have become popular from the 1940s to the 1960s, though the first time that it was used is not currently known.

Some people claim that “shrink” was first used as slang for a therapist by the psychiatrist William James in 1882. 

One could also make the case that the term “shrink” may highlight the reductionist approach that some therapists will take to mental health. Often, a complex human experience is reduced to a simplistic form to diagnose a patient. 

Varieties Of Mental Health Professionals

Now that you know a little more about the origin of the nickname “shrinks”, you might be wondering what professions are given this name.

There are different jobs within the mental health industry, each performing a slightly different vital role to play. Here are just some of the jobs that may be labeled as “shrinks”:

Social Workers

Social workers have the rewarding job of helping vulnerable people. They will help patients to overcome their problems and promote healthy well-being. Social workers will evaluate mental health problems and attempt to treat them. 

To become a social worker, individuals will need to obtain a master’s-level degree in social work. This career is designed to help encourage social change. 

Why Do They Call Therapists Shrinks?


A psychologist simply refers to someone who is trained and qualified in the industry of mental health. Psychologists will not necessarily have to use this career to treat patients, Instead, they could focus on research or teaching. 

One of the main types of psychologists is a clinical psychologist, who will help a diverse range of individuals and will treat a plethora of mental health conditions.

Other examples may include cognitive psychologists or behavioral psychologists. 


Counselors will work alongside patients to diagnose psychological difficulties. After diagnosing these issues, counselors will then search for solutions to these mental health problems.

As with therapists, there are lots of different sub-genres of counselors, each focusing on different areas. For instance, counselors may focus on psychodynamic therapy or humanistic therapy. 

For this career, you will need to obtain not only a master’s degree in psychology but also significant clinical experience.  


This is a type of medical doctor with a focus on diagnosing and relieving mental health disorders. To pursue this career, you must be a qualified doctor.

This is one of the main factors that differentiates it from other types of therapists. You will also be required to possess significant experience in the industry. 

Psychiatrists can help patients to overcome a wide assortment of different conditions, such as PTSD, phobias, panic attacks, and eating conditions. 

Child Therapists

Up next, child therapists are designed to help provide children with the mental health services that they require. These therapists may also work alongside the family of the child so that they can better assess and treat their problems. 

Behavioral Therapists

Behavioral therapy refers to a variety of talk therapy that aims to change the way that patients behave. 

These behavioral therapists will help their patients to overcome negative behaviors and make long-lasting changes. This will include techniques such as reinforcement or self-monitoring.

Final Thoughts

Though the importance of mental health professionals has become increasingly recognized in modern society, many people continue to use the term “shrinks”.

For the most part, people don’t realize that this is quite a dismissive way of referring to therapists and psychologists. This is because the origin of the phrase has become lost over time. 

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