What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists have advanced University degrees in psychology.  Usually, they have trained at university between 6-8 years. Their specialty is the assessment and treatment of a wide variety of  emotional, behavioural and psychological problems. This is done by talking with a person and coming to understand the impact of feelings, beliefs, actions, experiences, and culture on the person’s life. To be registered as a clinical psychologist a psychologist must have an advanced degree in psychology, and have completed two years extra practical training in clinical psychology at university.

What happens in treatment?

When you first see a clinical psychologist, they will ask you about the problem that has brought you to see them, and about your past and present life. Once you and the psychologist agree what your difficulties are and why they have happened, your psychologist will discuss with you the type of therapy they think will help you. You may continue meeting together or your psychologist may suggest you see another psychologist or therapist who specialises in the type of help you need. They may also refer you to groups or other community services that may help you.

What problems can I take to a clinical psychologist?

Most people see a clinical psychologist because they are feeling sad, worried, angry or in some other way upset.  There are many ways to approach psychological distress and clinical psychology is effective.  The types of things people go to a psychologist for include the following (and many others):

  • Stress
  • Life crises or changes (e.g. redundancy, relationship break-up, having a baby, retirement)
  • Dissatisfaction with quality of life
  • Work-related problems
  • Anxiety, panics, phobias
  • Depression, sadness and grief
  • Anger outbursts
  • Tantrums, emotional disturbance, bedwetting, truancy etc, in children

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

CBT is one of the many evidence-based treatments used by Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Associates, which is based on the theory that how you feel depends on how you think and what you do. Others include Mindfulness-Based Therapy, Schema Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Behaviour Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Cognitive Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR).

The important thing is that we will not throw a ‘cookbook’ approach at you.  Your psychologist will really listen to you, get to know you, and try to identify the type(s) of approach that will work best for you.  This could include several types of treatment approaches in combination and the work will always be done in collaboration with you and only with your ‘say so’.

What is the difference between a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, counsellor or coach?

A clinical psychologist has spent all of his/her study focusing on psychology and clinical psychology. A clinical psychologist may provide counselling and psychotherapy but will also draw from rigorous scientific research to ensure that treatments are effective and well matched to what the client wants. Clinical psychologists will often be more “active” than psychotherapists and counsellors.

Clinical Psychologists do not currently prescribe drugs but most will have a good understanding of relevant medicines and will be able to identify when you should consult your doctor for medical help.

A psychiatrist has studied medicine first, then gone on to a further four years of study and work with mental illness. Because psychiatrists are medical practitioners they are able to prescribe medications, which clinical psychologists are not. In practice, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists often work together.

In New Zealand, psychotherapy commonly refers to psychological therapies that are based on so-called psycho-dynamic theories of human behaviour and personality. These theories emphasise the importance of unconscious mental processes, early childhood experiences, and the role of emotions in shaping behaviour.  Many of our psychologists use these models in their work too.

Counselling, as a professional occupation, arose not from the clinic but from more social settings. It focuses on helping people resolve “normal” problems rather than mental health problems. Counselling in New Zealand has not traditionally been associated with qualifications in psychology, or with any particular form of training. This is changing, with various courses in counselling now on offer, including ones with tertiary degree status. There is no official registration process for counsellors.

Recently, some people have begun advertising themselves as providers of coaching. Coaching, like counselling, is meant to help “healthy” clients. Instead of helping them solve problems, coaching focuses on helping persons utilise their abilities more effectively than they have previously and is often used in business settings with executives. No license or official registration is needed to practice coaching.