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What is a Clinical Psychologist?
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While some clinical psychologists specialize in treating severe psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression, many others may help people deal with personal issues, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. Often times, clinical psychologists provide an opportunity to talk and think about things that are confusing or worrying, offering different ways of interpreting and understanding problems and situations.
Clinical psychologists are trained to use a variety of approaches aimed at helping individuals, and the strategies used are generally determined by the specialty they work in.
Clinical psychologists often interview patients and give diagnostic tests in their own private offices. They may provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy and may design and implement behavior modification programs.
Some clinical psychologists work in hospitals where they collaborate with physicians and other specialists to develop and implement treatment and intervention programs that patients can understand and comply with. Other clinical psychologists work in universities and medical schools, where they train graduate students in the delivery of mental health and behavioral medicine services. A few work in physical rehabilitation settings, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, chronic pain or illness, stroke, arthritis, or neurological conditions. Clinical psychologists also may work in community mental health centers, crisis counseling services, or drug rehabilitation centers, offering evaluation, therapy, remediation, and consultation.
Psychology can receive successful treatment with good psychology care and medications. Areas of specialization within clinical psychology include health psychology, neuropsychology, geropsychology, and child psychology. Health psychologists study how biological, psychological, and social factors affect health and illness. They promote healthy living and disease prevention through counseling, and they focus on how patients adjust to illnesses and treatments and view their quality of life.
Neuropsychologists study the relation between the brain and behavior. They often work in stroke and head injury programs. Geropsychologists deal with the special problems faced by the elderly. Work may include helping older persons cope with stresses that are common in late life, such as loss of loved ones, relocation, medical conditions, and increased care-giving demands.
Clinical psychologists may further specialize in these fields by focusing their work in a number of niche areas including mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, or substance abuse. The emergence and growth of these, and other, specialties reflects the increasing participation of psychologists in direct services to special patient populations.
Often, clinical psychologists consult with other medical personnel regarding the best treatment for patients, especially treatment that includes medication. Clinical psychologists generally are not permitted to prescribe medication to treat patients; only psychiatrists and other medical doctors may prescribe most medications.
Encouraging demand for clinical psychologists will continue to be the rising health care costs associated with unhealthy lifestyles, such as smoking, alcoholism, and obesity, which have made prevention and treatment more critical. An increase in the number of employee assistance programs, which help workers deal with personal problems, also should lead to employment growth for clinical and counseling specialties.
More clinical and counseling psychologists will be needed to help people deal with depression and other mental disorders, marriage and family problems, job stress, and addiction. The growing number of elderly will increase the demand for psychologists trained in geropsychology to help people deal with the mental and physical changes that occur as individuals grow older. There also will be increased need for psychologists to work with returning veterans.
The tasks of a clinical psychologist are to:
- Identify psychological, emotional, or behavioral issues and diagnose disorders, using information obtained from interviews, tests, records, and reference materials.
- Develop and implement individual treatment plans, specifying type, frequency, intensity, and duration of therapy.
- Interact with clients to assist them in gaining insight, defining goals, and planning action to achieve effective personal, social, educational, and vocational development and adjustment.
- Discuss the treatment of problems with clients.
- Use a variety of treatment methods, such as psychotherapy, hypnosis, behavior modification, stress reduction therapy, psychodrama, and play therapy.
- Counsel individuals and groups regarding problems, such as stress, substance abuse, and family situations, to modify behavior or to improve personal, social, and vocational adjustment.
- Write reports on clients and maintain required paperwork.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of counseling or treatments and the accuracy and completeness of diagnoses, modifying plans and diagnoses as necessary.
- Obtain and study medical, psychological, social, and family histories by interviewing individuals, couples, or families and by reviewing records.
- Consult reference material, such as textbooks, manuals, and journals, to identify symptoms, make diagnoses, and develop approaches to treatment.
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