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Understanding the practice and impact of psychology

Toronto, February 20, 2019

By Selma Al-Samarrai

Melissa Button
Melissa Button

Psychology Month celebrates the evidence-based field of psychology and the work psychologists do to diagnose and treat mental health issues and disorders, and advance the understanding of our emotions, behaviours and thoughts.

In honour of this month, we interviewed Melissa Button, a psychologist in supervised practice at the FOCUS Community Mental Health Team of St. Michael’s Hospital. In this role, she collaborates with other healthcare professionals to provide team-based care to adults experiencing mental health difficulties along a spectrum of illness severity, with the goals of supporting recovery and quality of life in the community.

We asked Button about the importance of seeking psychological services when needed, why there is still stigma attached to this healthcare service, and what we can do to breakdown the existing barriers.

What services do psychologists provide?

One of the main services offered by the profession is psychological assessment. I view assessment as providing a compass for effective psychological treatment. Without having a clear understanding of people’s difficulties, there can be a mismatch between their concerns and the treatment offered. Assessment helps to tailor the treatment approach to clients’ unique needs, goals, and desires.

Another service that psychologists provide is treatment. This could include individual or group-based therapies using a wide range of evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, prolonged exposure, motivational interviewing, dialectical behaviour therapy and many others. When providing psychological treatment, I strive to establish an approach that is client-centered, collaborative, and recovery-oriented.

These services can be provided for concerns that include, but are not limited to, anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, substance use, psychosis, interpersonal difficulties, insomnia, and emotion dysregulation.

Psychologists also contribute to the field of healthcare through their training and expertise in consultation, teaching, supervision, and research initiatives.

What should people pay attention to when it comes to their psychological health?

Signs indicating the need for psychological care are very individualized; however, I would say that when there is a shift from one’s baseline (changes in the way one is feeling, thinking or behaving), then individuals should prioritize reaching out for professional advice about their psychological health. Examples of this include sleep and appetite changes, decreases in everyday functioning, problems with concentration or memory, lower motivation, shifts in mood, social withdrawal or loss of interest in activities.

It is important to continuously check in with yourself and one another, and to encourage people to reach out for support if and when they are struggling.

What is the importance of seeking psychological care when you need it?

I believe one of the major functions of psychological care is to help individuals feel less alone with their concerns, while providing a safe and trusting space to gain an understanding of their difficulties and find ways to overcome these concerns using evidence-based treatments.

Psychological care can also help identify various mental health concerns because it relies on comprehensive psychological assessment. This can help guide appropriate treatment planning and lessen the potential for future relapses.

There’s still a lot of stigma around seeking psychological services. Why do you think that is and what can we do to continue to destigmatize?

I think unfamiliarity, misunderstanding, and fear often play a role in the stigma around seeking services. One way to reduce stigma is through education and increasing knowledge of mental health concerns, which can help facilitate awareness of and openness to mental health. Another way is to provide active listening, understanding, and acceptance from a non-assumptive and non-judgmental place when people talk about their mental health.

There are a lot of opportunities to show respect and dignity to those struggling with mental health, and that can go a long way. I would encourage people to take the stance that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Why did you pick this field of study and practice?

I have a desire to help people overcome adversity and find ways to support their self-growth. I find this profession so gratifying, and I feel very appreciative to be a part of clients’ journeys and to learn about their experiences and who they are.

Another related ambition of mine is to increase access to care. While we are improving at spreading awareness of mental health and providing services to assist individuals with coping, there are still many people in need. I hope we can get to a point where people are able to access and receive the help they deserve without barriers and without stigma.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit www.unityhealth.to.


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