The Role of Psychologists in Health Centers — April 2010

  • Psychologists provide mental and behavioral health services.  Psychologists focus on prevention; address health disparities; aim to reduce psychological distress; and enhance and promote psychological wellbeing in all populations.   Many psychologists concentrate on underserved populations, such as older adults, children, the chronically ill (i.e., those with heart disease, cancer, diabetes), and victims of abuse and trauma, including returning military personnel and their families. 

  • Psychologists often work in health and social care settings (e.g., clinics, counseling centers, schools, hospitals, and private practices) in both urban and rural communities. Psychologists frequently work as part of an interdisciplinary team in an integrated health care setting to provide more comprehensive health care at less cost. They use evidence-based practices for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders and behavioral health problems.

  • Psychologists work with people of all ages who experience mental health disorders including depression and anxiety; serious and enduring mental illness (e.g., bipolar disorder, schizophrenia); neurological disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease); adjustment to physical illnesses (e.g., heart disease, diabetes); addictive behaviors (e.g., substance abuse); eating disorders; behavior disorders (e.g., Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - ADHD); personal and family relationship problems; and learning disabilities.

  • Psychologists assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with chronic illnesses. They utilize interventions such as psychotherapy, behavioral techniques, and biofeedback to help individuals make behavioral changes (e.g., medication compliance, diet, exercise) and develop coping strategies (e.g., chronic pain management) to reduce problems that are residual to the patient’s illness or disorder (e.g., cardiovascular disease). They also teach patients the skills necessary to enhance physician/patient partnership by reporting changes in their condition and sharing concerns, questions, and treatment preferences.

Typical Activities of Psychologists Working in Health Centers:

  • Assessing and diagnosing an individual's needs, abilities or behavior using a variety of methods, including psychometric tests, interviews and direct observation of behavior.

  • Collaborating as part of an interdisciplinary team, working alongside other health professionals (e.g., physicians, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, pharmacists and dentists).

  • Creating and monitoring appropriate programs of treatment, including therapy, in collaboration with other involved health professionals.

  • Offering therapy for difficulties relating to anxiety, depression, addictions, social/ interpersonal problems, and risky behaviors.

  • Rehabilitating patients into the community.

  • Developing and evaluating programs for the provision of mental & behavioral health services.

  • Providing consultation to other health professionals and other involved staff.

  • Carrying out applied research, adding to the evidence base of practice in a variety of health care settings.