What Does a Psychologist Do?

Psychology is the systematic study of mental, personal, and behavioral patterns. It emerged as a scientific discipline over 100 years ago. Psychologists can use various types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, humanistic and psychodynamic. They can also prescribe medication for people who need it. Psychologist undergo many years of education and training before they can practice.

PsychologistPsychologists must complete a series of educational, examination and supervised practice requirements before they can obtain a license to practice. This includes obtaining a bachelor’s degree and completing a master’s in psychology or a related field. Many programs prepare students to enter a doctoral program, either immediately upon graduation or after a few years of work. Doctoral programs typically involve four to six years of study, with coursework in ethics, statistics, human development, and the biological, cognitive-affective, and social bases of behavior. Students also take clinical courses and participate in research and teaching. Students must pass a national exam, and may need to take additional exams specific to their state before becoming licensed.

Psychologist who choose to focus on a particular subfield of psychology often complete a postdoctoral fellowship in that area. For example, a child psychologist might focus on working with children who have a variety of mental health problems and behavioral issues, and would need to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in this area.

Some psychologists choose to work for government agencies or nonprofit organizations, providing psychological services and support for vulnerable populations. These individuals must earn a bachelor’s degree, then graduate with a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology. In addition to the required coursework, they might spend time participating in a practicum or other form of supervised experience in a community-based setting. Many programs also require a dissertation, and will have students present their research before a panel of faculty members and experts.

The state of New York requires that all mental health counselors, including psychologists, be licensed. The process can be lengthy, and requires that psychologists complete a minimum number of continuing education credits each year to retain their license. Most psychologists also must obtain a license to prescribe medication, and will need to undergo additional training in the field of psychopharmacology. Psychologists who provide psychological services must register with the New York State Department of Education Office of the Professions, and must renew their license every three years. Those who specialize in certain areas of psychology, such as forensic, clinical or school, must complete additional requirements to qualify for licensure.

Assessment and Diagnosis

Psychologists conduct psychological testing and evaluation to determine the cause of mental health issues. They are trained to assess a person’s emotional state, personality, cognitive abilities and other factors. They may use questionnaires, surveys, interview questions and standardized tests to determine a diagnosis.

The purpose of the assessments is to obtain objective data that can be interpreted using scientific methodology. The psychologist does not rely solely on this data and will also consider other information such as the client’s medical history and family history. The psychologist will also use their knowledge of the current research and treatment methods in order to determine a correct diagnosis and to recommend the appropriate course of therapy.

A psychological evaluation is often requested by a patient, their primary care physician or another healthcare professional, such as a surgeon. It is quite common for a doctor to request an evaluation before a surgical procedure in order to determine whether a person is emotionally prepared to withstand the side effects and recovery period.

Other reasons for an assessment are educational (ADD, ADHD) and developmental. Parents commonly seek psychological testing for their children in order to find out if they have a learning disability or are gifted. This can help the family make educational and career decisions.

Psychologists are also trained in the administration of more clinical neuropsychological tests that assess a person’s overall functioning. These are often used in a diagnostic setting and are usually administered in a hospital or clinic. These tests include intelligence tests, a variety of screening tools that assess attention and memory and sometimes motor coordination and strength. These are more specialized evaluations and require more thorough post-doctoral training in order for them to be conducted accurately. These evaluations are a crucial step in the process of diagnosing psychiatric disorders. Without this information, it is impossible to know what to treat and how. Fortunately, there are many treatments and therapies available to those who need them. Psychiatric treatment options include psychotherapy, which is talk therapy, as well as psychotropic drugs (medications that are beneficial to certain mental disorders). Psychologists are experts in both forms of treatment and can help patients overcome the roadblocks that keep them from living happy and healthy lives.

Therapy and Treatment

Psychologist develop personalized therapy and treatment plans for their clients, focusing on the specific mental health issues or concerns that need addressing. They may use a variety of therapeutic techniques and approaches in sessions with their clients, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and mindfulness-based interventions.

During their time together, clients may discuss any feelings or thoughts that are troubling them, and they may ask the therapist questions about their lives or problems they have encountered. The therapist might also provide helpful tools and strategies for dealing with certain life situations, such as coping with the loss of a loved one or adjusting to an unexpected career change. Throughout therapy, the client and therapist work to establish and achieve goals that are beneficial to the individual’s mental health and well-being.

Psychotherapy can help people cope with a wide variety of issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses; physical problems, such as chronic pain or an autoimmune disease; relationship difficulties; and difficult life events, like the death of a loved one or divorce. In addition to psychotherapy, some therapists also offer group therapy sessions, which can be helpful for individuals struggling with similar concerns.

While psychologists typically have more extensive education and training than therapists or counselors, the different types of therapy are often interchangeable and both can be equally effective. It’s important to find a therapist or psychologist with whom you feel comfortable, and make sure they meet state certification and licensing requirements for their specialty. If you have health insurance, check to see if the therapist or psychologist participates in your coverage network. If you don’t have insurance, contact a therapist or psychologist who offers a sliding fee scale according to income.

It’s normal to feel nervous or apprehensive about starting psychotherapy, but many patients find that the first few sessions follow a fairly predictable pattern. During the initial sessions, the therapist gathers information about the client’s past history with psychological or emotional distress and discusses general goals for treatment. During subsequent sessions, the therapist works with the client to address any obstacles or setbacks that might arise in their efforts to achieve the established goals for treatment.

Supervision

In the field of counseling, clinical supervision plays a crucial role. Many experts agree that a supervisor’s primary function is to evaluate the counselor’s clinical work and provide guidance and support to help the counselor develop her skills and enhance her performance. It is also a supervisor’s responsibility to address ethical issues and monitor counselor well-being.

Supervision is an ongoing process that requires a commitment of both time and energy. A supervisor must be able to provide guidance, set clear expectations and monitor progress while balancing the demands of work with clients. In addition, supervisors need to have the administrative and managerial skills necessary to support their supervisees in their professional development.

Different models of supervision have been developed. Some emphasize the need to recognize contextual variables in supervision and training, while others focus on a specific model of a supervisee’s developmental processes. The most effective model for a particular situation must be matched to the developmental needs of the supervisee and the agency culture.

There are several critical aspects of effective clinical supervision:

Supervisors need to be aware of the impact of personal characteristics on counseling effectiveness, and they must be able to recognize when a supervisee is struggling. They should avoid reacting negatively to a supervisee, whether the reaction is perceived as “legitimate” or not. It is also important for the supervisor to avoid imposing their own preferences and values on the supervisee, as this may interfere with a supervisor’s ability to provide the best possible service.

Codes of ethics for most professions warn that dual relationships between a supervisee and a supervisor should be avoided. Problematic dual relationships can include romantic or sexual involvement, socializing outside of work, and favoritism or emotional abuse. Supervisors should help their supervisees develop self-reflective awareness to identify and prevent potential boundary violations.

Some models of supervision include a behavioral contract that defines rewards for meeting the required standards (such as retention of clinical privileges) and sanctions for noncompliance. Other models require that the supervisor and supervisee agree on a plan for observation and taping of sessions. If the tapes are used for evaluation, the reason and rationale for their use must be explained to each client at the beginning of the session.