Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology

Many people only have a vague idea what psychology is about.  They don’t really know what a psychologist can do for them or what is involved in seeing one.  This page attempts to address at least some of those issues.

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is someone who has fulfilled the requirements to become registered with the governing body of their state and country to legally practice the profession of psychology.

The requirements may vary from one country to another but will include having at least six years worth of training and the appropriate university degrees. In most cases the six years worth of training will all be university based but in some countries, and Australia is one, it may involve four years of study and two years practicing under the supervision of a qualified person.

A psychologist studies things like how human beings develop psychologically. They learn what is “normal”. Normal is just another word for common and simply means how people usually develop and how people usually react to various life experiences.

A lot of what people think of as “crazy” is actually a normal reaction to having been through an experience most people don’t have to go through. Psychologists learn about what is “normal” for people who have gone through such experiences too.

What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a therapist and a counselor?

A psychiatrist has additional training in the medical profession and is able to prescribe drugs to treat conditions such as depression, psychosis, schizophrenia and so on.

A psychologist is trained to perform assessments, administer and interpret a range of psychological tests and they are trained in the theory and practice of several types of therapies and various kinds of counseling.  They differ from psychiatrists mainly in the fact they lack the training and qualifications to prescribe drugs.  They are also less expensive to see than a psychiatrist.

A therapist offers therapy.  They are usually trained in the theory and practice of one or more specific types of therapy.  This is a generic sort of term since people often refer to their psychologist, for example, as their therapist.  As a psychologist, because I am trained to offer therapy, I sometimes use this term to describe myself.  There are, however, some people who have no other qualifications apart from being trained in one or two particular types of therapy. 

A counselor offers counseling.  They are usually trained in the theory and practice of one or two specific types of counseling.  This is, again, a generic sort of term.  There are people who have no other qualifications apart from some training in counseling but, as a psychologist, I am trained to offer counseling and sometimes use the term counselor to describe myself too.

What sort of help can these people give me?

Psychiatrists tend to only see clients whose conditions require drug treatment.

A psychologist can assess your needs and refer you to a psychiatrist or doctor for the drugs you may need but they can also select from several kinds of therapies and/or types of counseling until they find the one that your problem responds best to.
A therapist can treat you if your problem is one that responds to the particular therapy they are trained in.

A counselor can treat you if your problem is one that responds to the counseling they are trained in.

Most problems respond well to basic counseling and this can be the cheapest option.  A therapist may cost more but therapy may be needed for more difficult problems.  A psychologist has a range of treatment options and is a good choice if counseling is not helping.  A psychiatrist is the most expensive option and will usually only see you if your problem requires medication.

Some people have a psychiatrist who monitors their medications, a psychologist who provides therapy and counselling and a counsellor who supplies them with additional support and counseling.

How can I tell if I am mad or crazy?

The terms “mad” and “crazy” are not terms responsible mental health professionals would ever use in an official capacity because they imply a degree of seriousness that does not usually exist. The terms “Mad” and “Crazy” are not official diagnoses.  They are descriptions people use for how they feel. They are not labels any professional is likely to ever place on you, or in your file, no matter how serious your condition.

For a psychologist to consider your problem serious enough to legitimately label you “Mad” or “Crazy” your mental state would need to meet all of the following criteria:

  • The symptoms have never been seen by anyone in the history of psychology before.
  • Nothing even remotely similar to the symptoms has ever been seen before.
  • Nothing in the history of psychology, or any other professions, could explain the symptoms.
  • The symptoms are serious enough to interfere, in a negative way, with the person’s ability to live their life and interact with others.
  • Nobody in any profession, anywhere in the world, has any theories or ideas about what might be done to help the person.

As you can see — for a psychologist to place such a label on you they would have to be willing to admit defeat. They would have to decide they not only do not know what is wrong with you but there is nobody else anywhere in the entire world who might know what is wrong. They would also have to admit they can’t even take a guess about what might be able to help you and nor can anyone else in the world.

There is no official diagnosis of “Mad” or “Crazy” because they are two words that simply mean “I don’t know what is wrong and I can’t even take a guess about what might help this person.” Very few professional people are likely to be that ignorant about your condition or that unable to offer help.

Now that you know it is highly unlikely that you are “Mad” or “Crazy” I will address the real question.

How can I tell if there is something seriously wrong with my mental health?

Any time a person is behaving in ways that harm themselves or other people there is a problem. How serious the problem is will depend on how much harm the behaviour is doing, or is likely to do, to the person or to other people in their lives.

Depressed people, for example, are hurting themselves because they withdraw from other people and the activities they used to enjoy doing. They lose their pleasure in life and social interactions. This illness can be very serious indeed because it can cause people to kill themselves.

At the other end of the scale there are some conditions where the person who has it thinks there is no problem at all. In their opinion nothing is wrong. These people behave in ways that do not cause them any problems but can be devastating for the people around them. The psychopaths who view other people as objects for them to use or abuse in any way they see fit do not have a problem with what they do. They are considered mentally unhealthy by society because of the harm they do to other people. They tend to end up in treatment because the law forces them to go.

The answer to whether your problem is serious is, therefore, contained in your answer to the following two questions:

Is it harming me? It is harming you if it is having a negative effect on any one of the following things:

  • Your relationships with other people
  • Your health
  • Your ability to work or function well in your life
  • Your relationship with the law

Is it harming anyone else?

Do you think your behaviour is having a negative effect on someone else? Does someone else think your behaviour is having a negative effect on them? Would a Dr, therapist, policeman or other professional think your behaviour is harmful to someone else?  If the answer is yes there may be a serious problem.

What will happen if I go to see someone and they think I am mad or crazy?

If you find a psychologist who labels you mad or crazy you have found someone who admits defeat very easily — find someone else to treat you!

If you actually do have a serious mental health problem you will be treated or sent to someone who can treat you.

Will I go Crazy if I get help?

Some people think seeking help can cause people to go mad or crazy.  There are stories of people who were, supposedly, not too bad until they went for help.  The major problem here is that people often wait to seek help until they are in such a bad way they are about to snap whether they get help or not.  They walk through the door of a treatment provider and fall apart or they take medication and get side effects and fall apart.

People often wait until they have already fallen apart to seek help.  Sometimes they then think therapy made things worse because therapy provides a safe place for them to admit just how bad things really are.