Psychologists study how we think, feel and behave and use this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour. Helping to change the way we understand mental health and mental illness, psychologists have also contributed to the treatments and systems we use to help people live well in health and with illness. Psychologists are trained to evaluate, diagnose and treat mental health problems and disorders.
Watch the APNS video on Psychologists:
Psychologist or Psychiatrist?
While both clinical Psychologists and Psychiatrists provide mental health treatment there are some key differences to their services. A Psychologist focuses on the use of evidence-based psychological treatments and psychotherapies including psychological testing and evaluation of emotional and mental functions as well as the diagnosis of disorders.
Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are medical doctors who have received training in evaluating and treating mental health conditions. This means that a large part of their job also involves medication management as, unlike psychologists, they can prescribe medication.
Psychologists generally receive more training in therapy and assessment than Psychiatrists and as such, specialize in these areas. It is not uncommon for someone to meet with a Psychiatrist for medication needs and with a Psychologist for therapy.
Other registered health professions such as social workers and certified counsellors also offer therapy, however not all therapists are registered health professionals. It is advisable to see someone that has received registration from a credentialed organization that is professionally accountable.
Becoming a Psychologist
A Ph.D. in psychology takes 5 to 8 years after receiving a bachelor’s degree. A Master’s degree will usually take 2 to 3 years, followed by the additional 4 to 6 years for a Doctoral (Ph.D., Psy.D.) degree. Psychologists may be in both research and practice. They may also work in clinics, correction facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, schools and private practice.
FAQ About Psychologists
Do I need a referral to see a psychologist in Nova Scotia?
No. You can schedule an appointment with Nova Scotia psychologists in private practice without a referral.
Is what I disclose confidential?
Yes. When you see a psychologist, the content of your session is not released to any person or organization without your permission. Not even the fact that you are a client is confirmed if someone inquires.
There are some exceptions to your confidentiality with a psychologist. For example, if a child is in need of protection or if someone is in immediate physical danger, psychologists are legally required to take action to prevent this from happening—even if it requires breaking confidentiality. In rare cases, a psychologist may have to disclose confidential information if they’re subpoenaed to testify in court.
How long does psychological treatment usually take?
A national research study found that 50 percent of psychotherapy clients had made improvement within eight sessions of therapy, and 75 percent showed improvement after six months of therapy. Of course, showing improvement is not the same as successfully completing treatment. Most psychologists will tell you that the length of treatment depends upon the nature of the problem, the severity of the problem, and the treatment goals selected.
A vague response like this can be frustrating, but rest assured that most individuals complete psychological treatment within three to six months. When psychologists say that the nature of the problem affects the length of treatment, what they mean is the kind of problem being treated. For example, a serious depression requires more treatment than a mild stress response, or counselling to make a life decision. The severity of the problem also affects treatment length and intensity. (Intensity refers to whether sessions are scheduled twice weekly, weekly, or less frequently. The norm is once per week.) Chronic, long term depression requires longer and more intense treatment than a reactive depression. Finally, the treatment goals selected affect the length of treatment too. The treatment goal can be “to feel well enough to manage on my own,” or it can be “to completely change the way I handle my life, including how I make decisions, set goals and relate to people,” or anything in between. The first goal would indicate a desire for short term treatment to resolve a life crisis, without necessarily examining how the crisis developed or how to avoid similar problems in the future. The second goal would require long term psychological treatment, most likely in excess of one year, with sessions scheduled at least weekly.
In general, adjustment problems tend to show significant improvement within eight to twelve sessions of therapy, and usually treatment can be completed within twenty sessions or less. The same is often true of marital adjustment problems, although serious couple conflict might require six months or more of treatment. Moderate problems or intermediate treatment goals are usually treated within sixteen to thirty sessions, but occasionally treatment lasts close to a full year. This is especially true if the problem is ongoing, or if additional complications arise. More serious problems, including recurring chronic depression, serious post traumatic stress responses, substance abuse, personality problems, and ongoing stress responses such as those related to caring for a chronically ill family member, often require treatment for one year or longer, depending upon the severity of the symptoms.
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