What is a psychologist?
Provincial and territorial governments give a few health professions the responsibility to license or regulate their profession. Regulation or licensure is important because it ensures that the practitioner has met a high standard of training and provides a high standard of care. In Canada, the professionals who most commonly treat people with mental health problems are psychologists and psychiatrists. They are members of their respective professional orders.
A psychologist holds a master’s and/or doctoral degree in psychology that involves from 6 to 10 years of university study. A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy (also psychological therapy or talking therapy) is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways.
Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual’s well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills.
Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change their thoughts and behavior and overcome problems in desired ways.
When should I consult?
Making a decision to see a psychologist or other mental health practitioner can be a difficult one. Acknowledging that you have a problem, and arriving at the point where you are ready to talk about it, can be difficult. Many people feel uncomfortable about the prospect of talking about things that are distressing or even embarrassing to a complete stranger. On the other hand, people often find it much easier to tell their problems to someone they do not know and who has no expectations of them.
Watch for changes to your behaviour, mood and productivity. Concerning changes are those that tend toward extremes. However, not all changes are cause for concern. Everyone has stressful moments and feels sad sometimes. Changes that persist for two weeks or more may be cause for concern. Therapy could help if you notice long-lasting changes like the following: constant worry, hopelessness, intense sadness, conflicts in your relationships, loss of appetite or eating too much, too much or too little sleep, irritability, substance use, loss of interest in activities, loss of productivity, your loved ones are worrying about you, you’ve lost someone or something, etc…
How to choose?
A good place to start for mental health support is your family doctor, who can help you find the right resources. If you decide to see a mental health professional, you can choose between several types. Here are some of the options and the differences between them:
• Psychologists have an advanced degree. They are trained in assessing mental health, providing psychotherapy and various behavioural interventions, and research. In many jurisdictions, they can diagnose a mental illness. Psychologists are also trained in measuring how an individual is responding to therapy.
• Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe medication, with some providing psychotherapy. Typically, you need a referral from your family doctor to see a psychiatrist.
• Psychotherapist is a newer designation. Some provinces restrict the title to therapists with a master’s degree who are licensed with the provincial governing body. In other provinces, use of the designation is unregulated. Psychotherapists can provide psychotherapy and marriage counselling to help people manage their mental health. However, they don’t use psychological testing to assess mental health or diagnose mental illness.
• Clinical social workers are trained to provide psychotherapy to individuals, families and groups. They do not diagnose and typically do not use psychological tests to assess mental health. Social workers may also help connect people with social services or community support programs.
Theoretical orientation involves a customized approach to how a counselor best serves their client. Every client is different and reacts to different treatments, and theoretical orientation is there to help the counselor find the best method to tackle their client’s problems.
Most forms of psychotherapy can be associated with four major theoretical orientations: cognitive behavioral, humanistic, psychodynamic, and systemic. All of them are important to our understanding and conducting of psychotherapy.
Although each theory of psychotherapy emphasizes specific concepts (e.g., distorted thoughts, transference) and particular techniques (e.g., cognitive restructuring, analysis of defense), research is showing that the most important element of change, and a basis common to all theoretical orientations, is the therapeutic alliance.
The therapeutic relationship (also therapeutic alliance, the helping alliance, or the working alliance) refers to the relationship between a healthcare professional and the client. It is the means by which a psychotherapist and a client hope to engage with each other, create trust and effect beneficial change in the client.