Let’s Set the Record Straight—Part 1 Reflections from Internship
Four years ago this past September, I decided to undertake one of the largest projects in my life. I went back to school to work toward a doctorate in clinical psychology, which has definitely been rewarding and challenging at the same time. After completing my coursework 18 months ago, I began a new chapter in this journey: my doctoral internship at our local children’s hospital. This experience was enriching and eye opening for me in many ways, both as a professional and as a parent. Now that I have closed this chapter in my journey as well, I feel it is important to share some of the observations I have made over the course of my internship experience. I realized very early on that families seem to have many misconceptions when they arrive at a psychologist’s office for help or testing. I hope that by sharing my experiences it will be easier for parents and professionals alike to understand psychology and the assessment process.
The biggest problem that I observed in my internship is that many parents and professionals don’t always understand what psychologists actually do. This misconception can be easily made as psychologists can take on many different roles. Some parents have come in for an appointment expecting to leave with prescription medications for their child. Others expect to see the “shrink” who is going to ask the patient to lie down and tell them their problems. I saw so many parents and their children during my time as an intern who were referred to a psychologist due to difficulties the child was experiencing; yet they really didn’t understand what psychologists do.
A psychologist’s role can vary greatly depending on the type of environment in which they are working, and what their population is. Psychologists who specialize in pediatrics typically see parents along with their child who may be experiencing difficulties with learning, behavior, and/or mood. Within the realm of pediatric psychology, psychologists can also specialize in specific areas like assessment, counseling, eating/feeding issues, developmental issues, corrections/juvenile detention, etc. Therefore, when you are being referred to a psychologist, be sure to take some time to research the individual. Do their areas of expertise coincide with your areas of concern for your child? Also, be prepared to join in on the conversation. Parents are often active participants when their children are working with a psychologist.
The second biggest misconception that I found was understanding that psychologists are not medication prescribers. There are only a few states in the US where psychologists are allowed to take additional training and become licensed to prescribe medications for psychological symptoms. However, they are very few and far between. Psychologists typically focus on psychological assessment and treatment of the patients and their families with whom they are working. If an individual requires medications for their symptoms, then a referral can be made to a psychiatrist. As an MD who specializes in psychiatric medications, psychiatrists prescribe medications and psychologists do not.
By understanding these top 2 misconceptions I have observed in my training, I hope that parents will have a better feel for who they are seeing when they are referred to a psychologist. Referrals can be a scary time for many parents. I hope that by understanding the psychologist’s role more fully, parents will feel better prepared for their initial encounter in a psychologist’s office.