Rebecca Resnik, PsyD  
Bethesda, MD

Specialties: ADHD, dyslexia, developmental delays

Interests: Developmental Disabilities
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Bethesda, MD
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What is a psychologist?

Sep 07, 2011 - 0 comments

What is a Psychologist?

Until we go through a tough time, most of us only see psychologists on television dramas. So it is only natural that many people are not exactly sure what a psychologist is and what they have to offer. People are often confused about how a psychologist is different from a psychiatrist or counselor. Here’s a short article to help you figure out if a psychologist is the health care provider who can help you. At the end is a list of ways to find a psychologist in your area.

A psychologist is a licensed health care provider who is an expert in human behavior, emotion, learning, and development. Psychologists are generally trained as ‘scientist practitioners’—meaning that they learn to conduct and interpret research. This means that a psychologist applies scientific findings to provide effective treatments. Psychologists diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders (like depression or anxiety).  Psychologists are trained to diagnose psychiatric disorders using assessment tools called psychological tests. These tests measure how well a person is thinking, learning, and processing information as compared to other people his age. Psychologists also provide psychotherapy. Psychotherapy and behavior modification are treatments that help people become healthier by changing their behavior. Psychotherapy can be used to treat mental and physical health conditions.

Education and Training
A Licensed Psychologist has earned a doctoral degree in Psychology, Education, or Human Development. No one without a doctoral degree and license can call himself a Psychologist. Most psychologists have earned master’s degrees as well as their doctorates. In most states, psychologists complete a year or two of post doctoral residency training. Finally, the psychologist takes the national psychology exam, a state exam, and then applies for the professional license. By the time he gets his license, a psychologist has completed five to seven years of graduate training before being able to finally call himself a psychologist.

Psychologists diagnose psychiatric disorders through testing. Testing is a systematic process of data collection and formal observation. Testing can be done for many reasons. Common ones include: to determine if a child has learning disabilities, if an older adult is just depressed or has dementia, and to help with court decisions. Testing is often needed after a head injury or stroke. Psychologists also do testing to determine if a student qualifies for special education services. Every student who is eligible for special education services must be assessed through psychological testing. Testing results are used to plan treatment and interventions for the patient.  

Though psychologists are not the only professionals who use psychotherapy, psychologists generally have more extensive training in this area than other mental health care providers. Psychiatrists, Licensed Professional Counselors, Clinical Social Workers, and Psychiatric Nurses are among the other licensed professionals trained in psychotherapy techniques. Effective psychotherapy is based on the science of human development and behavior change. It is not just talking to a person and being a good listener! It is very important to seek psychotherapy only from a licensed professional (just ask if the person holds a professional license before scheduling an appointment). A license guarantees you that the person has the proper credentials and has to follow a code of ethics.

There are a lot of myths about psychotherapy. Most people still think of laying on a couch with the distant doctor scribbling on a notepad. Modern therapy is an active process-it takes work! At its core, psychotherapy is about learning to change your behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Good psychotherapy depends heavily on the quality of the relationship between the patient and therapist. It also depends on the therapist being well trained to assess the needs of the patient and to select evidence based treatment approaches. Psychotherapy has been shown to be as effective as psychiatric drugs for many disorders. It comes with no health risks or nasty side-effects. Unlike medication based treatments alone, the effects of well done therapy can last forever. Psychotherapy and medication together is often the best supported treatment course for conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Psychologists can help with :
* Needing to change unhealthy behavior (smoking, overeating, drinking, cutting)
* Healing interpersonal relationships (couples, parent-child, families)
* Improving quality of life (changing destructive behavior patterns, improving self-esteem, assisting with life transitions)
* Helping you through painful times (grief, loss, trauma, anxiety, depression, stress, divorce)
* Needing to learn new skills (managing children’s behavior, teaching social skills, anger management, improving a manager’s ability to motivate his workers)
* Treating psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, eating disorders, anxiety/panic disorders)

How do I find a psychologist?
If you are not sure a psychologist is the provider you need, just call one and ask. The psychologist should be happy to have a brief phone call or consultation session. The doctor will be able to tell you if he can help you, or if another professional would be the best choice. Though you should consult your primary care doctor first, not all physicians have had much opportunity to learn about psychology or work with a psychologist, so they may not be sure how to advise you. I always recommend you ask your friends—you would be surprised how many people have needed a psychologist but won’t tell you unless you bring it up! It can be hard to find a psychologist, especially in small towns or rural areas. You may need to be persistent in your search.

Here are some other places to look:
* Your state psychological association (google your state + psychological association), either call or check their website for a ‘find a psychologist’ link
* The American Psychological Association maintains a searchable database at
* Hospitals (look for the Behavioral Health or Psychiatry departments on the website)
* Community Mental Health Centers (look up your county’s website, they are listed there)
* Psychology Today’s website has a searchable database of local psychologists
* Your child’s school guidance counselor
* Your college campus Counseling or Mental Health Center
* Your insurance company (though many of the providers listed may not be accepting new patients, you may be able to get on the wait list)

Final thoughts
Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t wait for your problems to go away. If you are hurting, please seek care. Just as you would not ignore a broken bone or chest pain, it’s a bad idea to ignore emotional pain. The spirit is no less worthy of treatment than the body! It is ok to take good care of your self, even if the problem is not a physical ailment, and there are people out there trained to help you do just that.

Good luck and best wishes
Dr. Rebecca Resnik

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