Psychology Awareness Month

Psychology Month is observed every February to acknowledge the contributions of Canadian psychologists and to teach Canadians the many ways in which psychology can help them achieve happier, healthier lives – not just personally, but also in their communities and workplace.

What is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is someone who studies the field of psychology – a type of practice that observes how we think, feel and behave, and provides us with better knowledge and understanding to help change any behaviours that are considered negative. A psychologist can work in a number of different settings, including schools, both government and non-government locations, hospitals, correctional facilities, medical clinics, as well as their own private office.

What Does a Psychologist Do?

A psychologist can focus their practice on a wide variety of topics, including mental health disorders (such as depression and anxiety), neurological and genetic determinants of behaviour as well as social determinants, adjustment to illness (such as a disability or chronic disease), perception of pain and pain management, degenerative brain diseases, the relationship between psychological factors associated with physical conditions/illnesses as well as end-of-life care, cognitive functions, criminal behaviour and crime prevention, as well as lifestyle management.

The Difference Between Psychologists and Psychiatrists

When people hear the words “psychologist” and “psychiatrist”, they often think they are one in the same. However, this isn’t the case and the two are vastly different. As mentioned, a psychologist’s primary focus us on how an individual thinks, feels and behaves. They focus extensively on treating patients who are suffering emotionally, and are also able to conduct specialized psychological testing in order to assess a patient’s mental state. Unlike psychiatrists, a psychologist is not able to prescribe a patient with medication. This is the job of a psychiatrist as they are trained medical doctors, and much of the work of a psychiatrist is focused on the management of medication as part of their treatment plan.

The medical training for psychologists and psychiatrists also differs. A psychologist’s education can last from anywhere between 4 and 6 years. Once they have completed their studies, they will receive either a PhD or PsyD degree. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are first trained in the field of general medicine. Once they earn their MD, they are required to take up residency training in psychiatry which often involves working in the psychiatry unit of a hospital as well as working with a variety of patients in all age groups and with all types of mental illness.

When Do I Need to See a Psychologist?

Whether or not you need to see a psychologist is fully based on the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing. Seeing a psychologist can be beneficial if you simply need help managing certain aspects of your life (such as anger management.) In many cases it’s not uncommon to see both a psychologist and a psychiatrist at the same time. Sometimes having a team of medical professionals on board is a positive thing as you will get the best care possible.

If you or someone you know could benefit from seeing a psychologist, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends speaking to your family physician to get the ball rolling.