• What Exactly Does a Psychologist Do?

    What kind of school did you go to?

    What do you do all day?

    Can you prescribe medicine?

    Wait, what’s a psychologist? Is it different than a psychiatrist?

    I get variations of these questions a lot.  They’re great questions and I thought I’d take time to answer them on here to give you all a picture of what exactly a psychologist is.

    First of all, to become a psychologist, I completed a 5-year doctoral program in Clinical Psychology.  I spent four years taking classes and working at practicum (training) sites assessing and treating clients, and then one year at an internship (residency) site.  I also had to complete a dissertation.  (If you’re interested, click here to read it!  Warning: you’re probably not interested.)  Then after graduation, I had to complete one more year under supervision and pass two written exams and an oral exam to officially become a licensed psychologist.

    Although I work in private practice, psychologists can work in all sorts of environments, from hospitals to schools to community mental health centers.  Being in private practice basically means I work for myself.  I set my own schedule, decide how many clients I want to see each day, and how to treat them.  I see several clients a day, for around 50 minutes each.  These sessions consist of therapy or assessments.  In other environments, psychologists may do only assessments or only therapy.  I like having the flexibility of doing both and incorporating them together to be able to best understand and treat my clients.

    The type of therapy I conduct can depend on the client.  It may consist of a scene similar to what most people see on TV and movies, which is talking about problems, figuring out ways to fix them, and figuring out new ways to deal with life.  It may also consist of play therapy, which is why I have a separate play room with toys and art materials that I use if I’m working with a young child.  My job often involves working with the parents of the client to help them work with their child at home.  Since I only spend an hour or two a week with a child, it’s usually not enough time for the therapy to be enough to fully improve things.  Things at home often need to change to help support new behaviors.

    An assessment by a licensed psychologist includes several different tests that can give you a wide range of information: IQ score, learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety…etc.  Basically, if it involves your brain, we can test for it.  (For young children, it can involve play, similar to therapy.)

    I also lead workshops for parents and teachers, since both parents and teachers spend significant amount of time with troubled kids. These workshops are usually a few hours long and dedicated to a specific topic.  Sometimes, I lead groups for clients.  For example, I’ve led several groups for kids or teens who recently had someone close to them die.  Groups can be helpful because they help a child feel like what they’re going through is normal when they see other kids going through it too.

    I also write!  In therapy, I have to write notes, which are the basic facts of each session. I may also write assessment reports, which are detailed reports about the person’s abilities.  Sometimes, for insurance companies, I have to write why I think therapy is necessary.  Writing ends up being a much bigger part of a psychologist’s job than you might think.

    One final point of confusion that I will attempt to clear up is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.  A psychiatrist is a medical doctor – they have gone to medical school to become a physician and then completed additional specialized training in psychology.  A psychologist has not gone to medical school; they’ve gone to graduate school. In most states, only psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe medications, and often their treatment centers around medication.  Therefore, psychiatrists usually end up doing less therapy, and instead they help people figure out the right kind and dosage of medicine for their particular condition.

    Does this clear up any confusion? Do you have any questions I didn’t answer? 

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