When Do I Need to See a Psychologist?
Various levels of education determine the work of therapists. While a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist) or LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) has a Master’s degree in psychology, a psychologist requires a doctorate level (Ph.D.) in psychology.
This level of education gives the psychologist more levels of responsibility in their work as well as greater training in providing specific therapeutic interventions.
The Psychologist’s Role
Psychological testing is a primary function of a psychologist that is not allowed by a master’s degree-level therapist. There are a variety of tests that fall under the realm of psychology, ranging from interest surveys used to determine a patient’s possible field of study when attending college to assessments that determine factors of personality and mental illness.
Diagnosing mental illness or personality disorders is most often done by psychologists. Their expertise in recognizing and studying mental illness and its many aspects will help the patient seek medical interventions when necessary.
Psychologists work closely with psychiatrists to institute and follow up on medication for mental illness for a patient. They are the ones who more closely follow patients’ response to medications due to the intimate nature of their work.
Sequence of Events
Many times, patients may go to a Master’s level therapist for group or one-on-one counseling and begin to show symptoms of mental illness or trouble. The therapist may refer the patient to a psychologist to determine the accuracy of their observations. As the psychologist determines the diagnosis for the patient, they may refer them to a psychiatrist for medication.
The patient may then see the psychologist for further testing or to confirm that they are stabilized on the medication prescribed. Most medications for mental illness take several weeks to balance in the brain of the patient.
At that point, the patient may return to the Master’s level therapist for ongoing treatment and support for their newly recognized condition. Most patients will begin to function well in therapy with the addition of medication for their mental illness. Ongoing therapy is often recommended to offset the illness as well as continued intake of the medication for a period of time.
Going back to the psychologist and psychiatrist will be necessary to continue the medication regimen that is most effective for the patient. There are some patients who must continue to visit for longer periods of time to find the right combination of medications or proper medication that works most effectively for them.
This “ladder” of treatment, from Master’s level of therapy to the psychologist and then the psychiatrist is an effective one. Cost factors also increase at each level of treatment so that’s another good reason for patients to begin at the MFT or LMFT level. Increasing costs for treatment may make it necessary to limit the sessions with a psychologist and psychiatrist to only the absolute necessary for diagnosis and medication management.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.