There has been much talk in the psychological community lately about the role that Psychologists play in delivering psychotherapy. To be frank, the term "psychotherapy" can be confusing, abstract and intangible. Further, the application of psychotherapy is so complex, it is difficult to conceptualize in words. Nonetheless, there are working definitions of psychotherapy, such as that determined by the Psychotherapy Act of 2007:
"The practice of psychotherapy is the assessment and treatment of cognitive, emotional or behavioural disturbances by psychotherapeutic means, delivered through a therapeutic relationship based primarily on verbal or non-verbal communication".
Since it is so difficult to operationalize the above definition, nonetheless to assess outcomes, it is difficult to determine who exactly is best suited to provide this care. That being said, it is important to take into account the context within which the provision of psychotherapy is grounded.
In Ontario, registered Clinical Psychologists have completed a rigorous combination of academic study, research, supervision and supervised practice. Areas of study often include physiology, neuropsychology, sensation and perception, psychopharmacology, social psychology, group psychology, personality theory and development, development across the lifespan, as well as study of learning, thinking, motivation and emotion. There is also a major emphasis on ethics and standards of practice in the training of Clinical Psychologists. Psychology graduate programs require students to complete several year-long practicum placements where they are supervised in using assessment tools, conceptualizations (or forming an understanding of a person and their difficulties) and applying psychotherapy. By the time most students apply for their year-long internship, they have accumulated thousands of hours of supervised training, including several hundred hours of direct supervision. Additionally, Psychologists must complete a major research project, and several comprehensive examinations. Once an individual has received their doctorate, they must complete 1500 hours of supervised practice, as well as pass a professional, legal and oral examination in order to be registered. To say Clinical Psychologists have had to demonstrate their competency is quite the understatement.
By comparison, to be certified as a Registered Psychotherapist in Ontario, an individual needs to pass a professional e-Learning module, have completed 300 hours in the use of self in psychotherapy, have had 450 client hours and 100 hours of direct supervision. They must also have completed an educational program that includes 360 hours of training in psychotherapy and pass a registration exam.
I am not in a position to declare the outcomes facilitated by Psychologists are always different from those generated by other providers of psychotherapy, however striking the differences in requirements might be. There are certainly excellent therapists to be found across disciplines and levels of expertise. However, it is important that potential clients understand the value added in seeking psychotherapy from a professional whose knowledge is grounded in a broad biological, psychological and sociological context. Ideally, everyone who seeks psychotherapy will find it to be an enriching, healing and growth promoting experience. You can learn more about Psychological Services by visiting the the Canadian Psychological Association website.