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Choosing a Psychologist
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How to Choose a Psychologist

(Source: The American Psychological Association)

At some time in our lives, each of us may feel overwhelmed and may need help dealing with our problems. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 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 losing a job, the death of a loved one, depression, stress, burnout or substance abuse. Those losses and stresses of daily living can at times be significantly debilitating. Sometimes we need outside help from a trained, licensed professional in order to work through these problems. Through therapy, psychologists help millions of Americans of all ages live healthier, more productive lives.

Consider therapy if...

 

  •  You feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness, and your problems do not seem to get better despite your efforts and help from family and friends. 
  • You are finding it difficult to carry out everyday activities: for example, you are unable to concentrate on assignments at work, and your job performance is suffering as a result. 
  •  You worry excessively, expect the worst or are constantly on edge. Your actions are harmful to yourself or to others: for instance, you are drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs or becoming overly argumentative and aggressive.

What is a psychologist and what is psychotherapy?

A psychologist is a licensed mental health professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. They provide specialized testing to identify personality and cognitive abilities, often at the request of other mental health professionals. Psychologists use their expertise in human theory and behavior to provide group and individual counseling, and psychotherapy for the purpose of cognitive retraining, management of behavior or the development of coping skills. However, psychologists generally cannot prescribe medications. Psychologists frequently function as part of a treatment team that can include physicians, nurses, social workers, and other professionals. They have received a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Ed.D. or Psy.D.), but must attend continuing education programs to maintain licensure.

Psychologists apply scientifically validated procedures to help people change their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Psychotherapy is a collaborative effort between an individual and a psychologist. It provides a supportive environment to talk openly and confidentially about concerns and feelings. Psychologists consider maintaining your confidentiality extremely important and will answer your questions regarding those rare circumstances when confidential information must be shared.
What is the difference between a Ph.D., an Ed.D., and a Psy.D.?
These degrees indicate some differences in training, but are essentially the same in terms of practice. A person who has a Ph.D. actually has a Doctoral Degree of Philosophy in Psychology (usually clinical or counseling). A person with an Ed.D. possesses a Doctorate Of Education Degree and training has been directed towards educational practice and the application of theory and research. A person who has a Psy.D. has a Doctoral Degree in Psychology and training has been directed toward the provision of psychological services. The different types of degrees reflect a difference in the philosophy of training with Ph.D. programs emphasizing a greater research orientation than Ed.D. and Psy.D. programs. Each of these programs prepare individuals to be practicing psychologists.

How do I find a psychologist?

Many insurance companies will have different benefits for mental health services as opposed to medical services. If you wish to locate a psychologist, first check with your insurance plan to see if you have to go to one within their network.  Be sure to ask about your mental health benefits in terms of whether there is a network of providers and whether you need authorization to see someone. You can also ask your physician or another health professional,  consult a local university or college department of psychology, ask family and friends, contact your area community mental health center. Or, use the WSPA Find a Psychologist referral service.

What to consider when making the choice

Psychologists and clients work together. The right match is important. Most psychologists agree that an important factor in determining whether or not to work with a particular psychologist, once that psychologist's credentials and competence are established, is your level of personal comfort with that psychologist. A good rapport with your psychologist is critical. Choose one with whom you feel comfortable and at ease.

Questions to ask

Are you a licensed psychologist? How many years have you been practicing psychology? I have 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 are your areas of expertise — for example, working with children and families? What kinds of treatments do you use, and have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue? What are your fees? (Fees are usually based on a 45-minute to 50-minute session.) Do you have a sliding-scale fee policy? What types of insurance do you accept? Will you accept direct billing to or payment from my insurance company? Are you affiliated with any managed care organizations? Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid insurance?
Are all therapists the same? 

Psychotherapy is a treatment service that can be provided by different mental health professionals.  Most psychotherapies are administered by either a clinical psychologist, a counseling psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, a psychiatric nurse, a mental health counselor, a marriage and family therapist, or a psychiatrist.  As can be seen, there are quite a few professionals that fall under the category of “therapists”.  Each of them assists with emotional and behavioral problems, but they are different in terms of the type of training and approach to the problem. 

Are all therapists the same? 
Psychotherapy is a treatment service that can be provided by different mental health professionals.  Most psychotherapies are administered by either a clinical psychologist, a counseling psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, a psychiatric nurse, a mental health counselor, a marriage and family therapist, or a psychiatrist.  As can be seen, there are quite a few professionals that fall under the category of “therapists”.  Each of them assists with emotional and behavioral problems, but they are different in terms of the type of training and approach to the problem. 

 



Another resource:
Here is a link to a consumer guide that can help explain your rights to coverage and care under federal and state mental health parity laws.

Professional Category Degree Training Educational Approach
Psychologist Ph.D., Ed.D., or Psy.D. Graduate training 4 years, plus 1 year internship and 1 year post-degree supervision Study of science related to the brain and behavior
Licensed clinical social worker Masters of Social Work Graduate training 2 years, plus 2 years post-degree supervision Study of human development and social welfare
Licensed mental health counselor Masters degree In mental health related field, such as addictions, psychology, or social work Graduate training of 2 years plus 2 years post-degree supervision Study related to the primary area of the degree
Marriage and family therapist Masters degree in marriage and family therapy Graduate training of 2 years plus 2 years post-degree supervision Study of theories of human relationships and family systems
Pastoral counselors Masters degree in divinity Graduate training of 2 years plus 2 years post-degree supervision Study of religious thought and spirituality
Clinical nurse specialist Master’s degree in psychiatric nursing Graduate training of 2 years Study of nursing and mental health
Psychiatrist Medical degree Graduate medical training of 4 years plus 4 years residency Study of medicine and human biology; pharmacology
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