February is Psychology Month!

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Psychology Month is celebrated annually to highlight the contributions of Canadian psychologists. It aims to teach Canadians how psychology can help them, their families, and their communities live healthy, happy, and productive lives.

What is Psychology?

Psychology is defined as the science of mind and behaviour. It includes the biological influences, social pressures, and environmental factors that impact how people think, act, and feel. We often think of psychologists in relation to mental health or mental illness. Psychology is a big field and there are many types of psychologists. Professionals may specialize in areas like, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and more.

Psychology is both a research field (i.e. an academic field of study) as well as an applied field (i.e. a practice or a profession). A practicing psychologist is trained to assess and diagnose problems in our thinking, feeling and behaviour. They then help people overcome or manage these problems.

Psychiatry versus Psychology

You may have heard the term psychologist and psychiatrist before. Psychiatrists and psychologists are both involvedin mental health care and treatment but they aren’t the same. They have different backgrounds and use different approaches to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in mental health disorders. Psychiatrists tend to come at a problem from a biological perspective. They often prescribe medication to treat conditions but may also use therapy.

Psychologists use treatments or psychotherapies to help people to overcome or manage their problems. Licenced psychologists usually complete a graduate degree in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, clinical neuropsychology or educational/school psychology. Psychologists have a general licence, but they must practice in their area of expertise or area of focus (i.e. children’s psychology).

Psychology and FASD

FASD-informed psychologists play a key role in diagnosing and treating people with FASD. A psychologist is part of a large team of experts that help to assess and diagnose someone with FASD. The team may also include a pediatrician, psychiatrist, speech and language pathologist, social worker, and an occupational therapist.

The psychologist and other members of the team primarily assess brain function and mental disorders. The pediatrician or physician is usually responsible for assessing physical characteristics. All members of the team must be trained specifically in FASD assessment and diagnosis.

After diagnosing FASD, the diagnostic team will devise a treatment plan for the individual, which includes health therapies. Along with speech and occupational therapy, patients may receive different types of psychotherapy.

Many people with FASD experience challenges with executive functioning, adaptive behaviour, memory, and communication that may limit their ability to complete daily tasks. These difficulties can play out differently depending on the individual, so there is no one treatment plan that will work for everyone with FASD. Mental health professionals need to take an individualized approach and create a treatment plan that considers each person’s individual strengths and challenges.

FASD and Mental Health

Over 90% of people with FASD also have mental health conditions. They may come into contact with a psychologist when seeking out support or treatment for those conditions.

Traditional therapeutic approaches that address mental health challenges are not always very effective for people with FASD. Individuals with FASD may have difficulty understanding information, following directions, and applying information they have learned into real-world scenarios. Mental health treatments need to be adapted to the individual’s strengths and challenges in order to be effective.

Therefore, mental health professionals need to take a FASD diagnosis into consideration when developing treatment plans. Comprehensive and holistic approaches to treating mental health are the most effective, include skill building, modelling, and coaching programs. People with FASD may require ongoing treatment and support even after treatment has been completed.

Towards Healthy Outcomes

Early and effective diagnosis and support can improve outcomes. A FASD-informed workforce – particularly in areas like psychology where individuals with FASD frequently come in contact with professionals – is essential to improving diagnostic capacity and increasing the support available.

The key to treating and helping those with FASD is recognizing their unique strengths and abilities as well as their challenges. Individuals with FASD achieve positive outcomes if their needs and challenges are addressed early on in life and they have access to supports that carry into adulthood.

When fully informed and trained, psychologists can help everyone achieve fulfilling and rewarding lives.

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