Frequently Asked Questions:
- What is a psychologist?
- Why see a psychologist?
- What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
- Why see a psychologist instead of another health care provider?
- Are psychological services covered by provincial medicare?
What is a psychologist? [ top ]
A psychologist is a licensed mental health professional with extensive training in the scientific study of human development and behaviour. Psychologists conduct research in various areas of development, including social, emotional, intellectual, and physiological. Clinical psychologists apply this knowledge to provide assessment and therapy. They are trained to understand individual differences, and to help clients develop their personal strengths to enable them to cope with life’s challenges.
In Quebec, to be licensed as a psychologist, one must now have a doctoral degree in Psychology. Psychologists who were registered in Quebec prior to 2006 may not have a doctoral degree. The Ordre des psychologues changed the entry criteria for the profession in 2006. Only health care providers registered and regulated by the Ordre des psychologues du Québec can call themselves psychologists.
Admission to the Ordre requires intensive academic training in a recognized university program. This assures clients of high standards of practice and health care delivery. Registered psychologists have completed a program of study that includes courses on the biological, cognitive, emotional, and social bases of behaviour. Clinical psychologists also complete supervised training in clinical settings prior to becoming registered. Psychologists are trained in professional ethics and standards, research design and methodology, and statistical analysis — this allows them to appropriately evaluate various treatments and assessment tools that are available before applying them in practice.
Dr. Voss completed her doctoral degree in Quebec, but was originally registered to practice psychology in Ontario. In Ontario, following completion of a recognized doctoral degree, psychologists must complete one year of practice supervised by a licensed practitioner. Following this year, they must also pass oral and written examinations before being admitted to the College of Psychologists.
Why see a psychologist? [ top ]
Looking after your mental health is part of looking after your overall health. A psychologist can be there to listen in difficult times and to help you develop strategies to deal with life’s challenges. Seeing a psychologist can also give you an opportunity to stop and think about what is happening in your life, to take stock, and to rebalance if needed. A psychologist can help you see and develop your personal strengths. In this way, therapy can be quite empowering.
Seeing a psychologist doesn’t mean you have serious mental health issues. People meet with a psychologist for many reasons. Most often, they are seeking help from a professional who offers them an objective perspective, and assures confidentiality. Some people come seeking ways to cope with depression or anxiety, others have experienced traumatic stressors such as car accidents or abuse. Some are indeed struggling with intense distress, severe mood swings, suicidal thoughts, feelings of rage, loss of contact with reality, or severe insomnia. But many will seek out therapy when having problems managing stress, dealing with difficult relationships, or adjusting to life transitions or changes in their environment (for example: marriage, separation, loss of a loved one, new job, new home). Problems with alcohol and drug use may also lead someone to consult a psychologist. Psychologists can also help people who require assessments for academic or legal purposes.
What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist? [ top ]
Psychologists complete Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees in Psychology. They have comprehensive training in the biological, social, emotional, and intellectual bases for behaviour. Combined with their applied clinical training, clinical psychologists typically have 9 years or more of education and training in Psychology.
Psychiatrists complete general medical school, and a 5 year residency program in Psychiatry. They are trained primarily in the medical model, with a focus on bio-chemical bases for mental health problems and their treatment. Training programs differ in how much emphasis is placed on training in psychotherapy.
Both psychologists and psychiatrists can assess, diagnose, and treat mental health problems. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, but psychologists in Quebec cannot. Psychologists can administer psychometric tests (e.g., IQ tests, personality tests) — indeed these tests are often developed by psychologists through extensive research. Psychiatrists do not generally administer these tests.
Psychologists are regulated by the Ordre des psychologues du Québec. Psychiatrists are regulated by the Collège des Médecins du Québec.
Why see a psychologist instead of another health care provider? [ top ]
There are other professionals who can provide assessment and therapy services who may charge less per session. The differences lie primarily in the educational and training backgrounds of the professionals and whether or not they are regulated health professionals.
Clinical psychologists with doctoral degrees have more training in mental health, psychometric assessment and psychotherapy than any other health professional. Psychologists are trained to understand and help change thinking, feeling, and behaviour. They focus on what makes each client’s reactions unique, and what will help that particular client, given their particular characteristics. (Sometimes the client is a family or a group.)
Psychologists are regulated and licensed by the Ordre des psychologues du Québec which has the power to discipline, fine and revoke the license of psychologists who have not performed their job competently and hurt a client. As a client, you are therefore assured of the proficiency level of the person treating you, and you are protected when you seek help. If you feel that your psychologist has been unprofessional or behaved in an unethical way, you may complain to the Ordre. You are not protected in this way if your therapist is an unregulated provider.
Psychiatrists are highly trained in the medical model of mental illness. They frequently treat clients with medication, although some may also offer therapy. Some people prefer to see a psychologist, rather than to see someone who will view their issues as a medical problem. Psychologists will consult with psychiatrists if necessary when treating clients.
Social workers are trained to look at how social factors impact individuals. They are often employed in community agencies where they help clients with housing issues, financial issues, and community related problems. Their training often includes looking at issues of social justice and the impact of environmental systems. Some people prefer to see a psychologist, who will focus on their individual characteristics to facilitate change.
Psychotherapists have various backgrounds. Until recently, there were no regulations governing the people who used this title. In Quebec, recent legislation has been put in place to regulate this diversity in the interest of protecting the public. The Ordre des psychologues has been given this mandate. Clients who choose to see psychotherapists must ask questions about their therapist’s training in order to inform themselves.
Insurance companies also generally reimburse psychologists’ fees, but often will not reimburse for services from an unregulated provider. Psychologists are recognized by some insurance companies, government agencies, and employers as health professionals authorized to complete certain official documents (e.g., application for longterm disability benefits, certain tax credits).
Are psychological services covered by provincial medicare? [ top ]
Some psychological services are covered, if they are provided in an institutional setting, like a hospital or a school. However, psychologists in private practice are not covered by provincial medicare plans.
Psychological services are often covered by your extended health care plan. Check your plan to determine how much coverage you have. Some additional insurance plans also cover psychological services (e.g., the Société de l’Assurance Automobile du Québec).
Any expense for psychological services that is not covered by an insurance company can be used as a deduction on your income tax return, under health care expenses.