Monday, January 7, 2013

What does a psychologist do?

The question “what do you do?” often comes up in social situations.  My answer typically draws some attention.  Reactions are varied and range from interest to skepticism.  I have had several people ask if I can read minds.  Sometimes I wish that I could . . . but darn it, they don’t teach us that in graduate school.

The shortest explanation of what I do as a psychologist is that I work in partnership with my clients (young and old) to facilitate change. 

For many people change is a scary concept.  We are all more or less comfortable in our familiar routines in life and then all of a sudden something shifts- a death in the family, a super strict teacher, a bully moves into the neighborhood, a major medical diagnosis.  When life happens in an unexpected way we use our very best skills to cope.  Sometimes those skills are outdated.  Sometimes those skills push others away from us.  In many cases new skills have to be developed.

As a psychologist I am an active listener, creative problem solver, teacher, encourager, and support.  My role is to provide the right conditions for positive change to take place.

“How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.  This is an old joke, but it does explain a key factor about counseling.  It is not a passive process; both the psychologist and the client are working hard in the session.  I often give “homework” to my clients to ensure that they are also working outside of the session.

Therapy with a child often involves teaching how to identify, express, and receive comfort from past hurts or disappointments.   The aggressive child needs to learn more socially acceptable ways to get his/her needs recognized.  The bullied child benefits from acknowledgement and tools of assertiveness.  The depressed child is looking for a perspective of hope.  The anxious child is given an opportunity to develop skills of self-reassurance and soothing.  Life is tricky- we need lots of tools in our toolbox to manage ourselves through change. 

Throughout my twenty years in partnership with clients I continue to be inspired on a daily basis by the transforming power of change.  It is a privilege to journey with another person through their most challenging life moments.  Every client is different and every problem has a multitude of creative solutions that is unknown at the beginning of treatment. 

Did you notice there is no mention of blaming the parents?  Despite difficult family situations my job is to empower each child to take responsibility for their own success or failure in coping with change.  If parents are open to making changes too- Bonus!

I LOVE my job.  I hope you love yours.   

Your questions and comments are always welcome.


  1. How informative! People often get their opinion of psychologists from comic strips, movies, and television. How insightful to get a perspective from an actual psychologist!

  2. Thanks for enlightening me, Lisa. Even after knowing you for years, I still wasn't clear on exactly what you did! I love your stance on not blaming parents and empowering children (even grown children) to take responsibility for their actions. We have a mutual friend who once told me Dr. Marotta "knows her stuff." I agree!

  3. I like the "partnership with client" foundation. Also love your new format.