The profession of mental health has its roots in psychology, which can be traced back to the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. For much of its history psychology was under the umbrella of philosophy; however, it wasn’t until the 1870s that this discipline developed into an independent scientific subject in Germany and the United States. Until this time, questions concerning the human psyche were not always approached in a scientific manner, but through the use of religion, by appealing to the soul, and other common practices of the day with little or no scientific basis.
Psychology began to take hold of the Western world through some key scientific thinkers of the nineteenth century. In 1878, G. Stanley Hall was the first American recipient of a Ph.D. in psychology; he went on to establish the first experimental psychology lab in the country in 1883 and founded the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1892. Across the Atlantic in Vienna, Sigmund Freud was making strides in patient therapy, and in 1900 published one of the most influential books of the century An Interpretation of Dreams.
20th Century psychology further evolved through Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who, in 1913, began to develop ideas departing from Freudian views common at the time, culminating in a series known as analytical psychology. That same year in America, psychologist John B. Watson published Psychology, From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist. The school of behaviorism believed that all actions, thoughts, and feelings of individuals could be traced to a set of behavioral characteristics. As the century progressed, behaviorism gave way to cognitive science, a branch of study that included psychology, linguistics, technology, and neurobiology to understand the mind.
Many major steps were made in the field of psychology during the latter half of the 20th century, including: Abraham Maslow’s identification of a human’s “hierarchy of needs” in his book Motivation and Personality; Stanley Milgram’s documentation of his famous obedience experiments in Obedience to Authority; and Noam Chomsky’s publication On Nature, Use and Acquisition of Language. At the turn of the new millennium, geneticists completed the mapping of the human genome, which has further opened up the world of possibilities in psychology. Today, psychology covers many broad topics and is utilized in everything from childhood development to workplace organizational behavior to drug rehabilitation.
All mental health treatment methods stem at least partly from psychology. Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and its attendant social and behavioral effects. The word psychology literally means “study of the soul” in Ancient Greek. Psychology is an extremely diverse field with many schools of thought. Many treatment methods today are based on Biopsychosocial psychology, which is founded on the principle that human behavior and mental process are affected by biological, social, and psychological factors. This modern school of thought has many subfields, including biological, clinical, cognitive, comparative, developmental, organizational, social, and several others.
There are four distinct specialties within mental health: psychology, psychiatry, counseling, and therapy. All four specialties approach mental health in a specific way, although oftentimes it is not uncommon to hold more than one specialty- for example, a psychiatrist might provide therapy. Psychologists are professionals who have at least a master’s degree in psychology and can provide a wide array of services from behavioral analysis to counseling and therapy. They are either research oriented -- conducting research at a college or university, or applied -- applying theories and techniques in the context of mental and health care services. Psychiatrists are medical doctors of psychology who are licensed to diagnose psychological problems and prescribe medications. They may work in a private practice or institution. Therapists and counselors can be a broad array of professionals, ranging from clinical psychologists and psychiatrists to substance abuse counselors to social workers, and can be employed at health, educational, and public welfare institutions.
Along with the diversity of fundamentals, there are a variety of treatment methods. Patients may receive treatment in a traditional psychiatrist’s office, a clinical setting, or a specialty center designed to meet their needs. Treatments vary by mental health problem and the patients and/or their families’ preferences. Some mental health specialists rely on observational research and the utilization of the scientific method. Others perform controlled experiments. Neuropsychological methods involve the study of neurological behavior through brain scans and other technologies to study how the brain works. Due to this vast variety of techniques, it is important that you find an accredited mental health specialist that can meet your needs.
A provider in the field of psychology will have different educational training depending on his profession. Most positions require at least a master’s degree, while some require doctoral degrees. A provider who wishes to be an industrial, child, or counseling psychologist will need a master’s degree in psychology which typically takes 3 years to complete. A provider in fields such as clinical, research, or neuropsychology must have earned a doctoral degree, which on average takes 4 to 7 years to complete. Psychiatrists must complete medical school in order to practice which also gives them the ability to prescribe medication.
Credentials and Regulation Bodies
A license is required by all states as well as the District of Columbia to become a practicing mental health professional. Common requirements for each state include: holding either a master’s or doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), passing the state certification exam, and having at least 1 to 2 years of professional experience. The APA, in addition to individual states, sets and regulates standards for psychologists. In 26 states, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) provides certification and regulation for school psychologists alongside state boards.
There are many branches of mental health and as a result there is a wide variety of credentials a professional can possess. Those with doctoral degrees earn the suffix of PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). Psychologists can receive many credentials based on what their specialized area of practice is and many areas have their own certification boards. Counselors and Therapists receive credentials based on their specialties- such as alcohol abuse counseling and therapy for eating disorders.
The American Psychological Association is the foremost scientific and professional organization for psychologists in the United States with over 150,000 members. The APA is the top source of information and research pertaining to any psychological field, and serves to advance knowledge as well as the profession of psychologists.
Treatment by a mental health therapist may be covered by insurance. Inquire with your insurance provider to understand your scope of coverage. If paying out-of-pocket, costs for each session may range from $150 to $250.
To learn more about psychology or the psychological profession, visit the APA website at www.apa.org.