What is a Psychologist?

What is a Psychologist?

From the New Hampshire Psychological Association

What is a psychologist?
A psychologist is a doctoral-level mental health professional with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. who serves to improve the lives of others through psychological evaluation, counseling or psychotherapy, consultation, education, and research related to behavior.  There are many types of psychologists, just as there are many types of physicians.

How is a psychologist trained?
After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the psychologist-in-training continues with approximately 60 credit hours of class work, research training, and supervised clinical practica.  He/she then writes and defends a dissertation based on original research, completes a full-time year-long clinical internship, and may complete a 1-3 year post doctoral fellowship (particularly for some specialty areas such as neuropsychological or forensic psychology), and finally takes a national examination in order to be licensed to practice. This means that by the time you see a psychologists they have had a total of 8 to 12 years of college, graduate school, and pre- and post-doctoral training internships.

How is a psychologist different from other mental health professionals?
While there are practioners from many disciplines involved in the treatment of “mental illness”, psychology stands apart by its focus on understanding normal human growth and development as well as the ways that people’s lives may become troubling at times.  Psychologists typically have considerable research training which helps them to discern the most important factors in a complex human situation, to ask the most relevant questions, and to better focus their efforts to help.  This research background also allows them to understand current research outcomes as reported in the many scientific journals and apply the latest research findings to the treatment of their clients. Thus their clients benefit by receiving the most current therapies.

Some specialty areas within professional psychology include:

Behavioral Medicine/Health Psychology:
A health psychologist typically works with individuals in medical settings who have both physical and psychological difficulties.  They may treat individuals with heart disease, sleep disorders, hypertension, or cancer to improve coping strategies, medication compliance, and general well being.

Child-clinical psychology:
Child-clinical psychologists aim to better children’s lives through assessment and various forms of treatment.  They may be involved in educational placement, child custody cases, child abuse investigations, and/or treatment of emotional difficulties.  Often the Child-clinical psychologist will work with the child’s family as well to create better understanding of the child’s behavior.

Educational psychology:
Educational psychologists consult with school systems to design or evaluate educational programs, assess students for learning, attentional, or other psychological disorders, and provide training for educators on psychological matters.

Family psychology:
Psychologists treating families think of the family unit, rather than the individual, as their client.  They try to understand how each family member’s role contributes and interacts to result in the “family dynamics.”  Of course we know that families are very special and family psychologists try to support families and see them as the main source of meaning in individual’s lives.  Their awareness of family patterns can help families become more harmonious, and through better understanding of one another’s needs, become closer and more gratifying.

Forensic psychology:
Forensic psychologists interface with the civil and criminal justice system.  They may assess whether an individual is psychologically competent to stand trial, whether a claimant’s emotional or cognitive problems are directly caused by a work-related or accident-related injury, or which parent is deemed most appropriate to assume custody in a divorce trial.

A geropsychologist focuses on assessing and treating emotional difficulties in older adults.  Assessment of such problems may involve interviewing techniques, questionnaires, or neuropsychological assessment (see below).  Treatment may involve minimizing depression or anxiety for the elder, consulting with family members about mental or cognitive disorders such as dementia, and/or recommending a consultation with a geropsychiatrist for medication-based treatment.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology:
The Industrial/Organizational psychologist specializes in helping industry and other organizations with their many possible problems.  They attempt to enhance the relationship between work environments and the people in those environments.  For example, an “I/O” psychologist may train a new board of directors to function as a more effective group for the organization’s benefit, help board members or managers clarify goals so that organizations progress as rapidly as possible, prepare job descriptions so that they are “doable” rather than impossible, define the characteristics of an individual’s personality or other life aspects which will make that person either a candidate for a position or not, and/or study work productivity and ways to change the environment to increase that productivity.

Clinical neuropsychologists have specialized training in assessment and treatment of individuals with known or suspected neurological conditions such as brain injury, dementia, epilepsy, stroke, or learning disorders.  Services provided by a neuropsychologist are primarily in two areas: assessment of cognitive problems and treatment of cognitive and emotional difficulties.  Neuropsychological assessment includes evaluation of many skills such as concentration, learning and memory, spatial and perceptual skills, language, and reasoning.  Neuropsychologists also assess emotional functioning to see whether depression, anxiety, or other mood problems might be contributing to difficulties with thinking skills.  They may provide cognitive rehabilitation, which is a treatment that focuses on helping an individual compensate for cognitive and emotional problems due to a brain injury or neurological illness.  Given that depression and some forms of anxiety are common after a brain injury or illness, neuropsychologists may also provide psychotherapy services.  Specialized training standards for neuropsychologists are described in more detail here:  http://www.theaacn.org/position_papers/Houston_Conference.pdf

Sports Psychology:
Sports psychologists work with athletes to maximize their performance through behavioral means.  They serve athletes at all levels of amateur and professional sports.  A growing subfield of sports psychology is management of sports-related concussions, and many high school, college, and professional sports programs employ psychologists or neuropsychologists to prevent, minimize, and manage head injuries in athletes.

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