Understanding mental illness can be a difficult process, especially in our modern society. The type of diagnoses and the frequency with which they are made continues to increase due to several factors, including a growing population of individuals who accept that mental illness is a treatable condition rather than an uncouth dinner subject.
Another major factor psychologists and their ilk have to contend with is the ongoing pandemic. Lockdown orders, political inflammation in the West and widespread job loss throughout many industries have created unfavourable conditions in many urban and rural homes. When mask mandates and government restrictions are piled on, it causes uncertainty about the future. This uncertainty can lead to anxiety, depression and the development of more severe mental illnesses.
As a result, answering the question “can psychologists diagnose mental illness” has become a more discussed and investigated one. We seek to answer this question down below, but first, it is important to establish what exactly psychologists are and how they can help.
What is a Psychologist?
A psychologist is someone who has attended post-secondary education and received a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology. They may continue their studies to become specialized in a particular field, such as neuropsychology, clinical psychology, forensic psychology or working with children.
According to the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), “A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour.”
What Can a Psychologist Do?
Psychologists can perform a variety of activities, including diagnosing many different mental illnesses. These may include:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Genetic disorders
- Brain injury or deterioration
- Phobias and philias
While this list is not exhaustive by any means, a complete list is categorized and kept up to date in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, psychologists are also capable of more than just diagnosing mental illness.
Many psychologists work exclusively in the field of research. This involves furthering our knowledge of the mind, its triggers, emotions, and other fields of study related to psychology. But, as this is such a broad category of study, it’s hard to even say they only research humans, as animal brains can provide even deeper insight into the history of brain development throughout evolution.
If psychologists choose to work with their own clients, they will likely use psychological test methods to help them determine the nature and extent of a person’s mental illness. Unfortunately, while it isn’t a Canadian resource, this discussion on the matter by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) provides further information about the most common testing methods in the field.
What Can’t a Psychologist Do?
One of the areas many people get confused with when it comes to psychologists is whether or not they can prescribe medication. The answer to this question is that, no, psychologists cannot prescribe medication. This is the job of psychiatrists, who undergo the same training as a psychologist and additionally complete a medical doctorate degree.
Who Can See a Psychologist?
Psychologists can serve anyone who feels like their mental health may be suffering due to genetic, behavioural or circumstantial changes or conditions. The best way to access the services of a psychologist is to talk with your family physician, as they can provide you with resources that suit your unique needs, offer recommendations for particular service providers and suggest complimentary services that may also be beneficial for you.
Are you interested in learning more about mental health? Check out the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) for national programs, training, resources and more!
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