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What Does a Psychological Therapist Do?

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  • Written By: Marlene de Wilde
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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A psychological therapist, or psychotherapist, treats a variety of conditions such as adjustment or developmental disorders as well as mental disorders and illnesses. A variety of psychological techniques are used to change negative behaviors, thoughts, habits and feelings as well as to develop self awareness and personal strengths. Psychological therapists follow different theoretical approaches and may offer individual, group or family therapy. The main difference between psychotherapy and other types of counseling is that the former requires some form of training whereas the latter may not.

Different theoretical approaches are followed by different therapists who are guided by their training and experience to best serve the needs of the patient. Generally, the first few visits will be devoted to a psychological evaluation of the patient and the establishment of a relationship that both therapist and patient feel comfortable with. By asking background questions and perhaps the completion of a questionnaire, a psychological therapist is able to build up a psychological profile of the patient that then dictates how counseling is to proceed.

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Therapy depends on the approach favored by the psychotherapist. Behavioral and cognitive therapies, or a mixture of the two, are aimed at changing behavior and cognition respectively. The therapist leaves most of the talking to the patient and gradually maladaptive thoughts and behaviors are unlearned and rational, positive ones take their place. Psychoanalysts concentrate on dreams and the unconscious and guide the patient to unravel the way their mind works and why they act the way they do. By making the unconscious mind conscious, the patient can then make different choices.

There are many therapy approaches but the standard procedure is that a diagnosis is given after the assessment; then it is usual for the psychological therapist to discuss the treatment procedure with the patient or even refer the patient to another therapist if appropriate. Some therapies are conducted once a week whereas others prefer to schedule sessions more often. Likewise, some are intended to be short-term while others can entail a long-term commitment. Usually, a session entails verbal communication between the therapist and patient but sometimes the therapy many involve art, drama, music or physical expression in order to either get to the root of the problem or effect treatment of it.

In order to become a psychological therapist, it is necessary to have either a master's degree or a PhD. Having a PhD enables the therapist to set up a private practice whereas therapists with a master's can practice only under supervision. Social Workers, psychiatrists and counselors may also practice psychotherapy within their own orientations.

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