February is Psychology Month: Learn more about psychologists and what they do

February is Psychology Month. It’s a good time to learn about psychology, psychologists and psychological associates.

Mental Health statistics are dire. Here are some fast facts:

There is an enormous cost in lives lost if we consider the families and communities that are affected when one person takes their life. The economic cost is also significant, not for the dollars lost: being unable to contribute in a fulfilling way through our jobs feeds into the cycle of depression and anxiety.


 

How can psychology help us?

 

Psychology is the study of human mind and behaviour. What we discover about the mind helps us understand how and why we interact with each other and our environment in the ways we do. Through psychological research, we’ve come to understand

  • what motivates us,
  • how addictions develop,
  • what makes us happy (sort of!), and
  • how our emotions can support or sabotage our intentions.

With this understanding (and it’s not perfect yet by any means), psychologists have developed various approaches to help us when we’re stuck in loops of helplessness or frozen by our fears and worries. This is the primary work of psychotherapy, which includes a number of different approaches. Here are a few:

  • psychoanalytic therapy (originally developed by Freud and Jung, there are many forms of psychoanalytic therapies today)
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • humanistic therapy
  • mindfulness-informed or mindfulness-based therapies
  • trauma-informed therapies
  • somatic sensory therapies

Each form of therapy is intended to help us with our psychological distress. Whether a therapy will suit us is a personal experience. Some of us really get into the cognitive behavioural therapies, others find a values-focused approach more helpful. Success in the early stages of therapy depends on the relationship between the psychologist we choose and the reasons we are seeking help.

What does a psychologist do?

Psychologists and psychological associates who offer treatments for psychological distress are trained in clinical skills. These include interviewing us for information that may help in choosing the right approach to dealing with our distress. It could include administering questionnaires that clarify symptoms and issues that are important in knowing what’s happening in our lives. Psychologists and psychological associates also work in areas such as

  • Counselling Psychology
  • Clinical Neuropsychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Rehabilitation Psychology
  • School Psychology (see Ontario Psychological Association for more details)

This document from the OPA offers a detailed list of what psychologists do.

Psychologists and psychiatrists differ in important ways too. Scroll to the bottom of this page for an explanation.

 

What kind of training do psychologists have?

Psychologists and psychological associates have post-graduate training in an area of psychology (clinical, neuropsychological, neuroscience, psychometric assessments, etc.). To use the title “Psychologist”, they must be registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario; that means they are certified as proficient in their field of expertise and are able to work autonomously in various settings, including private practice.

With the new Ontario legislation declaring Psychotherapy as a controlled act, by December 30, 2019, only professional in five regulatory colleges will be allowed to offer Psychotherapy:

 

World Mental Health Day – Why it matters

I blog for World Mental Health DayWhen I think of mental health, somehow my inner voice switches the last word to” illness.” It’s used so interchangeably that we shouldn’t be surprised about the stigma and aversion that grows around the topic. Health is never really a concern to us until it becomes an illness that needs attention. Yet, physical health devolving into physical illness is easier and more acceptable to talk about than mental health dissolving into mental illness.

The other difficulty is that wellness and illness are set up as polar opposites. It’s as if they are mutually exclusive and one is a preferred state. The radical view is that they are not even a continuum. Each arises out of a set of causes and conditions in our life. Take away one of those causes and conditions (or some of them) and our mental state will change.

Going through graduate school in psychology, I struggled with the training as it opened me up to many past experiences that I didn’t even know had caused pain and suffering. I was a child immigrant in the 60’s when being an immigrant was an unusual state and support was minimal. Where I grew up, I had been exposed various forms of violence and lived in a state of constant threat. As I progressed through my training, many emotions began to surface, which I now recognize as trauma-related. Then, however, in supervision and interactions with my classmates what was only evident was that my emotions were all over the place. I remember feeling deeply ashamed and angry, frustrated and confused. It seemed like everything I did was viewed terribly different from what I intended. I seemed like everything I said or tried to communicate came out wrong or with an inflection that was unintended. And yet, I was successful as a student, getting praise from my internship clinical supervisors, good grades, and guarded respect from professors who appeared not to be turned off by how I was.

hearts-waterI sought help in therapy for what I thought was Borderline Personality Disorder. Self-diagnosis an occupational hazard of being a clinical student. In my first session, I told my therapist I was there because I was “so BPD!” Even then I felt the stab of how I was stigmatizing myself and name-calling my suffering. We worked together for five years; it was a roller coaster process. His only message was that I needed to stop denigrating myself, stop buying into the propaganda in my head (and from the world around me). I didn’t “have” BPD because it’s not a virus. I wasn’t bad because I believed I was an angry person because it’s not a character flaw. (My actions were unskillful, no doubt, but that’s not part of my character; it’s a learned repretoire .)

Over time, I began to value the idea that under some conditions, I can be quite skillful. And that skillfulness ranges depending on my fatigue, awareness of my limits, and most especially on how I treat myself. Slowly I began to understand and lean with compassion towards the residue of the various traumas in my life. Depression, anxiety, perfectionism, the dark thoughts and shame about them became my friends and we sat down to tea everyday.

I’ve learned through my personal practice of mindfulness which began in the 1970’s and grew more deliberate over the years that there are storms in everyone’s life. No one is immune to pain and suffering, joy and love. Our work is to learn how to be steady in the wild winds, to bend and be flexible so as not to break, to trust the heartwood of who we are. Mindfulness teaches us that steadiness in the face of joy and woe. Self-compassion gives us flexibility so our harsh criticisms don’t leave us rigid and vulnerable.

And community. A supportive group of people who see us as valued members of a larger net is indispensable. We cannot walk these dark paths alone. We should not have to. Wellness and illness are not polar opposites. They arise out of the inner and outer landscape we travel across. And companionship helps. Immensely.

Mary Oliver, in her poem Wild Geese, writes: “Tell me about despair, yours. And I will tell you mine.” To become better at being who we truly are, we must give voice to our fears and struggles. We must gather as companions and travel with confidence through the light and dark of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving and may we all walk together with wisdom and compassion.

Lynette