Many people are unsure about what psychologists are and what they do. This was illustrated in a 2011 survey of Canadian attitudes about psychologists and psychological services. Most of the almost 3000 Canadians asked believed that family doctors were the specialists to consult when it came to dealing with issues like anxiety and depression, addictions, dementia and coping with serious illnesses like cancer. Relatively few were aware that psychologists can be helpful with all of those issues. At the same time, 26% of respondents said they felt most confident in psychologists’ abilities to help with mental health problems, compared to only 18% who stated having greatest confidence in their family doctor. These results suggest some confusion about what psychologists do and when it’s appropriate to consult them.
Psychologists are experienced, highly trained mental health professionals who help people resolve all kinds of problems in their lives, including clinical issues, like anxiety and depression, and everyday concerns, like managing stress and parenting. Psychologists study and train in therapy skills, assessment and diagnosis for many years before being licensed to practice. In Ontario, all psychologists have a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, or the equivalent and attend university for about 10 years. Approximately 3,000 hours (or more) of their work is supervised during and after that period. By comparison, psychiatrists train for about 10 years and family physicians for about 6, but the amount of therapy training those clinicians receive varies widely. Psychologists are called “Doctor” and only psychologists can use the term “psychological” to describe the services they provide.
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