Why is a psychiatrist called a shrink? The term is a clipping of headshrinker, a US slang term that dates to 1950. It is based on a metaphor that evokes the image of a head-hunter who preserves shrunken heads. The idea is that a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst messes or screws with your head. From Time magazine 27 November 1950:

Anyone who had predicted that he would end up as the rootin’-tootin’ idol of U.S. children would have been led instantly off to a headshrinker.

The clipped form appears some 15-odd years later. From Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 The Crying of Lot:

It was Dr Hilarius, her shrink or psychotherapist.

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Historical Dictionary of American Slang)

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