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What is a psychologist?
A psychologist studies how we think, feel, and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain, and change their behaviour.
Where do psychologists work?
Some psychologists work primarily as researchers and faculty at universities as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations. Others work primarily as practitioners in hospitals, schools, clinics, correctional facilities, employee assistance programs, and private offices. Many psychologists are active in both research and practice.
What do psychologists do?
Psychologists engage in research, practice, and teaching that focuses on how people think, feel, and behave. Their work can involve individuals, groups, and families, as well as larger organizations in government and industry. Some psychologists focus their research on animals rather than people. Here are some topics of research and practice for psychologists:
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, etc.,
- Neurological, genetic, psychological and social determinants of behaviour,
- Brain injury, degenerative brain diseases,
- Perception and management of pain,
- Psychological factors and problems associated with physical conditions and disease (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, stroke),
- Psychological factors and management of terminal illnesses such as cancer,
- Cognitive functions such as learning, memory, problem solving, intellectual ability and performance,
- Developmental and behavioural abilities and problems across the lifespan,
- Criminal behaviour, crime prevention, services for victims and perpetrators of criminal activity,
- Addictions and substance use and abuse (e.g. smoking, alcohol, drugs),
- Stress, anger and other aspects of lifestyle management,
- Court consultations addressing the impact and role of psychological and cognitive factors in accidents and injury, parental capacity, and competence to manage one’s personal affairs,
- Application of psychological factors and issues to work such as motivation, leadership, productivity, marketing, healthy workplaces, ergonomics,
- Marital and family relationships and problems,
- Psychological factors necessary to maintaining wellness and preventing disease,
- Social and cultural behaviour and attitudes, the relationship between the individual and the many groups of which he or she is a part of (e.g. work, family, society),
- Role and impact of psychological factors on performance at work, recreation and sport.
What will my first visit to a psychologist be like?
Once you have the name of a practitioner and make a first appointment, it is usual for him or her to ask you to describe your problem and to ask for details about your personal history. These questions will address such things as when your problem started, what makes it better or worse, and how the problem affects your work or social life. Questions about your personal history can touch upon your experiences growing up, your education and work history, your marital status and interpersonal relationships, and whether you use alcohol or drugs. This information-gathering phase can take one or more sessions and may be supplemented by the use of psychological tests.
Why are psychological tests used?
Psychological tests are used to gain a better understanding of how a person is thinking, feeling or behaving. If a psychologist plans to use a test, he or she should explain why it is being used and what it will be used to assess. For example, some tests are used to assess and help diagnose mood, some are used to assess memory or concentration problems, and some might be used to better understand personality characteristics. Some are pencil and paper tests that pose questions to which you must answer true or false, while others might require you to manipulate objects or remember numbers or phrases. Testing is used to help the psychologist arrive at an impression or diagnosis of your particular problem.
How will you plan my treatment?
Following the information-gathering phase which may or may not include psychological testing, it is important that the psychologist discuss with the client (and/or his or her parent or guardian if a child) what he or she thinks is the key concern and what can be offered in the way of help. Reasonable questions to ask a psychologist are:
- Have you treated many people with this kind of problem?
- What kind of psychotherapeutic approach do you use and how does it work?
- What kind of success can I expect?
Treatments or psychotherapeutic approaches used by psychologists should be empirically-supported treatments. In other words, psychologists should use treatments which research has proven to be effective. Common types of treatment include cognitive-behavioural therapy that focuses on the way that a person’s thoughts and emotions affect their behaviour, interpersonal therapy that focuses on a person’s relationships with peers and family members and the way they see themselves, and family system therapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships by focusing on the systemic interactions between family members to nurture change and development. Treatment might be offered in an individual, group, couple or family format, depending on the problem and whom it affects.
What will happen during psychological treatment?
Early on in the treatment, the psychologist will help you to identify goals to work towards and explain how therapy will help you to achieve them. Goals can include feeling less depressed, feeling more comfortable in social situations, improving pain management, changing behaviour, or increasing self-esteem. In addition, at certain intervals the psychologist will review your progress in meeting these goals, and may have you fill out questionnaires designed to help monitor progress.
During psychological treatment, it is important to remember that changing feelings, thoughts, and behaviour can be hard work. You have to be ready to commit yourself to attending sessions regularly and following through on recommendations. The past cannot be changed, but you can change how it affects you. It is also difficult to change the behaviour of other people. Psychological treatment is primarily focused on helping you make personal changes to improve your life.
There is often more than one way to solve or manage a psychological problem — the treatment chosen can depend on the training of the practitioner and the characteristics of the client. Finally, you are entitled to be an informed and active participant in the psychological treatment process. If you have questions or concerns, let the psychologist know!
Canadian Psychological Association fact sheets
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Chronic Pain
- Cognitive Disorders & Dementia
- Eating Disorders
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
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