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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.