Why Choose a Psychologist?

When you’re looking for help with a psychological difficulty, it can be overwhelming to sort through the many options available to you. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and now hundreds of psychotherapists and life coaches. So how do you choose?

I would say that this choice is particularly hard because it’s not really clear what differentiates the different types of therapists. So I thought I would take a moment in this post to delineate the reasons to choose a psychologist.

  1. Training: So, in my opinion, one of the strongest reasons to choose a psychologist is that we are very highly trained in psychotherapy. Registered psychologists (with few exceptions) have PhD’s, which means we completed four years of undergraduate training in psychology, then two years in graduate school completing a Master’s degree, then another 5-7 years of graduate school completing a PhD, and finally another year of supervised practice before we are fully registered as psychologists. During this training, we are supervised closely, and we learn a wide-range of therapeutic techniques as well as the ability make our clients feel comfortable and understood. To my knowledge, no other group of practitioners goes through this level of supervised training before they are licensed practitioners. Trust me, it’s not always an easy process to be constantly under observation as one is honing his/her skills, but it leads to individuals that are highly and consistently competent at the end of the day.
  2. We’re Effective and Efficient: We are trained to quickly assess and diagnose an individual’s difficulties (in fact, psychologists and psychiatrists are the only groups providing psychotherapy who are able to offer diagnoses to their patients), which means we are equipped to help you both understand and treat your problem quickly. Our sessions may cost more on average than other psychotherapists, but anecdotally, I have had many clients finally come to see me after having seen unregulated psychotherapists for years without getting anywhere. They often say that it was nice talking to the person, but it felt more like talking to a friend and they just weren’t being given the skills to actually change things. In my practice, I find that my patients experience significant improvement within the first two or three sessions, even those who have spent years with other therapists not improving. So it likely that, although we may cost more each session, you will probably spend less overall because your problem will be treated efficiently and effectively. As well, our services are often covered by extended health insurance plans so some patients receive full courses of treatment without paying anything out of pocket.
  3. Research Ability: As we hold PhD’s, all clinical and neuropsychologists are academics in addition to being clinicians. We complete at least two massive independent research projects (a Master’s thesis and a PhD Dissertation). As well, we are involved in other research studies throughout and often beyond our training. What does this mean for you? It means your therapist will be not just interested in keeping up-to-date with the current research being published on psychological issues and improvements in treatment options, but s/he will also be able to critically assess this research and synthesize it so that s/he can transmit the important findings to you, either directly (by explaining new findings) or indirectly (by using new techniques to help you improve faster). She will also be consistently evaluating your progress in therapy (whether formally with self-report measures or informally through observation) and tweaking things so that you improve as quickly as possible.
  1. How We’re Regulated: Often to the frustration of some of us sometimes, our regulatory body (or the people who decide what we can and can’t do if we want to continue to call ourselves psychologists), is extremely strict. In order to be able to practice in a specific area (for example, with children, or families, etc.), we have to demonstrate an intense amount of course work and supervised experience working in that area. So unlike other professions who can decide on their own if they want to start seeing couples, for example, we need to demonstrate to our college that we have the training AND the supervision (which often requires a year of supervision in addition to all the supervision we received during our graduate school careers). What does this mean for you? It means that if you see a psychologist or you send your child or adolescent to see one, you are guaranteed to know that that person has the skills and experience to be able to work efficiently and effectively.

I could go on further, but I don’t want to make this list too long. I hope it has been helpful in terms of at least giving you an idea of who psychologists are and what we do. Please feel free to post or email any comments or questions.

Worry (Part 1)

Why Worry?

So one of the biggest things people struggle with is getting caught up in thoughts. We’ve all been there at one time or another, where we have a distressing or scary thought and we just seem to replay it and the possibilities that (could) stem from it over and over in our minds. “What if I can’t complete that project I’m working on. What if I get a bad review? What if I end up losing my job from it? What would happen to my family? My marriage? My kids and their futures?” etc. I call this a worry tree. It starts with the trunk of the tree, which is usually an actual problem that needs to be, and can be, solved (e.g., “I need to finalize the analyses on my project tomorrow.”). Unfortunately, if we have any worry tendencies, that worry will branch into unsolvable, “potential” problems (e.g., “What if I can’t complete the project and I lose my job?” “What if I’m an embarrassment?”) and each of these thought branches can spawn new worry branches (e.g,, “If I’m fired, I’ll never get another job.” “I won’t be able to afford to educate my children.” “My wife my leave me.”). And I think it’s important to notice that these worries usually run laterally, existing sometimes all at the same time in our minds, with our conscious awareness bouncing from one to the next.

So why is this happening? Well, there are a lot of levels to this answer, but the first piece is that we tend to see worry as pretty helpful. For example, we may think that it allows us to be prepared for the worst-case scenario happening. Or maybe we think it protects us from bad things happening. Or we may feel that not worrying about something would mean we don’t care about it or the people potentially involved in it.  Finally, worry also serves to try to decrease the anxiety that comes along with whatever bad thought started this cascade of thoughts in the first place. We’ll get back to this, but it’s important to realize that, although worry feels like an emotion at times, it’s actually a behavior meant to distract away from anxiety. Funny enough, people who tend to suffer the most worry are the ones who tend to have the most positive beliefs about why worry is helpful.

Before reading on to the next part of this series, ask yourself about your own beliefs about worry.  Why do you do it?  What kind of dangers could arise if you didn’t do it?  What would not worrying say about you as a person?

And over the next day or so, have a look at whether your brain is creating any worry trees. We’ll learn more about those in the next part.

Please feel free to share your answers or thoughts about the post in the comments.

The Beauty of Therapy, for Both the Client and the Therapist

In a recent yoga class, I was speaking to one of the other students who I had just met. She asked me what I did for a living and when I said I was a psychologist, she said that must be an interesting job, but it must be so hard as well, since I must be burdened by having to listen to people’s problems all day long.  I’ve been reflecting on this conversation ever since.  Yes, it’s absolutely true that this profession can be “heavy” in terms of the subject matter I work with.  But I’ve been doing this for ten years and I don’t think I’ve really ever thought of it as a hard job.  In fact, I would say that I’m more uplifted by my work with clients than brought down by it.  Why?  Because people don’t stay down for long!  And it is truly a pleasure to watch as people, who first arrived in my office in pretty tough situations, learn about how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours have all been interacting to perpetuate their circumstances.  And then the beauty and courage they show as they change up these thoughts and behaviours and become more accepting of their emotions is all the more inspiring.  Truly, in a given day, I would say that no more than 30% of my clients are typically in really dark places.  And even when they are, I don’t feel discouraged or brought down because I know that I will be able to help them find the way out, and I hold that hope for the both of us.  So although I can completely understand why one would think this would be a really tough job, it’s really quite the opposite most of the time!

In thinking through this, I was inspired to finally start this blog (which I’ve been meaning to start for quite a while).  I thought that through it, I could share some of the insights and strategies for dealing with the wide variety of issues that walk through my office door in any given year.  In my opinion, mental illness is not an issue of kind, but rather of degree, so I hope that you can find something useful in the posts, even if you aren’t struggling with clinically significant difficulties.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, reactions, or suggestions for future posts.  You can post them as a comment or send them to me directly at drcarmenweiss@gmail.com.

And thank you for reading.