3 Critical Issues in Clinical Psychology
During their presentation at Walden University’s 2022 Psych’d for the Future symposium, senior core faculty member Dr. Tracy G. Marsh and core faculty member Dr. Carolyn Davis—both of the PhD in Clinical Psychology program—discussed three of the most pressing issues impacting the field of clinical psychology today. They also shared how doctoral students can be engaged and connected to these issues as part of their professional development and identity.
Dr. Marsh and Dr. Davis emphasized that clinical psychology is a dynamic profession, and that real-world events impact the training and work of clinical psychologists. For instance, when the U.S. entered World War II, the armed services quickly realized they needed help assessing the intellect, capabilities, and potential career paths of new recruits. The military turned to psychologists to develop these methods of assessment.
Interventions and assessments are continually evolving, so it’s critical that practicing psychologists stay abreast of current research. An example of this is the use of a technique called critical incident debriefing, which was once the standard. In it, the victim of a traumatic event recounted and relived the experience over and over again. However, research eventually showed that the technique was not always successful and could even be harmful.
Dr. Marsh and Dr. Davis also discussed three current issues that are impacting clinical psychologists:
The pandemic has had a significant, widespread impact on mental health. American Psychological Association (APA) studies show that during the pandemic, anxiety and depression skyrocketed, as have loneliness, grief, and stress.1 This drove an influx of new clients to psychologists, many of whom quickly became overloaded. In fact, said Dr. Marsh, “In an APA study, almost half of surveyed practitioners reported being burned out.” 2 Additionally, long COVID has not only long-term physical effects but also long-term psychological effects that require treatment by clinical psychologists.
“It’s critical for clinical psychologists to have multicultural competency,” said Dr. Davis. The increasing momentum of the social justice movement has prompted businesses and organization to ask practicing psychologists for help building multicultural competency within their teams and for help dealing with the trauma of witnessing the injustices that were shown on the news and on social media, said Dr. Davis. Agencies whose past practices were discriminatory and/or unethical began to take ownership for their actions and move forward.
In fact, the APA itself issued an apology in October 2021 recognizing that its history and policies were steeped in discriminatory research, practices, and diagnoses that were harmful to some communities.3 The APA vowed to make changes, including expanding opportunities for students of color to become clinical psychologists.
Advocacy is an important role for clinical psychologists. Working on legislation that supports marginalized groups and ensures their voices are heard helps create and support public policies. It is a unique opportunity for psychologists to make a positive impact on a broad level.
“Telehealth existed prior to the pandemic, but its usage exploded due to COVID-19,” Dr. Marsh said. The shift to providing therapy over Zoom and other online meeting services wasn’t smooth for everyone—some competent psychologists found themselves struggling and needed additional training.
Additional telehealth issues for psychological counseling include ensuring that the meeting platform is secure and HIPAA compliant, working with patients who are outside the state in which you’re licensed, and providing therapy to patients who don’t have computers or stable internet access. Also, “Zoom fatigue” is real, and both providers and patients can find themselves mentally and physically exhausted after hours of video conferencing. In providing care remotely, psychologists may also face situations unlikely to occur in an office setting, such as patients who show up to their appointment wearing pajamas or with a cocktail in hand. Navigating an environment that may be perceived as “more casual,” said Dr. Marsh, can present unique challenges.
Dr. Marsh and Dr. Davis concluded that successful psychologists are nimble, adapting to real-world events, evolving techniques, and continued research—and they can tolerate the ambiguity that these shifts sometimes cause. As a student, you can become engaged with the latest research and trends in the field by becoming a member of professional organizations, attending conferences, and getting involved in real-world causes (because, after all, your future clients will likely be impacted by those very same causes). You can even continue your education after you graduate by becoming a lifelong learner.
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