Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Umm...What are you doing in grad school, exactly?

I get some variation of this question a lot - what am I doing? What am I trying to be? What's a Psy.D.? They're all great questions and I thought I'd take time to answer them on here to give you all a picture of what kind of program I'm in.

First of all, I'm in a 5-year doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. I will spend four years taking classes and working at practicum (training) sites, and then one year at an internship (residency) site. When I graduate, I'll have earned a Psy.D. - a doctorate of psychology degree. And when I take my licensure exams after that, I'll be a licensed psychologist.

A Psy.D. was created in 1973 when all the psychologists got together and decided that the Ph.D. was too broad to really determine if psychologists should practice as clinicians. After all, some Ph.D. in Psychology programs are focused only on research, and the grad students never learn about or practice clinical work. Yet these people were still practicing as clinicians. Therefore, they created two separate doctoral tracks for aspiring psychologists. Those who were more interested in academia and producing research are supposed to take the Ph.D. route, and those who are more interested in clinical work and utilizing the research are supposed to take the Psy.D. route. However, both end up with the same licensure so in the end, there's not too much of a difference.

Psychologists can do all sorts of things once they graduate. A private or group practice, which is what most people think of when they are thinking of psychologists, only scratches the surface. Psychologists definitely work in practices, and usually do therapy and/or assessments in these. An assessment by a licensed psychologist can give you a wide range of information: anything from your IQ score/ learning disabilities/ whether you have ADHD; to whether you are clinically depressed/ anxious etc; and even whether you have schizophrenia or something like that! Basically, if it involves your brain, we can test for it.

Fun fact: Psychologists were the first people to be able to diagnose brain damage and determine its location with this test battery. They could do this before the MRI even existed! However, brain scans such as the MRI are much quicker and easier, especially for the doctor, and therefore this fell out of favor when those came into fashion. But I still use some of these tests when I'm trying to understand something with my clients.

Anyway, there are lots of other things clinical psychologists do. Many work in forensic settings, so with people in prison or on probation. Psychologists also do a lot in court cases, such as determing whether people are fit for court and giving advice on custody battles. Treatment centers, particularly for alcohol and drug abuse, usually will have lots of psychologists. Community or advocacy centers often employ psychologists along with social workers to help the clients who have more serious mental problems than social workers are trained for. Schools often employ psychologists for therapy and assessment. The military and Veteran's Administration are always hiring on more psychologists to help soldiers and veterans deal with PTSD, depression, and adjusting to new lifestyles. In addition, almost every major company has hired an Industrial/ Organizational psychologist as a consultant to help improve workplace relations, productivity, etc.

One final confusion that I will attempt to clear up is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor - they have gone to medical school and then completed additional training in psychology. A psychologist has not gone to medical school, but graduate school. Psychiatrists are therefore allowed to prescribe medications, whereas psychologists are not (at least in most states). Therefore, psychiatrists usually end up doing less therapy (and practically no assessments), and rather they mostly help people figure out the right kind and dosage of medicine for their particular condition.

I hope this was helpful. Coming soon, I'll talk about why therapy is useful and the different types of therapy. I'm sure I'll think of more things along the way that will be helpful, but leave a comment if you have any suggestions!

1 comment:

Diana said...

I was thinking the brain test battery could just plug in adn let you know your condition.....that was a misleading medical title!