By Stephanie Vlad, MA, LPA, PMH-C
According to Merriam-Webster, Psychology is the science or study of the mind and behavior and, therefore, a Psychologist is someone who specializes in the study of the mind and behavior. In more applicable terms, a Psychologist is someone who has received extensive training in studying and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Though someone may immediately think of a Psychologist in regards to psychotherapy, the field is actually quite broad and spans a diverse array of jobs, including academia, research, consultation, industrial and organizational work, psychotherapy, and community work to name a few.
The area in which individuals are most likely to interact with a Psychologist is that of therapy, which can occur in an agency, group practice, or private practice setting. In this work, Psychologists differ from therapists and counselors in their strong training around research, diagnoses, and psychological testing. Psychologists are unique in their ability to administer and interpret testing results specific to personality inventories, neuropsychological tests, intelligence tests, and vocational tests. Testing can assist in achieving an appropriate diagnosis so that the most beneficial treatment plan and services can be implemented. Therapists and counselors may choose to refer their therapy clients to a Psychologist for testing or to clarify a diagnosis when the clinical picture is convoluted.
A Psychologist is similar to a therapist or counselor when it comes to providing therapy services to address life struggles and mental health issues. Just like therapists or counselors, they work with all populations of clients and may find that they enjoy a particular focus, such as marital discord, substance abuse, eating disorders, mood disorders, or anxiety, etc. Much like therapists or counselors, Psychologists are trained in various therapeutic modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and often interchange these modalities based on client need.
One common mistake is confusing Psychologists with Psychiatrists. Psychologists differ from Psychiatrists in that they do not prescribe medication and are not medical doctors. Psychologists can practice at a Master’s level or may achieve a PhD or PsyD. All levels receive training on the workings of the brain and how it impacts all systems, hormones and neurotransmitters, ultimately resulting in behavior. Psychologists are able to conduct evaluations which can determine if medication may be beneficial and then make this referral to a Psychiatrist to discuss and prescribe appropriate medications.
Overall, if you are seeking a thorough assessment of a person or system, which results in a diagnosis and detailed plan of how to alleviate difficulties and achieve set goals, you are likely seeking a Psychologist. If you are looking for someone to work towards these goals in talk therapy, you may choose to see a Psychologist, but may also do this work with a therapist or counselor. When seeking someone for therapeutic work, it is less important as to which title they carry and more important as to what type of client or issue they have experience working with and if there is a connection in which you feel understood and supported. Therapeutic alignment has been identified as the greatest predictor of success in reaching treatment goals.