Below are answers to questions patients often have about psychologists and psychotherapy.
Why would I see a psychologist?
People see psychologists for many different reasons. Psychologists are experts at helping people find their way through life’s difficulties including relationship problems, career and family conflicts, physical illness, work stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
What is a psychologist?
Psychologists are doctoral level trained professionals with expertise in human behavior, mental health assessment, diagnosis and treatment. After undergraduate training, they spend an average of seven years of intensive graduate training that includes training in psychotherapy, assessment and research. As part of the training process, they are required to complete one year of supervised internship at a health care organization. After receiving their doctoral degree, psychologists must obtain a minimum of one year of supervised experience. Psychologists must be licensed in the state/s they work in.
What is a clinical health psychologist?
Clinical health psychologists view medical health and illness as a product of biological characteristics, behavioral factors, emotional factors and social conditions of patients. These psychologists apply psychological knowledge towards the prevention of medical illness and manage/treat medical health. This is done alongside patient’s medical treatments. Feel free to read more under ‘Specialty Services’ to find out more.
Why would I see a psychologist for my chronic medical pain? My pain is real!
Your pain is real and that is exactly why a patient might see a clinical health psychologist for pain management, in addition to their medical providers. It was assumed that pain had a physical cause and once diagnosed, could be treated medically. We know now there is a mind-body connection. Pain can make you sad, anxious, irritable, influence your confidence, your professional and personal life. We know now that your mood, behaviors and environment can also in turn potentially aggravate your physical pain. While medical providers can help you manage your pain from a medical perspective, psychologists who specialize in pain, can help from a different perspective.
Adapted by Dr. Somjee from her monthly column in the Poughkeepsie Journal
A Guide for the Mental Health Maze
I am overwhelmed and have tried everything. What should I do? Do I need to be in therapy? Would my child/spouse/friend benefit from therapy? These are questions many people will ask themselves at least once in their lifetime. Trying to answer these questions can sometimes feel like walking through a maze. Often more questions arise when you are trying to access mental health services. What exactly is a psychologist? How can I find one? Does my insurance cover psychotherapy? What can I expect during a first session? What exactly is psychotherapy? These are questions that I hear on a regular basis as a practicing psychologist. Below are answers to some of the more common questions in hopes of guiding you through the mental health maze.
What is psychotherapy?
This is a complex question and a complete answer is beyond the scope of this column. Partly, psychotherapy depends on the type of psychotherapy approach used by the psychologist. It also depends on why the patient is coming for psychotherapy and the patient’s needs. More generally, psychotherapy relies primarily on communication between the psychologist and the patient.
Many people feel that psychotherapy is a place to come in and talk with someone who is a neutral party. Although this is part of psychotherapy, it certainly involves more than just talking or venting. The psychotherapy process includes the psychologist understanding, assessing, sometimes testing, diagnosing and providing treatment. Psychologists work with patients using scientifically validated procedures to help people develop healthier patterns of emotions and behavior. The process is collaborative, supportive and confidential. How long people remain in psychotherapy depends on their goals ranging from a few weeks to years depending on the needs of the person. Some people go for treatment once in their lives and find they never have to return. Many go to psychotherapy on and off during the course of their lives.
Do I need to be in psychotherapy?
There are times when friends and family can be a powerful source of comfort and support. However, when your support system does not feel as if it is enough, a professional can be useful to help guide you to make effective and healthy changes in your life. People go to psychotherapy for many reasons including academic or work issues, family conflicts, stress, trauma and relationship challenges. Sometimes individuals with long-standing issues including medical conditions, chronic mental illness, and substance abuse might also seek out a psychologist to help them manage their concerns. Many people are in individual psychotherapy to help them deal with various stressors in their lives. However, many couples and families also seek psychologists to work through relationship issues that might arise. Certainly the need for psychotherapy is part of the psychologist’s assessment process and is a question you can ask when you meet with your psychologist.
What is a psychologist?
This is a question I get repeatedly and can understand, given the various types of mental health professionals out there, why it can be confusing to answer. Psychologists are mental health professionals who are experts at human behavior, mental health assessments, diagnoses and treatment. They have doctoral degrees and spend an average of seven years in graduate school, after obtaining their undergraduate degrees. They study psychotherapy, testing, and research in the field. They complete a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation as well as an intensive internship year. All psychologists are required to have a minimum of one additional year of supervised training beyond their doctoral programs.
Psychologists are also licensed in the state or jurisdiction they work in. They have to meet rigorous standards and specific training criteria based on their graduate program, internship and their one year of supervised experience after obtaining their Ph.D. Psychologists also have to pass a national examination and, depending on the state they work within, they may also have to pass a state examination. Unlike medical professionals, psychologists do not prescribe medication; instead they are trained to provide treatment through psychotherapy. You will find that they work in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, private practice, clinics and hospitals, university settings, businesses and government research institutions.
A Guide for the Mental Health Maze: Part II
In my first column, I began to answer some of the common questions which people have asked me. This column will finish up by answering additional questions I often hear from patients.
Is psychotherapy confidential?
Psychotherapy is confidential for the most part, however, there are a few exceptions to confidentiality rule which will be explained to you during your first visit. A psychologist must break confidentiality if they suspect their patient is in immediate risk of hurting themselves or someone else, by drawing on resources in the community to help that patient. If a psychologist suspects abuse or neglect towards a minor, they are mandated reporters for New York state meaning they have to report any suspected abuse or neglect to the New York state Child Protective Service hotline immediately. Should you decide to use insurance to cover the cost of services, your insurance company has the right to access your chart and will be provided basic information regarding your need for psychotherapy. More detailed information about the limits of confidentiality will be given to you during your first visit with your psychologist.
How can I find a psychologist?
One of the best ways to find a psychologist is through word of mouth. Asking friends or family is a good way to find someone who may be a good fit for you. Contacting your primary care physician, or other medical providers you may work with, and asking for specific names of psychologists that she or he has worked with can also be helpful. You can also find names of psychologists through your insurance company, by calling the number on the back of your insurance card or browsing their website. Calling your local or state psychological association can be another good resource. The Hudson Valley Psychological Association is our local psychological association and the New York State Psychological Association has a referral service. Once you have names, call and see who is available and find out if they have experience working with people who are in similar situations as yourself.
Will my insurance cover the services?
Most insurance plans in this area do provide mental health benefits. You can call your insurance company to find out if you do have mental health benefits and what they are. Unlike your medical benefits, in many instances there are limits to your mental health benefits. Most plans have a limit of how many mental health visits you have in a calendar year. You will find that you either have a deductible and/or have a co-pay that you pay the psychologist for each visit. Similar to your medical visits, if your insurance plan refuses for any reason to cover the service your are receiving, you are responsible to pay out of your own pocket.
Patients often find that they need to continue psychotherapy services beyond the number of visits allotted by their insurance plan and many patients continue services by paying out of pocket. There are also many instances where patients choose not to use their insurance to cover their mental health services. In this case the psychologist will charge you their fee and some have a sliding scale fee whereby they base the fee on your income and circumstances. Some psychologists, like some medical providers, do not accept insurance and in that case, they will charge their fee and sometimes offer a sliding scale fee.
What can I expect during a first session?
Anticipating an initial session can sometimes create anxiety in people which is understandable but knowing what to expect can help. Your psychologist will have you fill out paperwork initially and especially the first session usually involves information gathering. You will be asked the reason for coming to psychotherapy and other questions so that the psychologist can get an idea of who you are and what may be helpful to you. Questions may include history, family, work, medical history, mood, and previous psychotherapy experiences. This process, depending on the psychologist and the needs of the patient can be done formally or informally. You will also be given an initial impressions by the psychologist and treatment options usually within the first two to three sessions. During this time, you can also ask your psychologist the same questions you would ask your medical providers about their professional background.
These are questions I have heard from patients throughout the years and hope that the answers prove useful. Below are a few resources:
Hudson Valley Psychological Association 845-452-0274
New York State Psychological Association Referral Service 1-800-445-0899.