What is a Psychologist?

or.. “You don’t have to be mad to see a psychologist….” 


I’ve been a professional psychologist for over 20 years and I’m often asked the same questions when I tell people what my job is.  So if these are questions you have as well, here are some answers.


  1. What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who study mental health conditions as a specialism after their undergraduate medical degree.  They work from the medical model which means they diagnose and treat mental illness, including prescribing medicines.  Some psychiatrists use “talking therapies” as well.  Psychiatrists work mainly in hospitals and clinics.


Psychologists have an undergraduate degree in psychology.  This means they’ve spent at least three years studying science based theory and research into how people develop, think, feel,  behave and relate to others.  They then go onto post-graduate study where they develop skills in applying this knowledge in different settings.  There are Clinical Psychologists, Counselling Psychologists, Educational Psychologists, Occupational Psychologists, Sports Psychologists and Forensic Psychologists. This means psychologists are found working in many different areas doing a wide range of activities. Many psychologists are involved in research and teaching.  Some Clinical Psychologists get involved in diagnosing and treating mental health problems but the majority of psychologists don’t do this at all.


In the UK, the “gold standard” for professional psychologists is Chartered status with the British Psychological Society (BPS) or Registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC).  Coaching Psychologists are comparatively new on the scene.  There is no formal route to Chartered status for Coaching Psychologists but there are Chartered Psychologists who do coaching.


  1. Can you tell what I’m thinking?

If only!

It’s sometimes tempting to say yes to this one just for fun but the answer is no.  Psychologists have a lot of skills but mind-reading isn’t one of them!


  1. Are you analysing me?

This question gets asked because when it comes to psychologists a lot of people think about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  These are associated with images of psychoanalysis with people lying on dusty couches and discussing their childhood in minute detail.  There have also been many movies and TV shows, usually American, where a character is in some kind of therapy.


Psychoanalysis is a long-term psychotherapy which can be very helpful for the right people in the right circumstances.   Psychoanalysis is something done by psychodynamically trained psychotherapists.  This includes a small minority of  psychologists.  Some psychologists may use some of the thinking behind this in their work.


Most psychologists work very much in the here and now with no couches in sight.  They work collaboratively, combining their expertise with their clients rather than doing things to them.  A psychologist will always be happy to discuss how they are working.



4. What do you actually do?

I can understand why people ask this because a lot of what psychologists do happens behind closed doors.  It is mostly directed at me personally rather than psychologists generally.


As a Coaching Psychologist, I make the science based knowledge of psychology accessible to clients so they can use it to make changes in themselves and others.  This includes knowledge on thinking, emotions, motivation, development, personality, relationships and organisations.  I use all my years of experience as a Clinical Psychologist who has always been intrigued by how people experience their working lives.


  • I work through conversations in the context of a professionally managed relationship and contract.  I work with individuals, groups, teams and organisations.  My work aims to help people perform, flourish and succeed in their working lives.  I have a particular interest in working with very clever people who get on very well with their work but find the people side of work something of a mystery.  With the right leadership and support, these very valuable people can reach their full potential.


It’s impossible to summarise what all psychologists do in a couple of paragraphs.  If you want to know more, the BPS website has a lot of useful information: http://www.bps.org.uk


  1. Why should I work with a Coaching Psychologist?

People ask me this one because they are trying to work out the differences between Coaching Psychologists and other coaches.  One of the great things about coaching is that people come into it from a wide variety of backgrounds, not just psychology.  This gives potential clients a lot of choice and a lot to think about in choosing their coach.  One size doesn’t fit all.


Some reasons for working with a Coaching Psychologist are:


  • Psychologists are people experts.  They work from solid, in-depth and scientifically based understanding of what makes people tick.
  • Psychologists are “scientist-practitioners”.  Their work is based on the best research and evidence available so the work they do is effective.
  • Professional psychology training includes critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of psychometric measures.
  • An HPC registered or Chartered Psychologist (in the UK) will have had the highest level of learning, training , experience, research and supervised practice.
  • Psychologists work within ethical codes of conduct. In the UK these are defined by the BPS and HPC.
  • You are the expert on your situation.  A psychologist will combine their expertise with yours to get to core issues quickly and find practical ways to make any changes.
  • Psychologists are a major force for promotion of wellbeing and performance for individuals, organisations and society as a whole.


If you have any other questions about psychologists that I’ve missed, do get in touch and I’ll will try to answer them: sallymoore@cottesloe.biz





About cottesloepsychology

Coaching Psychologist providing services to businesses in Suffolk, London and East Anglia. Hugely experienced, I have worked as an Applied Psychologist in Clinical and Organisational settings. I specialise in board level and "expert to leader" coaching. I also have an interest in Resilience, Well being, Women as Leaders and Family Businesses.
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