Parents and guardians often seek help from a licensed psychologist when a child, teen, or adult needs a diagnosis or diagnostic clarification to help determine the best support for that individual at home, in school and in the community. Psychologists also do re-evaluations to update supports and services for an individual and their family. Psychologists may only be “testing psychologists” who do these evaluations, or they may also offer therapy services. Some psychologists may do therapy and no testing at all. Psychologists can offer a variety of different therapies from Cognitive Behavioral therapy to parent consultation to group therapy to play therapy. They may work with a variety of ages and with a variety of techniques. Psychologists usually focus on a specialty area or two or work with clients in a certain age range. Most of the time services from a psychologist are in an office setting or by telehealth.
What do Licensed Psychologist do?
A licensed (neuro/counseling/school/clinical) psychologist working alone or as part of a multi-disciplinary team can evaluate and diagnose mental health disorders. These psychologists can also often treat disorders. Many consult with parents, other providers, and members of the school team so that they can best serve your child. A licensed psychologist is able to complete a comprehensive evaluation with your child by assessing some or all of the following 11 areas: cognition and learning, language, social skills, adaptive skills, visual spatial skills, motor skills, sensory differences, attention, memory, executive functioning, and emotions and behavior. A comprehensive evaluation will provide you with a diagnosis if your child meets the criteria for one. Having a diagnosis like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, ADHD or Dyslexia can help guide you to the best services and supports for your child. Also, having a diagnosis may lead to better mental health benefits and insurance coverage. For these reasons, if your school team makes an educational identification of a learning disability or Autism, often they will also refer you to have a clinical evaluation to receive a formal diagnosis that may qualify your family for supports and services.
If you already have a diagnosis, then a licensed psychologist may be able to treat your child. At the least, they will be able to point you in the direction of a Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Tutor or other therapist who can best serve your child. Many psychologists do psychotherapy with clients using behavioral techniques, cognitive-behavioral techniques, play therapy, mindfulness and other tools and strategies. Behavioral techniques are ways to increase desired behaviors or decrease undesired behaviors. These techniques are often concrete strategies that involve some self-monitoring and reinforcement. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) take into account the way that our thoughts influence behaviors. Roleplays, coping strategies, and techniques to increase cognitive and emotional awareness can help children and adults make strides in social skills, coping with emotions, etc. CBT has a lot of research to support its use with children, and it is a widely accepted method of treatment for anxiety and depression as well as Autism Spectrum Disorders. Play therapy addresses emotional themes through play and can be good for very young children, especially those who have experienced loss or trauma. Mindfulness practice includes noticing one’s thoughts and letting them be experienced. Mindfulness includes relaxation, meditation and breathing to relax the mind and body.
What do Licensed Psychologist not do?
Licensed psychologists are not Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists unless they have that credential and training as well. They do not do occupational therapy or therapy for speech articulation disorders. Licensed psychologists often collaborate with many other professionals. They usually have areas of specialty and may not do comprehensive evaluation, they may not assess for all disabilities or they may not do assessment at all. It will be important to express your concerns about your child and to ask whether your area of concern (dyslexia, autism, ADHD, etc.) will be a rule out. Some licensed psychologists specialize in working with children or adults; others may serve clients across the lifespan. Learn about the psychologist or psychology practice’s areas of specialty before you go in for a consultation to be sure you are getting the best fit.
Can Licensed Psychologist diagnose?
Yes. See training above.
How are Licensed Psychologist trained?
A licensed psychologist is a psychologist who has graduated with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. from an accredited program in psychology. Usually, the program will fall into one of the following domains: clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or school psychology. A Ph.D. or doctorate of philosophy includes extensive coursework, a pre-doctoral internship and a dissertation. Ph.D. programs are often very research-focused. In contrast, a Psy.D. or doctorate of psychology is often a more clinical program with less of a research component. A Psy.D. also requires an internship and a publishable paper/ project. Some Ph.D. programs may have fewer research requirements, and some Psy.D. programs may have more research, as every program is unique. However, the research component is generally the difference. The American Psychological Association (APA) outlines certain training standards for programs in these disciplines. Programs must meet these standards in order to be APA-accredited.
A neuropsychologist also completes a Ph.D. program and has additional rotations, often with medical school students, focusing specifically on understanding the structure and function of the brain and how the brain impacts psychology and behavior. Often, neuropsychologists only provide assessment. They have expertise in traumatic brain injury and memory. Some neuropsychologists also provide treatment in form of psychotherapy.
For all of these clinicians, after a pre-doctoral internship and dissertation (or publishable paper for Psy.D.) defense, the degree is conferred, and the clinician is called “doctor.” Clinical, counseling, neuropsychology and school psychology programs are all different, but each of these clinicians may diagnose. Clinical programs focus on the treatment and diagnosis of mental health conditions, often across the lifespan. School psychology programs focus on the age range of birth to age 22 and have special consideration for the diagnosis and treatment of disabilities that impact education, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), anxiety and depression. Counseling psychologists focus on assessment, but they tend to have more emphasis on treatment models and therapeutic tools. Neuropsychologists have emphasis on the structure and function of the brain and often do more assessment than treatment. Each of these psychologists is eligible to become licensed and thus can be called a “licensed psychologist.” In order to diagnose and treat an individual in a clinical setting, without supervision, a psychologist must become licensed. Neuropsychologists can also pursue an additional “board certification in neuropsychology” by taking additional boards not unlike what a medical doctor does.
To become licensed, a psychologist must meet the state standards for post-doctoral work experience, complete an ethical standards test, go through various paperwork processes documenting their practical experience and sometimes sit for oral board exams. Each state has different requirements to obtain and maintain a license. Each state requires a psychologist to take and pass the Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Once a psychologist has gone through this rigorous process, he or she is granted a license that is regulated by the state. Most states require biannual professional development and renewal of licensure.
A doctoral level psychologist does not have to pursue licensure or maintain a license. Some psychologists with university positions may choose not to be licensed. You do not have to be licensed to teach and do research. A doctoral level school psychologist may choose to work in a school setting. School psychologists working in a school setting do not diagnose; they make educational identification. This professional may be a doctor but may not be able to diagnose your child because they may not hold a license for clinical practice. Often, school psychologists do not pursue licensure, but if they want to work in clinical practice, they must.
How can I find a Licensed Psychologist?
This aspect can be challenging. Your insurance company keeps a list of covered providers in your area. That list may not specify what the psychologists specialize in, e.g., therapy, evaluation, children, adults, ADHD, or Autism. You will have to call or visit the website to learn more about each provider. Often, your pediatrician can provide you with a few names of organizations that specialize in your area of concern. If your doctor cannot provide this information, you may call the closest large hospital for a referral. This process will be easier if you are looking for an evaluation to rule out a specific concern. Search for a parent group via the “parent to parent” website or a known website with authenticity like “the autism society of Baltimore” or “CHADD- children and adults with attention deficit disorder.” Visit our ever-growing provider list to look for a provider in your area. If you are googling to find a licensed psychologist, look carefully for that licensure information. Search the provider on your state licensing board website to verify their license and to see if there is disciplinary action against them. Look at the provider’s areas of specialty and age of clients served.