What is a clinical psychologist ? 

Clinical psychologists deal with psychological knowledge and interventions to help people with psychosocial and health problems. The aim is to support people solve problems and/or adapt better to the demands of their daily lives.

The question often rises about the difference between a psychiatrist - clinical psychologist - psychotherapist

psychiatrist has a medical background. He or she studied medicine and then specialised in psychiatry. Since a psychiatrist is a physician, he can prescribe medication and the psychiatric consultation is partly refunded by the Belgian health care.  

psychologist has a university degree, but is not a physician. Psychology is the science that studies the behaviour of human beings. This does not only refer to what people do and how they do it, but also what people feel, think and how they come to decisions. Psychology looks at general characteristics of human behaviour, but also at differences, individuals and groups, problematic and normal behaviour.

clinical psychologist has a masters degree in the field of clinical psychology. The clinical psychologist tries to investigate, explain and treat human functioning through various methods, techniques and approaches (including psychotherapy).

And what is the place of a  psychotherapist in this? 
A psychotherapist is someone who treats psychic suffering through consultation. 

Since September 1st 2016, psychotherapy has also been regulated by law, it is seen as a specialisation (treatment) reserved for physicians, clinical orthopaedicists and clinical psychologists.

The team at Psygroup consists of several clinical psychologist-psychotherapists. They have been recognized by the Commission of Psychologists. In addition, they are all members of the Belgian Federation of Psychologists (BFP/FBP) and various psychotherapy associations.

Since September 1st 2016, the clinical psychologist is recognized independent health professional in Belgium. This means that clinical psychologists are legally bound by the code of ethics and must comply with the law of health care professions.

What is psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, literally ‘treatment of the mind’, is a treatment to decrease psychological suffering or to make it more manageable. Psychotherapy is in the first place a work relation, in which the therapist brings in his or her expertise and the patient shows the readiness to examine his or her thoughts, feelings and behavior.

'Psychotherapy is the informed and intentional application of clinical methods and interpersonal stances derived from established psychological principles for the purpose of assisting people to modify their behaviours, cognitions, emotions, and/or other personal characteristics in directions that the participants deem desirable' Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (1994). Systems of psychotherapy

What does the psychotherapist do?

First, the therapist listens. He tries to understand the patient’s point of view. He offers support in a non-judgemental manner. Furthermore, he ensures a safe environment, where less pleasant topics can be confronted. In this context, discussing one’s insecurities and secrets can be particularly helpful. The therapist helps by focusing attention on relevant topics. Through the expression of the thoughts and feelings a safe space is created in which the patient can feel and put the “unknown” into words. Then, emotional and rational insights may start to grow, and an understanding and acceptance of who one is may arise. The therapist actively assists by offering non-binding hypotheses, so that the patient is stimulated in his evolution toward change (growth/ improvement/healing).  

The therapist helps to stimulate psychological well-being, i.e. to discover alternatives and different capabilities and skills, taking the physical, relational and social restrictions, and possibilities, into consideration.

Some psychotherapists are very active: they ask questions and structure the session, they give homework and advise. Others are less active and leave the initiative to the patient to talk about the matters that keep him or her busy.

How to find the right therapy/therapist ?

Choosing a psychotherapy can be done using three criteria. These can serve as a guide in a first conversation. 

The client factors: what do you expect from therapy (support versus confrontation), which kind of problems are concerned (behavior versus experience), can the therapist propose you something for this? 

The therapist factors or the style (e.g. active versus awaiting and compliant or understanding versus confronting). These are two dimensions of style. Good therapists can move on these dimensions, when necessary being supportive and awaiting, but also confronting. Important for a therapy is the question whether it can click between the therapist and the patient. After all, a therapeutic relation is based on mutual trust. This has much to do with the therapists and patients personality. Where one would expect that good therapists use a specific style or method, research has shown that progress in the patient especially takes place when there is sufficient correspondence in style and way of looking at problems between patient and therapist. 

A third criterion places the therapist on two other axes. Complaint-centered versus person-centered and exploring versus programmed. The question is whether stress is put on exploration, self-analysis and perception or more on working with tasks and a program. On the other hand, the emphasis can be put on the person (to question habits) or on the reduction of complaints (to work solutions focused, without questioning yourself as person). This is all about accents and in practice, therapists combine these approaches. As stereotypes the classical models of psychotherapy can easily be classified according to these axes (behavior therapy at the complaint-centered and programmed side and psychoanalysis at the person-directed explorative side).

Conditions for going into psychotherapy

The decision to seek help must be made voluntarily by oneself (even if someone else gave the person this idea).

A willingness to take a close look at yourself and be prepared to talk honestly and openly about yourself necessary, even crucial, elements in making the process of psychotherapy effective. . This also means asking the therapist if something is unclear. 

Psychotherapy requires, in addition to a financial and a time investment, the courage to look in the mirror and to confront yourself. It is an intensive form of treatment. It can confront you with painful feelings and that can induce tensions and fear.

Your rights as a client

If you decide to start treatment (e. g. psychotherapy) with a clinical psychologist, this is a legal agreement between you and your psychologist. Such an agreement entails rights and obligations. If you are going to psychotherapy, it is important to be aware of this.

Since September 1st 2016, the clinical psychologist has been granted a number of additional legal obligations and rights as a recognized healthcare profession. These are listed in the law of 10 May 2015 on health professions. Moreover, he is also bound by the Patient Rights Act.

Overview of duties and rights for clinical psychologists in NL and F

Duties and rights for clinical psychologists:

  • Continuity of care
  • Diagnostic and therapeutic freedom
  • Obligation to refer a client/patient to another healthcare professional if necessary
  • Right to remuneration
  • Agreements for the use of premises, personnel or materials
  • Prohibition of unlawful benefits and dichotomy

Code of ethics

Here you can find the code of ethics* in Dutch or in French
The rules of conduct that are part of the code are divided according to five values or principles:

  • Duty of professional confidentiality: a psychologist must in all circumstances treat the information exchanged with the client confidentially. This is also the case after the professional relationship ends. Only in certain cases does the law make an exception to this duty of professional confidentiality.
  • Respecting the person’s dignity and rights : a psychologist must respect the client’s rights, more specifically his freedom, dignity, privacy, autonomy and integrity. The psychologist has to work carefully, with respect for you as a client. He is not allowed to force you to anything. If he asks you to do or to say something and you do not want that, you do not need to comply with the demand.
  • Responsibility : a psychologist is, regardless of his work rules, responsible for the choices he makes and the advice he gives. 
  • Competency : a psychologist must keep up and further develop his expertise.
  • Integrity and honesty : as a professional, a psychologist takes an independent position. However, he may not promote his personal interests as part of practising his profession. This principle restrains, among others, pursuit of profit, mixing roles and publicity on behalf of psychologists. The other way round, the psychotherapist can expect from you that you treat him or her with respect and that you keep your engagements.

*If the deontological code is not complied with, you can submit a complaint to the Commission of Psychologists.