What is a Clinical Psychologist and why is it different to a Psychiatrist, a Psychotherapist or a Counsellor?
It can be confusing to work out the difference between these mental health professionals. Clinical Psychology is one area of psychology that requires extensive, doctoral-level training to practice legally within the United Kingdom. In this regard ‘Clinical Psychologist’ is a legally protected title and indicates that those with this title have also completed a degree level qualification, and often a postgraduate qualification before completing their doctorate. The profession is regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and all Clinical Psychologists must have membership to the HCPC by law.
Clinical Psychologists:are trained in working with adults, children and young people and have experience of working in several different capacities as therapists, trainers, supervisors, mentors and consultants. They are able to work with a diverse range of issues including mental health, learning disability and physical health problems. They are also known to be good at detailed psychological assessments that increase understanding of an individual’s specific problems. The fundamental difference to other therapy professionals is that they are trained to draw from a wide range of scientific and evidence-based methods, including assessment measures and therapeutic models. They may also offer active guidance and consultation to their clients.
Psychiatrists: are professionals with medical training who have chosen to specialise in mental health as opposed to another branch of medicine such as a surgeon, a GP or a dermatologist. Psychiatrists are most often responsible for the safe prescribing of psychotropic medication and for diagnosing mental health disorders, although Clinical Psychologists can also diagnose if required. Psychiatrists don’t tend to offer therapy, although there are exceptions to this rule and some may be registered as psychotherapists.
Psychotherapists: who are registered with professionally regulated bodies are often (but not always) mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, mental health nurses, counsellors or psychologists who have taken on additional training in one or more models of therapy. Like counselling, the title of ‘psychotherapist’ is not a regulated term in the UK and this can mean that anyone is able to practice under this title with or without training. Those who have received training in a particular model tend to be highly trained in that model.
Counsellors:aren’t a regulated profession in the UK and this means that while some counsellors have received high quality training, others may not have had any training. There are a number of good counselling membership bodies that do put in place minimum standards for counsellors to work by such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and those who are members of these bodies are likely to have Diploma level training. Good counsellors are excellent listeners and strive to offer a compassionate and safe space for their clients but are unlikely to act as advisors.
I’ve never talked to anyone professional before. I’m used to handling things on my own. Wouldn’t going to therapy prove I’m not strong enough?
We all need help from other people, and at some intervals in our life we need a bit more help. People who come to therapy know when they need support and have the ability to recognise and try to meet their own emotional needs. Many people acknowledge that making time to meet their physical health needs, such as doing physical exercise and eating healthily, is necessary to maintain a balanced lifestyle but they often don’t realise that there are times where we also need to attend to our minds. Our minds can be the emotional and mental muscle that can get forgotten which is why sometimes we be more vulnerable to a build up of problems in our lives. Psychological therapy offers a professional relationship with someone who can help you work through problems and consider alternative strategies to cope with them.
What’s the difference between talking to a therapist or my best friend or family?
A mental health professional can help you approach your situation in a different way and teach you to develop new skills, gain different perspectives, listen to you in a non-judgemental way without expectation, and help you listen to yourself. Furthermore, therapy is a confidential environment so you won’t have to worry about other non-professionals knowing about what you’re struggling with.
Why shouldn’t I just take medication?
Medication alone cannot solve mental health issues because it merely treats the symptoms. Work with a psychologist is designed to explore the underlying issue and teach strategies that can help you accomplish your personal and relational goals. These strategies can help prevent future difficulties you may encounter which medication wouldn’t be able to achieve.
Medication can be effective and is sometimes needed in conjunction with therapy.
How does it work? What do I have to do in sessions?
Every person has different issues and goals so therapy will be different depending on the individual. Arranging an initial consultation session will enable you to meet with a psychologist who will be able to explore the issues you have and the things you want to achieve. You can then consider the most helpful approach with them going forward.
How long will it take?
Everyone’s circumstances are unique to them and the length of time therapy can take to allow you to accomplish your goals depends on your desire for personal development, your commitment, and the factors that are driving you to seek therapy in the first place. It is possible to decide that you have a certain period of time you are willing to commit to therapy and both you and your therapist can agree to work on specific issues during this period and review progress regularly. Some people find that committing to a time frame can be helpful while other prefer not to do this and recognise that they enjoy investing in longer-term therapy and recognise that investing in longer-term therapy is very helpful for them. Either approach can bring about great benefits.
I want to get the most out of therapy. What can I do to help?
Active participation and dedication to therapy brings about much more individual progress and success. While the work done in the therapy session is very important, the work you do outside your session brings about the most change. Reflecting on the sessions afterwards and considering the central points of change can be one very good way of helping the process. Sometimes it can be even more helpful to agree work to be accomplished between sessions with your therapist before the end of the session that can then be reviewed in your next session.
My partner and I are having problems. Should we be in individual therapy or come together?
If you are concerned about your relationship and you are both considering meeting with a psychologist, it can be most useful to initially attend together. It may be that your therapist feels seeing you together and then separately for a session can also be helpful before bringing you together again. After couples work has ended, it is possible for one of you to return on an individual basis but it is important to know that it isn’t helpful to move from individual into couple’s work with the same therapist so once individual therapy has started, the couple should not return to therapy.