Dr. Bruce Levinton
Licensed Psychologist
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  Psychology: A Brief Overview  
  psychology Introduction

The science of psychology and the practice of psychotherapy is a sensitive and personal activity. It is understandable to me how psychology and psychotherapy could be viewed by some people as a bit mysterious, frightening, taboo, or even dangerous. As a kid, I remember hearing at least once, "You mustn't fool around with the mind!" And, I remember thinking in response, "Why not? Is there something about my mind I should be afraid of?"

Psychology and Psychiatry Defined

Psychology is a social science that deals with the mind and mental processes--consciousness, emotion, sensation, imagination, ideas, thinking, memory, and behaviors. Psychology was created by scientists and philosophers of different persuasions to consummate the need to understand the minds and behaviors of people and animals from the most primitive to the most complex. Psychology is an attempt to understand what has so far pretty much escaped understanding.

Psychology was derived about a century or so ago by medical and philosophical educators. From the medical viewpoint, what is done, thought and felt must be couched in biology and physiology. From the philosophical viewpoint, what is done, thought and felt involves a class of deep problems concerning mind, will, and cognition. The derivation of the word itself: psyche (Greek) + logy means the science or study of behavior and the mind (aka the human soul).

Psychiatry, is a specialization within medicine. The derivation of the word itself: psyche + iatry means medical treatment and prevention of mental and behavior disorders. Albeit parallel in many respects to psychology, psychiatry has traditionally taken the point of view that emotional and behavioral disorders are medical problems and that a person with a serious behavioral or emotional disability is mentally ill. Psychiatry is concerned specifically in abnormalities and their prevention and cure. Psychology, however, is more focused on theories of normal behavior, experimental design, collection and analysis of data, etc.

The practice of psychiatry is extremely broad. It includes aspects that are indeed strictly medical, such as drug treatment, electroconvulsive shock therapy, legal issues of institutionalization and hospitalization, and organic disabilities with psychological manifestations. Psychiatry also includes many aspects that have little to do with the domain of medicine in a strict sense, including behavior modification therapy, psychoanalysis, etc. In these endeavors, the psychiatrist is little different from the psychologist.

As a psychologist, I specialize in working with people on how to reach their full potential and advance their abilities. Specifically, I help people go from feeling stuck in some area of their lives to achieving their own definition of success using innovative, powerful methods of individual, couples, and family therapy. I also do industrial/organizational consultation and professional coaching. I hope this helps elucidate what psychology is, how it differs from psychiatry, and more clearly defines the focus of my work as a psychologist.

Talking to Someone Who Can Help

There are many situations that can cause emotional stress--a death in the family, divorce, alcohol or drug abuses, raising children, etc. For example, people experience problems at work. For some people, a job is an enjoyable activity. For others, it's the only way by which we support ourselves or our families. A job can be an overwhelming source of stress for many. Emotionally stressful situations can also affect children in school, or adults in school for career transition and a better education. These situations could include problems at school, pressure from friends to fit in, or higher expectations set by parents, teachers, or students themselves.

People face a variety of situations at work and at school, to say nothing of family and relationship problems. The latter could include trying to make a marriage work, teenagers who are troubled, children with behavior problems or learning disabilities, and baby boomers caring for young children and aging parents.

Whether it's being laid off, struggling in school, or relationship difficulties, dealing with a boss, a teacher, or an unhappy partner, having anxiety about job security, coping with the challenge of dual careers or an excessive workload, things happen every day at work, in school or in a family that can lead to undue stress on our emotions. Sometimes people need to talk to someone--someone who can help.

Some Signs That It's Time to Ask for Help

It may be time for people to ask for help
  • when they feel trapped, like there's nowhere to turn.
  • when they feel as though they can't do it alone.
  • when they worry continually, and never seem to find the answers.
  • when their sleep, their eating habits, their job, their relationships, or their everyday life is affected by the way they feel.
  • when it's not getting any better.

    People need an experienced, trained professional when they need to talk to someone who can help. Many types of mental health professionals are available to choose from. What is important is that people should select a professional with proper training and qualifications.

    I spent 10 1/2 years besides my undergraduate college degree, in education and training to become a licensed Psychologist and Marriage Family Therapist following 22 1/2 years working in the fields of human development, mental health, and spiritual growth. My 33 years of training and professional work has enabled me to develop a unique combination of spiritually-oriented advanced ability techniques and traditionally scientific methods. I have used these techniques and methods to hone my skills and experience in working with people who have real life problems. For the rest of my life, I am dedicated to studying the science of human behavior, and then applying it, professionally.

    Psychologists help people identify their problems, and then figure out ways to best cope with their problems. Psychologists also work with people to change contributing behaviors or habits; or, to find constructive ways to deal with situations that are beyond their control. Most people would agree that it's a relief to have someone to talk with, someone who could do more than just listen sympathetically.

    How Therapy Helps

    Therapy helps by enabling clients to contemplate behaviors, feelings and thoughts in situations which they find problematic. It helps people ascertain more about effective ways in dealing with those situations.

    Why do People Contemplate Using Psychotherapy? Therapy is a partnership between an individual and a professional (such as a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Marriage Family Therapist, or Clinical Social Worker) who is licensed and trained to help people understand their feelings and assist them with changing their behavior. One-third of adults in the United States experience an emotional or substance abuse dilemma according to research done by the National Institute of Mental Health. Depression or anxiety affects nearly 25 percent of the adult population at some point.

    Psychotherapy, also known as therapy, is often considered by people under the following circumstances:
  • They lack hope in their lives, and they feel an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness.
  • It's hard for them to function from day to day because of their emotional difficulties. For example, their job performance suffers because of the inability to concentrate on assignments.
  • They commit destructive acts to themselves or others. Drinking too much alcohol, using or selling illicit drugs, and becoming overly aggressive are some examples.
  • Facing family members or close friends is troubling because of emotional difficulties.

    How Effective is Psychotherapy?

    The research on the effectiveness of psychotherapy shows that it alleviates clients' depression and anxiety and analogous symptoms--such as pain, fatigue, and nausea. Psychotherapy can have a positive effect on the body's immune system, and it has also been found to increase survival time for heart surgery and cancer patients. Research increasingly supports the idea that therapy can ameliorate a person's general health status as emotional and physical health is very closely linked.

    Progress and change can happen. The evidence suggests that most people who have at least several sessions of psychotherapy are far better off than untreated individuals with emotional difficulties. Consumer Reports said that nine out of 10 Americans were helped by psychotherapy. And, in another recent major study, 50 percent of patients noticeably improved after eight sessions while 75 percent of individuals in psychotherapy improved by the end of six months. The effectiveness of psychotherapy with children is analogous to psychotherapy with adults.

    How do People Gain the Most From Psychotherapy?

    Psychotherapy is done with individuals, groups, and families. It is a two-way process that works especially well when clients and therapists communicate openly. Research has shown that when therapists and clients agree early about what the major problems are and how psychotherapy can help the result is positively affected.

    Clients and therapists both have responsibilities in establishing and maintaining a good working connection. Clients should be clear with their therapists about their expectations and share any concerns that appear. Psychotherapy works best when clients attend all scheduled appointments and accord some intentionality to what they want to discuss during each session.

    How can Clients Evaluate Whether Psychotherapy is Working well?

    Clients should establish clear goals with their therapists in the beginning of psychotherapy. Some individuals may want to overcome feelings of hopelessness associated with depression. Other people might like to control a fear that upsets their daily life. Some goals require more time to achieve than others. Clients may need to adjust their goals depending on how long they contemplate being committed to the process.

    It's a good sign if clients feel the experience of therapy is a collaborative effort after a few sessions, and that they and their therapists enjoy good communication. However, clients should be open with their therapists if they find themselves feeling "stuck" or lacking direction once they've been in psychotherapy awhile.

    During psychotherapy, clients often feel a wide range of emotions. People may have difficulty discussing painful and difficult experiences which may lead to their having apprehension about psychotherapy. It can actually be a positive sign indicating that clients are starting to explore their thoughts and behaviors when this happens.

    Clients and their therapists should periodically spend some time reviewing case progress (or clients' concern that they are not making an adequate improvement). Except for other considerations affecting the length of psychotherapy, success in reaching the clients' major goals should be a primary factor in deciding when psychotherapy should stop.

    The process of doing psychotherapy isn't easy. However, clients who are willing to work in joint collaboration with their therapist usually find relief from their emotional problems and start to lead more fulfilling and productive lives.

    © 2006 Dr. Bruce Levinton

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