If you are one of the thousands of Americans seeking mental health help, you’ve probably been approached by a psychologist or counselor. Do therapists diagnose you? Some do, some don’t. And, if they do, how do they know what’s going on? In this article I’ll try to explain what a professional clinical psychologist, and ones that work with children and couples, really can and cannot do.
First of all, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the definitive, reference book of professional psychiatric practice. It was developed by the American Psychological Association and released in 1980. Since then it has undergone numerous changes and refinements, making it a far more credible medical reference than it was in its early days. The DSM includes criteria for diagnosis, which must be agreed upon by both the patient and the physician who will be treating them. The DSM also includes data about patient functioning and related concepts.
Professional psychologists use psychological tests to identify and evaluate human behavior. These tests, like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, attempt to create a “maticogram,” a summary of the patient’s responses to various situations. They ask questions about thinking, memory, language, feelings, mood, and physical responses. In general, though, the goal is to create as complete a profile as possible, including basic personality elements. The results of these assessments help the psychologist or counselor diagnose the patient.
A psychologist cannot diagnose you unless she or he is an expert in the particular area of psychology in which you need help. For example, a psychologist cannot diagnose you with eating disorders if they are not trained in eating disorders. While there are many qualified psychologists and therapists who offer therapy to the public, only a very small number specialize in treating eating disorders, and they are called psychoanalysts.
Unlike psychologists, a counselor is trained to help you deal with your problems, but he or she does not diagnose you. Instead, the goals of counseling are more focused. Counselors are licensed professionals who provide personalized treatment for their clients. Counselors can find common conflicts between people and use personal experiences and suggestions to help their clients overcome these conflicts. Often times, when the problems of a couple spiral out of control, counselors will suggest that the couple seek psychological therapy to work through their difficulties.
In contrast to psychologists, psychiatrists diagnose you by conducting standard medical tests. These tests measure things like your IQ, blood pressure, height, and other physical attributes. After determining these traits, a psychiatrist creates a diagnosis based on the information the tests reveal. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists do not make assumptions about your mental health. Rather, they treat you and your mental health like a medical problem, focusing in on the underlying cause and working to help you find a cure.
Although you may want to think of psychologists and psychiatrists as synonymous, they are actually very different types of mental health professionals. While both may provide effective treatments, their methods of treatment may be very different from one another. Before seeing an psychologist or psychiatrist, you may want to try some of these alternative treatments to see if you feel better without them.
If you are interested in exploring these alternatives, you should first check out the credentials of any professional you plan to see. A reputable medical doctor will have his or her license granted by the state in which he or she practices. For psychologists, you should look for a professional who holds a Master’s degree in psychology. Professional psychologists also typically hold at least a year of experience dealing with mental health. If you are interested in seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist, you should find one who has a great deal of experience dealing with patients in all kinds of situations. If you are looking for a psychological evaluation, you should make sure you choose one that is conducted by a trained professional to ensure that he or she is qualified to help you with your particular needs.