Why Should I See a Psychologist?

There are undoubtedly fine practitioners among each different category of licensed mental health professional. How can you make the best choice for what you need? Here are some reasons to choose a psychologist:

  1. Psychologists study the entirety of human development and behavior. To be a “Psychologist” in Texas means that you have a doctorate and have studied not only case histories and clinical observations, but also scientific research.
  2. Licensed psychologists have all conducted their own research into some aspect of human behavior. They are “scientist/practitioners,” and thus are always seeking what works best to help people grow and change.
  3. Licensed psychologists have the most stringent ethical standards of all mental health practitioners.
  4. Psychology doctoral programs last from four to seven years, all of it devoted to human behavior and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral disorders.
  5. Psychotherapy is a major part of training for licensed psychologists; and psychotherapy is much more effective than medication for treating most psychological problems.
  6. If you do need medication, your psychologist will refer you to a medical doctor.
  7. Psychologists begin their clinical practica (actually working with patients or clients) during graduate school. At the end of their studies, they do a clinical internship, followed by a year of professionally supervised practice AFTER receiving the doctoral degree.
  8. To obtain licensure, a psychologist must pass written and oral examinations in clinical issues and ethical practice. Psychologists are the most highly vetted mental health practitioners. (It is so tough that there is even a funny You Tube video about it.)

Feeling comfortable with your psychologist or other mental health professional is even more important than choosing your medical doctor. If it doesn’t feel right, ask questions or try someone else.

You are looking for someone who really listens carefully to you, understands what you are trying to communicate, respects what is important to you and feels like someone you can trust.

Licensed Mental Health Providers in Texas

The many different types of mental health professionals can present a confusing dilemma for most people. The fact is, there are seven different types of licensed mental health professionals, in Texas, and there are many other unlicensed folks who hang out a shingle and offer help without having had to meet any state requirements for training, experience and ethical practice. I recommend that you look for one of these professionals, who have had to prove their expertise before a regulatory body whose job is to protect the public:

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) – has a master’s degree in counseling, including principles of human development, and has completed 3000 hours of supervised experience.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) – usually has a master’s degree, including the study of family systems theories and techniques. The degree requirements include 3000 hours of supervised experience.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) – has completed a master’s degree in Social Work, including the enhancement of social and psychosocial functioning of individuals and groups, and has completed two years of supervised clinical experience.

Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) – assists individuals or groups in treating chemical dependency problems. The LCDC has a two-year associate’s degree and is not authorized to treat mental health disorders or problems which do not include chemical dependency.

Licensed Sex Offender Treatment Providers (LSOTP)– must hold another mental health license and treats those who have been convicted or adjudicated of a sex crime or a sexually motivated offense.

Psychiatrist (MD) – is a medical doctor. This person has a four-year degree from an accredited medical school and the successful completion of a psychiatric residency program. This doctor will typically focus on medication in treating psychiatric problems. Some receive training in talk therapy as well.

Psychologist (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) – holds a doctoral degree from an accredited university graduate program in either clinical practice or research. All psychologists have been trained in psychological assessment, diagnosis and in different types of psychotherapeutic treatment (talking therapies) for various disorders. In Texas, a psychologist who engages in clinical practice must also be licensed, which involves a supervised internship, post-doctoral clinical supervision and written and oral examinations in practice and ethics.

Should I get counseling or psychotherapy?

If you are stuck and unhappy in your life, or in some area of your life, the simple answer is “yes.” Just a few sessions with a well-trained, skilled and kind professional might be all you need to get “unstuck” and move on with your life.

“But I like to work things out for myself. How could a stranger possibly help me?”

Of course it would be great to be able to work things out for yourself – most people feel the way you do about that. But, I’m assuming that you have already tried to do it on your own. It is not a failure for you if you haven’t been able to do it yet (see below).

A stranger who is also a skilled mental health professional brings an important set of “tools” with which to help you:

  1. Objectivity – Your psychologist can see your problem more clearly than you can, because she is not involved in the situation herself. Clients in counseling often get helpful new insights right away just by hearing an outsider’s perspective. Psychologists often hear, “I never thought of it that way before!”
  2. Knowledge – Psychologists (and other mental health professionals) know about normal human development, about how healthy babies grow into healthy children, adolescents, adults and seniors. They know what has to happen for a person to grow and change and be successful in life. They also know the many things than can go wrong, often with the best of intentions on the part of parents, and how these negative situations can cause pain and problems later in life. Psychologists also know what kinds of feelings, thoughts and behaviors lead to all kinds of good relationships – parent/child, spouses and lovers, friendships, extended family, and work relationships. It is usually easy for a psychologist to see what is going on that may have lead to trouble.
  3. Compassion – All human beings share many of the same hopes, fears, desires and other feelings. Most of us are doing the best we can in our situations. A good mental health clinician will start with kind and positive expectations of you, and, because of his own life experience, including troubles of various kinds, will likely have an ongoing underlying compassion for you and want to help you, even if you don’t see yourself as a friendly or likable person. Most capable mental health professionals view all human beings as inherently precious and valuable.

So, the longer answer to, “Should I get counseling or psychotherapy?” is “Yes, if you want the best chance possible of changing your life for the better as soon as you can.”