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About Psychology

What is a Psychologist?

And how do they differ from other mental health providers?

Psychologists are health care professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat and prevent mental, emotional, adjustment, or behavioral health problems. Psychologists help individuals, couples, and families to live healthier, more functional and fulfilling lives.

Psychologists who specialize in psychotherapy and other forms of psychological treatment are highly trained professionals with expertise in the areas of human behavior, mental health assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and behavior change. Psychologists work with clients to assist them to change their feelings and attitudes and to develop healthier, more effective patterns of behavior. Psychologists develop programs to promote and maintain health and personal growth, to address developmental or situational crises, and to more effectively manage life stress.

Psychologists are trained to independently administer and interpret psychological and neuropsychological tests to recommend, facilitate, and provide appropriate treatment.Where medication is an indicated aspect of treatment, psychologists refer clients to a psychiatrist or other physician for a medication evaluation.When medication is only one part of the overall treatment program, psychologists consult with the client’s physician to coordinate the psychological and medical parts of treatment. Psychologists may assist physicians in medication decisions but they do not prescribe drugs.

After graduation from 4 years of college, psychologists spend an average of 7 years in graduate education, training, and research before receiving a doctoral degree. As part of their professional training, they must complete a 12-month, supervised clinical internship in a hospital or organized health setting and at least one year of post-doctoral supervised experience before they can practice independently in any health care arena. Psychologists have one of the following doctoral degrees: Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D. It’s the combination of doctoral-level training and clinical internship that distinguishes psychologists from other mental health care providers.

In Arkansas, psychologists must be licensed by the state to practice. The licensure law is intended to protect the public by limiting licensure to those persons qualified to practice psychology as defined by state law. License renewal depends upon demonstration of continued competence, adherence to professional ethics, and requires continuing education.

Psychiatrists attend college and medical school, they obtain an M.D. or D.O. degree with specialized mental health training during a residency. Psychiatrists diagnose mental disorders and principally treat individuals with medications; some psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy.

Psychological Examiners attend graduate school and obtain a masters-level degree, M.A. or M.S., in psychology and practice psychotherapy under the supervision of a qualified psychologist.

Social Workers obtain a degree in social work; with a bachelors-level degree they are licensed as an LSW; with a masters-level degree they are licensed as an LMSW; or with two additional years of supervision they are licensed as an LCSW.

Counselors attend graduate school and obtain a minimum of a masters-level degree in counseling; they are licensed as an LAC to practice under supervision or obtain additional supervision to become licensed as an LPC to practice independently.

Over 30 million Americans need help dealing with feelings and problems that seem beyond their control: problems with a marriage or relationship, a family situation, or dealing with job loss, the death of a loved one, depression, stress, burnout, or substance abuse. Those stresses and losses of daily living can at times be significantly debilitating. Sometimes you need outside help from a trained professional in order to work through these problems. Through psychotherapy, psychologists help millions of Americans of all ages live healthier,more productive lives.

When to Consider Psychotherapy

  • You realize that an emotional problem has gone on for too long or seems to be getting worse.
  • You feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness.
  • You worry excessively, expect the worst, or are constantly on edge.
  • You keep behaving in a way that is self-defeating, out of control, or a sign of addiction.
  • Your actions are harmful to yourself or to others. For instance, you are drinking to much alcohol, abusing drugs, or becoming overly argumentative and aggressive.
  • You have trouble making or keeping satisfying relationships or have repetitive problems in your relationships.
  • You have trouble obtaining or keeping a satisfying job or your behavior keeps you from advancing in your career.
  • You are often bothered by traumatic memories.
  • You are finding it difficult to carry out everyday activities. For example, you are unable to concentrate on assignments at work/school, and your job/school performance is suffering.
  • You feel depressed, up and down, anxious, fearful, agitated, or too angry.
  • You find that no one in your support system can help you solve your problem and you, yourself, are stuck.

Research shows that some forms of psychotherapy can effectively decrease depression, anxiety, and related symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, and nausea. Psychotherapy has also been found to increase survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients, and it can have a positive effect on the body’s immune system. Research increasingly supports the idea that emotional and physical health are closely linked and that psychotherapy can improve a person’s overall health status.

There is convincing evidence the most people who have at least several sessions of psychotherapy are far better off than untreated individuals with emotional difficulties. One major study showed that 50% of clients in psychotherapy noticeably improved after 8 sessions, while 75% of individuals improved by the end of 6 months of therapy.

Psychotherapists apply psychological procedures to help people change their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Psychotherapy is a collaborative effort between the client and the psychotherapist. It provides a supportive environment to talk openly about concerns and experiences. Psychotherapy is confidential and private. Information about sessions is released only with the client’s permission. (There are legal exceptions to confidentiality when someone is a danger to her/himself or others or there is evidence of child abuse, and also for insurance and managed care coverage. A psychotherapist can fully explain the exceptions when confidential information must be shared.)

Helpful Questions for Choosing a Psychologist

What are this person’s qualifications?

While a professional license indicates basic qualification, many professionals have specialized training or experience. You may want to choose a professional who has specific education or expertise with the type of problems you are confronting.

Does this person do the type of therapy I want?

Does this therapist work with the right age group? Are they able to offer what I’m looking for: individual, couples, family, or group therapy? There are many effective types of psychotherapy. Each type may put a different amount of emphasis on feelings, thoughts, relationships, behavior, the unconscious, etc. Some value brevity while others value thoroughness. Ask how a therapist would relate to you and help you to address you problems.

For example, you might ask:

I’ve been feeling (anxious, tense, depressed, etc.), and I’m having problems (with my job,my marriage, eating, sleeping, etc.) What experience do you have helping people with these types of problems? What kinds of treatments do you use and how effective are they for dealing with my kind of problem or issue?

Do I feel comfortable with this person?

It is important to feel comfortable, respected, and supported by your therapist. How you feel talking to a therapist is very important because a strong therapeutic relationship is built on trust, openness, and honesty. Ask yourself, “How comfortable do I feel with this therapist’s responses?”

What are the fees for service?

Ask the cost for psychotherapy and, if it is beyond your means, whether a reduced fee is available. If not, ask for referral suggestions. Does the therapist accept payment from third party payors and directly bill the insurance company? It is important to ask whether the therapist is affiliated with your managed care organization or Medicare/Medicaid.

You may wish to use ideas in this directory to help you think of additional questions that are important to you. Then write down your questions so that you remember to ask them.

How to Sustain and Benefit from Psychotherapy

Research has shown that the outcome of psychotherapy is improved when the client and psychotherapist agree early about what the major problems are and how therapy can help.

  • You and your psychotherapist both have responsibilities in establishing and maintaining a good working relationship. It is important for you to be clear with your therapist about your expectations and to share any concerns that may arise. Therapy works best when you attend all scheduled sessions and give some forethought to topics to be addressed. Clearly establish your goals at the beginning of therapy.
  • After a few sessions, it is a good sign if you feel therapy is a joint effort and that there is a good rapport between you and your psychotherapist.
  • Periodically review your progress or your concern about insufficient progress. Open discussion regarding progress is useful and, if needed, you may seek a second opinion and discuss the results of that consultation with your therapist. Keep in mind that certain tasks require more time to accomplish that others. Adjust your treatment goals according to your planned length of therapy.
  • Success in reaching primary goals is a major factor in deciding when your therapy should end.

When to Conclude Psychotherapy

Together, you and your therapist plan the work of psychotherapy and together, you decide when to conclude therapy. Signs that therapy is finished include:

  • You know the sources of your problems and can deal with them effectively.
  • You encounter significantly fewer problems.
  • You know how to take care of yourself and maintain your mental health.
  • You can tolerate the pain and difficulties of life without developing symptoms like those that brought you into therapy.
  • You handle your relationships and work well.

Copyright 2016 Psychologists of Northwest Arkansas

Psychologists of Northwest Arkansas is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 3138, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72702

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