Psychology and Psychological Services

What is a Psychologist?

Psychologist are experts on the mind and behavior. They are doctoral professionals (with a PhD, PsyD or EdD from an accredited institution) who are involved in one or more professional activities: clinical practice and psychotherapy, academic research and teaching, elementary and high school counseling, business and industry, the care of medical patients, neuropsychology, forensics and the court system, or many other possibilities. Psychologists are highly trained professionals with expertise in the areas of human behavior and change. They may provide mental health services such as assessment, diagnosis and treatment -- or they may consult with businesses about team building and employee development -- or they may teach and conduct research at our colleges and universities. 

In Wisconsin, anyone who is called a Psychologist or who provides psychological services to the public must be licensed by the Department of Safety and Professional Services. Licensed psychologists have earned a doctoral degree in psychology, completed both pre- and post-doctoral supervised experience and passed both national and state examinations before they can practice independently in Wisconsin. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) has 56 divisions, each representing a specific area within the profession of psychology. Here are descriptions of a few specialized areas of psychological work. 

Clinical psychologists are the best trained professionals who do psychotherapy and counseling. Their academic and clinical training typically takes about seven years and involves hundreds of hours of closely supervised experience doing psychotherapy and psychological testing. The topics that clinical psychologists study include human and animal behavior, cognitive functioning, development, psychopathology, psychotherapeutic approaches, scientific research methods and data analysis, psychological testing and assessment, ethical issues, and much more. Psychologists complete their academic training by conducting original research and writing a dissertation. This is followed by an intensive year-long clinical internship and one or more additional years of supervised post-doctoral experience. Clinicians pursuing very specialized areas of practice are likely to have even more additional training and supervised experience in those areas of specialization. 

Academic psychologists do research and teach classes in undergraduate and graduate psychology programs. Their teaching and research may also be very specialized. You will find psychologists teaching and conducting research in medical schools, undergraduate and MBA business programs, criminal justice and communication arts departments -- any academic field in which an understanding of human behavior plays a critical role.

Business psychologists  (also called Industrial/Organizational psychologists) work with businesses and other organizations, helping them meet the multiple challenges they face in attempting to be successful. Among those challenges are the need to select the right talent to complete the tasks of the business, organize and motivate an effective workforce, and understand and satisfy customers. This is the human dimension of business. Psychologists, as the experts in human behavior, are uniquely trained to help with all aspects of organizational behavior. Psychology in the workplace helps businesses find the right talent to fit the job, engage the workforce in positive effort, promote the growth and development of employees to bring out the best in the workforce, and set up systems that encourage excellence and maintain high performance over the life of the organization.

Health psychologists often work with medical professionals to help patients improve their ability to cope with medical problems and treatments, increase treatment adherence, adopt new health behaviors and healthy lifestyles and recover from illness or injury. They are also involved with health and wellness professionals working to sustain healthy functioning throughout the lifespan.

Forensic psychologists work with attorneys and others in the legal system. They may be involved in divorce or custody disputes, commitment proceedings, determination of competency to stand trial, risk assessment and making predictions that are based on scientific evidence.

There are many more psychology specialties as well. Whatever human beings do as individuals, in groups or in communities, we need to understand how and why we think, feel and behave. Our best understanding of ourselves -- in a down-to-earth, evidence-based, practical sense -- often comes from psychologists who are focused on the interesting questions about what it is to be human. Psychologists are dedicated to solving human problems and helping us achieve the goals that mean the most to us.

What is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is an interactive, relational way of relieving emotional distress and making positive changes in the way you feel and think. It is more than just talking about your problems. Psychotherapy involves discovering new ways to look at and think about your problems and your life, behavioral techniques to help you change negative ways of feeling such as fear and anxiety, skill-building to learn how to deal with difficult situations and relationships, and much more.

Perhaps most importantly, psychotherapy takes place in a relationship with the psychologist in which you are cared about and what you think and feel is accepted. That's an unusual experience for many individuals and is one of the most positive aspects of working with a psychologist.  

Psychotherapy can be helpful in just a few sessions, but it may also continue for months or occasionally even years. Research shows that psychotherapy is about as effective as medication for problems such as anxiety and depression, and a combination of both treatments is often most effective. Psychologists can coordinate your care with your primary care physician or psychiatrist if medication is prescribed for you.  

Psychotherapy clients also have very specific rights. You have the right to be actively involved in determining your treatment goals and the plan for achieving them. You also are entitled to know about the benefits and possible risks of the services that are proposed to you, alternatives to those services and the likely consequences of not receiving help. You also have the right to end psychotherapy at any time. 

Your psychological records are legally protected and confidential. A psychologist will not release any information about you, including that you are a client, unless you sign a written consent form permitting information to be released, the information is ordered by a court, you are in a life-threatening situation or someone else is in a life-threatening situation, or there is suspected abuse or neglect of a child or of a person who is elderly or incapacitated, which the law requires be reported to local authorities.

Psychotherapy is a powerful process that can ease emotional suffering, improve your relationships and change your life. If you think you need psychotherapy, we hope you’ll take the first step of finding a psychologist who can help you.

What are the Benefits of Therapy with a Psychologist?

Several types of mental health, medical and nursing professionals offer psychotherapy. Why might you want to receive therapy from a psychologist instead of someone else?

Training -- Psychologists are the most thoroughly trained professionals who do psychotherapy. No other medical or mental health professionals receive as much supervised clinical training in psychotherapy as psychologists do.

We understand the research -- The training psychologists receive enables us to develop a research-based, scientific perspective and to do our own in-depth clinical thinking about what psychological interventions will work or won't work for different clients and clinical problems.

We do psychological assessment -- Psychologists learn to do clinical interviews and administer psychological assessment tools but, even more importantly, we understand the principles, research and theories behind those tools so we can properly interpret the results. This means that we can more accurately diagnose clinical problems and decide what treatments will help.

We can work with complicated problems -- The broad-based training received by psychologists enables us to work with patients who have more complicated, multi-dimensional problems. For instance, treatment with a psychologist may be the best choice for a client who has a complex combination of disruptive behavior, clinical depression, an eating disorder, family problems and a serious medical condition.

We collaborate with other professionals -- Psychologists regularly collaborate with primary care physicians and other health professionals regarding "shared" patients. Such collaboration may be particularly beneficial for patients with very multi-dimensional problems, as described above. Psychologists can also be helpful in identifying psychological aspects of anything from mild concussion to changing health-related behaviors. In a few states, the armed forces and the Indian Health Services, specially trained psychologists may prescribe medications to treat psychological issues. While Wisconsin psychologists do not prescribe, they regularly collaborate with primary care physicians and other health practitioners to identify and monitor the side effects and effectiveness of medications

We take the time to do effective therapy -- Psychiatrists and other medical professionals typically have short appointments that focus on medication management for symptom control of mental/behavioral health issues. Psychotherapy is the primary intervention offered by psychologists, and we can give it (and you) the time required to be most effective. 

There are many reasons to seek out a psychologist when you or someone you care about needs psychotherapy, and we hope you will.