A psychologist is a highly trained professional with approximately eight to ten years of university, a doctoral degree, an internship, and the completion of a comprehensive psychology exam. Psychologists may work in research, teaching at universities, or consulting in industry, business, hospitals, or mental health organizations. Psychologists may also work in private practice providing assessments, counselling, therapy or mental coaching to their clients.
In BC, only professionals who are licensed through the College of Psychologists of BC can use the term “psychologist” or any of its derivatives. This is provincially legislated to protect the public and to identify those mental health professionals who are highly trained, are guided by a code of ethics, belong to a self-regulating college (like doctors and dentists), and who are committed to continuing education on a yearly basis.
A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific point of view and uses this knowledge to understand and help people explain or change their behaviour.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has a specialty in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and who typically prescribes medications as part of their treatment plan.
A counsellor is someone trained to give guidance on personal, social or psychological issues.
There are no legislative restrictions on who can call themselves a counsellor. However, the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors is a voluntary organization which offers an RCC designation to registered clinical counsellors with a minimum of a Master’s degree in one of the helping professions.
The most important thing that you should expect from a psychologist (although maybe not in the first meeting) is that you feel you can trust and talk with the person you are seeing. Confidence in and a personal connection with your psychologist is arguably the most important ingredient in a therapeutic relationship. If you don’t feel this, it should be the central topic of a serious discussion early in your relationship and possibly the reason you may decide to see someone else.
Second, you should expect a high level of professional knowledge from your psychologist and a number of skills to assess, diagnose and prescribe a treatment plan that you understand; that you have cooperated in developing; and that you are committed to work on.
Third, you should expect progress towards your goals. This, of course, involves you “doing the work” between sessions; but you should see progress.
People chose to see a psychologist because they appreciate having a caring, objective and knowledgeable person involved in their life. Many people see a psychologist to set personal goals and learn strategies to accomplish them. Some people wish to develop a deeper understanding of their own attitudes, thinking, feelings and behaviour. Others are seeking a mental coach to work on self-improvement or general well being. Many people seek a psychologist’s help during times of stress, depression, anxiety or addiction.
Although not all psychologists have expertise in all aspects of human behaviour, the following are some of the areas in which a psychologist may practice:
All registered psychologists have foundational knowledge and skills in counselling and clinical practice. With training and experience, they have also learned a great deal about human behaviour. It is within this broad context that psychologist constantly up-date their skills and learn new treatment methods. Many psychologists are also certified in specific therapeutic techniques including:
A registered psychologist in private practice is not covered by the basic BC medical plan. However, extended health plans, employee benefit programs and organizational contracts usually cover mental health services by a registered psychologist. You should check your coverage to determine the number of hours or the total amount your plan allows. If you exceed your coverage or do not have this benefit, you will be responsible for the costs. Registered psychologists determine their own hourly rates based on a suggested fee schedule published by the BC Psychological Association.
Every one knows that sickness, accidents or the unexpected happens. Psychologists understand this aspect of life. However, you are responsible for keeping your appointment or giving adequate notice of a cancellation. This is part of your commitment when you enter into a professional relationship. This also reserves a period of time exclusively for you — which means that others who may wish to see the psychologist have to wait. This is also how a person in business budgets their time and expenses to meet all their operating costs and salary. It is important that you and your psychologist understand the professional contract you are entering into together and understand the policies around missed appointments.
When you see a registered psychologist, you are entering into an important professional relationship. The psychologist is bound by a code of ethics developed by the College of Psychologists of BC to offer service in an extremely safe and professional manner. If you have any questions or concerns about a psychologist’s practice, skills or conduct, you should address those directly with the psychologist. If you do not get a satisfactory resolution, or you feel uncomfortable addressing a concern directly, you can file a complaint with the College of Psychologists of BC. The College is a self-governing licensing body established through provincial legislation to protect the public and ensure the highest standard of professional practice.