What is a psychologist?

Psychology is the discipline that uses scientific study to understand human behaviour, thoughts, and emotional functioning, ranging from optimal to impaired. While humans have considered questions of this nature for centuries, psychology emerged as a distinct discipline of study within universities in the late 1800s. Early psychologists studied human perception (e.g., hearing, vision). Early in our history, psychological tests were developed to identify children for appropriate educational placement. The history of testing expanded within a few decades to identify persons for appropriate placement in the military. With the catastrophic effects of World Wars I and II, psychologists increasingly moved into the area of psychological treatment to help people recover from tragedies and traumatic events.

Today, professional psychologists rely on knowledge of our discipline that has accumulated for over 100 years to bring a unique perspective to the challenges that the world, our society, and individual humans face. Psychologists help people with mental and physical health problems. Also, mentally healthy people with everyday life problems (e.g., stress at work, family discord) can be assisted by a psychologist, as can individuals who want to function at their very best (e.g., Olympic athletes). Research has demonstrated numerous areas where psychologists effectively help restore and optimize people’s functioning.

Psychologists work with people from infancy through late life. We are trained to conduct psychological assessments and offer consultative opinions related to the results of assessment for individuals, couples, families, groups, and organizations. We also offer psychological interventions to address identified concerns. Psychologists also work at the community and societal level to promote positive changes for all citizens. To achieve optimal outcomes, psychologists work cooperatively with governments, organizations, and other professionals. Psychologists follow professional codes of conduct and ethical principles in their professional work. Because of the vast variety of areas of practice, no one psychologist is an expert in all. Instead, psychologists typically specialize in a few areas. Here are some examples:

  • Developmental problems (e.g., Down’s Syndrome; Spina Bifida)
  • Learning problems and effective learning strategies in school or work settings (e.g., learning challenges such as ADHD and dyslexia)
  • Behaviour problems, and their impact on family life, friendship, work and school performance, and personal comfort and self-esteem
  • Relationship, sexual, and marital issues
  • Parenting and family concerns
  • Stress and lifestyle issues such as smoking, substance use, and insomnia
  • Work-related issues, such as career choice, motivation, leadership, productivity, marketing, fit between workers and work place, safety, health, and productivity.
  • Addictions to and dependence on such things as alcohol, drugs, and gambling
  • Common mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
  • Rarer mental health problems, such as schizophrenia
  • Lifestyle changes and coping strategies for acute or chronic conditions and illnesses, such as chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and HIV/AIDS
  • Brain injury (e.g., concussions, stroke) and degenerative brain diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
  • Rehabilitation from disease, surgery, and accidents
  • Court consultations assessing emotional, cognitive and physical injuries/disability, competence, parenting capacity, or mediating in family disputes (e.g., parental custody)
  • Criminal justice and crime prevention, including services for victims and perpetrators
  • Optimal functioning and performance (e.g., sports; business management)
  • Health promotion (e.g., healthy eating, exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation)
  • Disease prevention (e.g., violence prevention; educational attendance)

Given the vast areas of interest within our profession, different specialty training areas in psychology have emerged. As such, psychologists generally designate their area of practice, considering where they have received supervised training. A sample of some areas (which is not comprehensive) is detailed below. These were taken from the College of Psychologists of Ontario, Guidelines Requirements and Registration Process.

  • School Psychology is the application of knowledge about human behaviour and development to the understanding of the social, emotional and learning needs of children, adolescents and adults, and to the creation of learning environments that facilitate learning and mental health.
  • Counselling Psychology is the fostering and improving of normal human functioning by helping people solve problems, make decisions and cope with stresses of everyday life. The work of Counselling Psychology is generally with reasonably well-adjusted people.
  • Clinical Psychology is the application of knowledge about human behaviour to the assessment, diagnosis and/or treatment of individuals with disorders of behaviour, emotions and thought.
  • Clinical Neuropsychology is the application of knowledge about brain-behaviour relationships to the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of individuals with known or suspected central nervous system dysfunction.
  • Health Psychology is the application of psychological knowledge and skills to the promotion and maintenance of health, the prevention and treatment of illness, and the identification of determinants of health and illness.
  • Rehabilitation Psychology is the application of psychological knowledge and skills to the assessment and treatment of individuals with impairments in their physical, emotional, cognitive, social, or occupational capacities as a result of injury, illness or trauma in order to promote maximum functioning and minimize disability.
  • Forensic/Correctional Psychology is the application of knowledge about human behaviour to the understanding, assessment, diagnosis and/or treatment of individuals within the context of criminal and/or legal matters.
  • Industrial/Organizational Psychology is the field of psychological practice and research that aims to further the welfare of people and the effectiveness of organizations by: understanding the behaviour of individuals and organizations in the workplace; helping individuals pursue meaningful and enriching work; and, assisting organizations in the effective management of their human resources.

The Canadian Psychological Association has also compiled commonly asked questions about the study and practice of psychology. Their document is entitled “Psychology Quick Facts”.

Why are we regulated?

Regulation is meant to protect the public. Regulation is established by the government of Saskatchewan who prepared and enacted legislation governing the practice of psychology and discipline membership in our province.

Through legislation, no one can use the title of psychologist in this province unless they are registered with the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists. In order to be registered, applicants must demonstrate that their training satisfies a number of criteria (e.g., appropriate education and supervised experience). As members, psychologists must pay annual registration fees that support the College and professional regulation. Members must also adhere to specific conduct requirements and ethical guidelines.

The public is afforded protection in specific ways. The member of the public seeking services from a psychologist can be assured of certain minimal qualifications and professional conduct for the registered psychologist.

Furthermore, if a member of the public has received services that raise questions, concerns or complaints, the College of Psychologists is available to investigate these concerns and take appropriate action in the case of misconduct.

What should you expect when seeing a psychologist?

Psychologists work for a wide variety of employers and provide a wide variety of services, so people’s experiences may differ. However, there are some things that all the psychology services should have in common:

  • From any psychologist in any situation you should to be treated as though they are working on your behalf. If the psychologist is seeing a client for a purpose other than the primary benefit of the client, such as court assessment or employment screening, they owe a special duty of protection to a vulnerable person. They should inform those they see and their representatives in advance of the nature of the information being collected, the purpose for which it is intended, and the right not to participate They should, except in specific circumstances, be willing to share reports with those assessed or their representatives.
  • Our code of ethics requires us to provide keep as our main concern the needs and interests of our primary client, whether or not the client pays directly for the service. The psychologist may have to balance the needs of the client against the needs of the employer, but there are clear limits to the extent an employer can determine the role of a regulated professional.
  • The psychologist should discuss what to expect with you.
  • During your first appointment, before you are asked to share any information, the psychologist should tell you, and share in writing, the limits of confidentiality of any information you share. He or she should clearly explain the conditions under which information gained through contact with you can be protected or will need to be shared. Your rights to privacy and confidentiality should be clarified and any legal constraints or conditions that may influence these should be described.

    During the course of your contact, the psychologist should attempt to foresee it when the information you provide may cross over into areas where the limits of confidentiality change. He or she should caution you regarding the consequences of other constraints he/she may be under regarding what you are about to divulge or are divulging.

Further detail about what you can expect from a psychologist in the course of receiving service

  • In general, you should expect courteous treatment, showing a real concern for your interests.
  • You should expect time to be spent defining the reason you are there and the nature of your concern.
  • If the contact is for clinical, counselling, or educational service, the psychologist may use specialised tests or other instruments to gather information to formulate an opinion about you or another member of your family.
  • In order to identify and communicate a clinical diagnosis in writing, a psychologist in Saskatchewan requires a special additional licence, called an Authorised Practice Endorsement, in addition to membership in the College of Psychologists.
  • If diagnosis of clinical concerns is likely to be an issue, your psychologist should identify this for you, and indicate clearly whether this is something they are qualified to undertake.
  • A psychologist will reply with frankness and courtesy to your questions about their background, training, and experience in dealing with concerns such as you present. They will be comfortable providing some detail regarding how many situations they have dealt with that are similar to yours in the past.
  • They will, if they feel unqualified to deal with any portion of your presented concern, offer to refer you to other practitioners, and will not be upset if you ask for a second opinion at any point regarding their definition of your concerns or course of action regarding them.
  • If you decide at any point to seek other assistance, they are obligated to stay involved, if you or your family are in any difficulties, until alternative arrangements can be made.
  • Some psychologists are practising under provisional licences, prior to completing their registration process and becoming full practising members of the College. This means that they are identified as having the knowledge, skill and ability to provide services by the College, but must practice under the supervision of another “full practising” member or professional in an arrangement agreed between them, their supervisor, and the College. They possess enough knowledge and skill to be entitled to practice, but require a period of guidance and experience under the authority of a more mature member of the profession. If this is the case, the psychologist should tell you so clearly, explain the implications, and indicate the arrangements for sharing information with the supervisor and the College. They should discuss with you how this might impact your privacy. You have a right to know and consent to the general nature of these arrangements, and to know what contact you may have with the supervisor(s), and under what conditions.
  • A psychologist, having made a mutual determination of the nature of your concern, should tell you clearly what will be provided, over how much time, how they and you may check for progress, and what you may expect from them in terms of reports, documents and information as you proceed.
  • If an intervention in your life or the life of your family is expected, you can expect to be told what this implies for you, how often, for how long, and with what convenience for your other needs and interests the service can be rendered.
  • It is important to achieve a good “fit” with your psychologist and that doesn’t always happen the first time. If you don’t feel compatible with your first choice, try another psychologist with whom you feel you can establish a good working relationship. You may expect the professional involved to be respectful of your wish to ensure the “fit” is a good one.
  • If there are fees or charges involved, you may expect a frank and comfortable discussion of them, and of the payment expectations, both before you engage for service and at any point at which the arrangement between you and the psychologist is about to change in a way that will effect your agreed financial arrangement.
  • You live in a community, as does your psychologist. If you wish to be greeted or to not be recognised by your psychologist in social situations away from your professional contact, you should be clear about this and may expect your wishes to be respected.
  • Your psychologist, if he or she is legally entitled to use that title, is bound by a code of ethics and practice guidelines and is expected to practice in a way that will enhance rather than damage your interests. If you feel that there are aspects of your relationship with your psychologist that do not meet this test you may speak to them about it, and if you still have questions about it, you may call the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists for advice.
  • You ultimately have a right to file a complaint with the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists against a psychologist who appears to have acted incompetently or practised in ways that furthered his or her interests but not yours. The College may or may not agree with you, but it will examine the situation and attempt to be helpful.
  • The procedures for filing complaints against members are provided in detail on our Complaints and Resolutions page.
  • It is often possible to resolve disputes between clients and psychologists by providing a fair third party to attempt to reconcile concerns and different points of view. If it is not, and harm has been done, the College has the power to hear this and, if judged appropriate, to discipline a member.

Sometimes media (e.g., movies) misrepresent appropriate professional conduct, so it is important for you to know a number of things you should NOT expect.

  • Your psychologist cannot have an intimate relationship with you. A professional working relationship with your psychologist never includes inappropriate touching, kissing, or sexual intercourse.
  • Multiple relationships, such as friendship, borrowing money, conducting business, or working for your psychologist, in addition to seeing them on a professional basis are not advisable.
  • Other unprofessional, unethical, or negligent behaviour should not occur.
  • Your psychologist should not violate your confidentiality by public discussions about you or release of documents, without your permission.
  • Your psychologist should not practice outside his/her areas of competence.
  • Psychologists should not focus on their problems, rather than yours.
  • False advertisement or other fraudulent behaviour is not acceptable.
  • No psychologist should pay you for a new referral (e.g., of a friend or family member).

Looking for a psychologist

The Saskatchewan College of Psychologists keeps a complete list of all registered psychologists in our province, which is available on our Register page.

Your family doctor may be able to help you choose an appropriate psychologist, and friends or family may also be able to make recommendations. The yellow pages in your phone directory will provide a listing of some local psychologists.

For health-related issues, your Mental Health Office or Public Health Office may be able to provide information. If your concerns are related to educational issues, your local school would be a good source to check out.

The Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology includes some of the psychologists registered in Saskatchewan: You can get the names of ones in your area through this link: http://www.crhspp.ca/

Additional information that may be helpful in choosing a psychologist is available from the Canadian Psychological Association. See
Deciding to See a Psychologist: How to Choose One and What to Expect.

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