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FAQs about Psychology and Psychologists

What is psychology?

Psychology is the science and practice of understanding human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a social context. Applied psychologists work in the fields of counseling, clinical, and school psychology and help people of all ages improve the quality of their lives and circumstances. In addition to private practice in our community, psychologists also work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, community agencies, universities and colleges, public and private schools, and the criminal justice system. Click on the Community Resources link above for access to local agencies. SBCPA psychologists specialize in the whole range of psychological services, including individual, couple and family therapy as well as psychotherapy groups. In addition, psychologists provide psychological assessments and consultation to organizations, including businesses and schools. Click on Find a Psychologist to access a list of SBCPA members. Many of our members have provided descriptions of the services they provide and their areas of specialization.

Do I need a psychologist?

Everyday life is full of stresses that can be overwhelming and make even simplest tasks irritating, difficult, or nearly impossible. Many people experience sadness, panic, stress, job conflicts, relationship difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse, parenting problems and family discord. When you feel that you can no longer maintain your daily routine in a way that provides you with some degree of pleasure and satisfaction, you may want to consider seeing a psychologist. If you are not communicating well with others, struggle with problems at home or work, and withdraw from people or get into arguments, a psychologist can help you improve your outlook, mood, and relationships. Use Find a Psychologist to locate a psychologist who can help you and/or the people you care about get back on track.

When should I consider seeing a psychologist?

Consider talking with a psychologist when you sense that your quality of life has declined markedly, that alarming new problems have arisen within your family, that your ability to cope with stress has lessened or your mood is despairing for prolonged periods. You might want to use one of the diagnostic screening instruments accessed through the Psychological Screening button at the top of this page.

What do psychologists do?

Psychologists are specially trained doctorates of psychology who evaluate and treat a full range of emotional disorders and life adjustment problems. In addition, psychologists conduct research, teach at the college and university level, perform testing, consult with business and industry, and provide expert testimony to our judicial system. Among the many services that psychologists offer to the public, psychologists conduct individual and group therapy with adults, adolescents, and children. Psychologists specialize in many fields, such as working with geriatric patients, those with chronic pain, and children/adults with attention deficit disorders.

How are psychologists trained and licensed?

Psychologists must meet very strict education and licensing requirements established by the State of California Board of Psychology ( in order to be permitted to provide psychological health care. Minimum standards for psychologists include graduation from an approved university or professional school of psychology with an earned doctoral degree in psychology, completion of from two to five or more years of supervised training, and the passing of the state licensing examination. The California licensing law requires that psychologists have no less than 36 units of Mandatory Continuing Education for Psychologists every two years for license renewal.

Why is licensing important?

Licensing laws protect the consumer by ensuring that the psychologist has the appropriate qualifications, abides by the American Psychological Association Ethical Principles, and is answerable to consumer complaints and state regulatory agencies. 

How do I find a psychologist in my area?

The Santa Barbara County Psychological Association is proud to offer a referral service of its membership on the web site. Members who wished to participate have written descriptions of their services and practices, available by clicking on any highlighted member’s name. It is our hope that this service will make the selection of a psychologist a better-informed process.

What do I look for in a psychologist?

As therapy is a dynamic enterprise that involves two or more people, it is essential to explore the background of the psychologist as well as their interpersonal demeanor and how you feel about working with a particular psychologist. First, consider what area you need help withundefinedyour children, spouse, work, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. and then look for a psychologist trained in this specialty area. Next, you will want to ascertain the fee structure of the doctor you are considering visiting and whether they accept your insurance. You can call your insurance carrier to see if the psychologist is a participating provider and can speak to the psychologist directly about their fee structure. If a psychologist has expertise in the area you need help with and their fee structure is acceptable to you, you will want to learn more about the psychologist (i.e., their gender, age, educational background) by making an appointment with this doctor. At this time you can explore whether you will feel comfortable working with this psychologist. During this initial meeting you may want to ask the psychologist more about their experience with the area you need help with, their availability to meet with you at times that are convenient for you, their estimate about the length of treatment, information about the course of treatment (i.e., will all sessions be individual, will there be group sessions), how confidentiality issues be handled if a minor is involved, when treatment progress be re-evaluated, how insurance claims be handled, and any other issues you may be thinking about. It takes time to choose the right psychologist, but your efforts will be rewarded when you find the psychologist with the applicable background and expertise and with whom you feel able to communicate comfortably.

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