Beyond The Couch: What Do Psychologists Really Do

therapist-couchWhen it comes to careers, psychologists are some of the most misunderstood creatures in the Universe. Many people are confused as to who we are, what we do, and how we can be helpful. Add to that Hollywood’s propensity to make us all look like complete nutjobs, and we can start to understand why some people may be hesitant to request our services. That’s why we’ve decided to shed some light on our mysterious profession.

First, let’s discuss names. You may have heard the terms: psychologist, psychoanalyst, therapist, counselor, and/or psychiatrist, and thought that they were one in the same. Not so. Psychologists have either a Ph.D., (research-oriented doctorate), or a Psy.D., (clinically-oriented doctorate) level degree. This means that they have completed approximately five years of post-graduate training to earn their title. And, to get their license, they have completed a one-year pre-doctoral internship, a one-year post doctoral fellowship, and passed state and national exams. Therapists and counselors, on the other hand, are required to have a two-year post-graduate degree, called a  Master’s Degree, while psychoanalysts, may have either a doctorate or a master’s, but practice a specific form of therapy called psychoanalysis. (Read: patient lying on the couch discussing his/her dreams).

All of the above attend graduate school for training, while psychiatrists, attend medical school, and earn an M.D. or Doctor of Medicine, which helps them in their chosen field of prescribing medications for various psychiatric conditions.

Each of these professionals is able to conduct therapy, but only a psychiatrist can prescribe medicine. Similarly, only psychologists can do psychological testing to aid in diagnosis and treatment planning. Testing is particularly important for issues like autism, where clarification is needed to determine whether a client is on the spectrum, and, if so, where he falls.

Regardless of which type of healer you choose, it is imperative that he or she is willing to consult with other professionals on your team. For example, if you are bringing your child to therapy for autism, you will want work with a psychologist who keeps in touch with your child’s pediatrician, psychiatrist (if applicable), and teachers. You should also expect to attend family sessions, so that every member of the family can work together to achieve a peaceful home environment.

By working as a team, both professionals and family members can build a strong support network for the patient, which, has been proven helpful by extensive research. In this way, everyone can be on the same page, learning together. In addition, by working cooperatively as a team, we are modeling positive communication, which can also be helpful when working with families.

Hopefully, the world of psychological therapy is a bit more clear now that you know not to trust characters like Dr. Hannibal Lecter to be our prototypes! But, if you would like to know more about the services that we provide, contact us. We would love to see how we can help you.