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How to find specialist psychological support?

In the lives of many people, at various stages, there are situations in which it turns out that psychological assistance can be very helpful, and sometimes even necessary. 

Before providing information on how to find specialist psychological support, it is worth explaining how to recognise it. Unlike the support of a less formal nature (e.g. in the family, a group of friends, among colleagues or in local communities), specialist assistance is provided by a psychologist who has knowledge about human development and functioning, the essence of helping and its theoretical foundations as well as practical skills in this area. It should also be noted that the provision of specialist psychological support should be based on the ethical principles of the psychological profession, such as: the specialist’s competences and credibility, impartiality, respect for and equal treatment of clients as well as confidentiality. A psychologist may, however, be exempted from confidentiality in the circumstances of an existing threat to the life or health of the patient or others. In addition to professional competence, it is also important to have such skills and competencies that enable the professional to create a comfortable and safe environment for contact, listening, understanding and accepting the emotions of the patient, and most importantly, giving hope for recovery.

The goal of psychological support is to achieve the well-being of the person assisted by lowering their suffering, reducing stress and managing the crisis as much as possible. The aims of the professional interaction between the person supported and the helper are often defined in the form of a contract (in the case of psychological support, however, this is not a rule, in contrast to the therapeutic contract in psychotherapy), i.e. a contract, based on a conscious decision to cooperate on the terms and conditions specified for such support. Such an agreement may include mutual arrangements regarding the time, place, frequency and form of contact (face-to-face meetings, contacts by phone or online), and possibly payment, if the support is provided as part of the psychologist’s private practice.

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Why is support so important? 

It is believed that support has a twofold effect as provided for in the so-called direct effect and buffer effect hypotheses. The direct effect is the sense of belonging given to people, which strengthens them and helps them to cope with difficulties. The buffer effect hypothesis provides that in situations of severe stress support acts as a buffer against the threat reducing tension and anxiety, thus making it possible to overcome difficulties in a more effective, adequate and healthy way, while at the same time mitigating the negative effects of stress.

In order to start looking for specialist psychological support, you should first know who to look for, who to go to. The assumption is that in the case of specialist psychological support the search is narrowed down to specialists who have theoretical knowledge and practical skills in this area, i.e. psychologists who work in different areas of assistance and treatment.

A psychologist is a person who has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and is a graduate of a university programme in psychology. He or she is qualified to carry out psychological diagnosis using psychological tests, and can also work as a psychotherapist provided that he or she has completed or is in the process of completing psychotherapy training. It is worth mentioning here that the title of a clinical psychologist can be used by a person who has completed a 4-year postgraduate programme in a clinical specialisation and passed a national exam. A clinical psychologist is not a person who, over the course of graduate studies, completed a class or a series of classes under the name of a ‘clinical specialisation’. In such a situation the use of this title is unauthorised and misleading. Psychologists providing psychological support work in a variety of settings within the National Health Service or in private (paid) care, e.g. in outpatient mental health clinics, primary care outpatient clinics, crisis intervention centres, community treatment teams, community self-help homes, private practice or as counsellors on a helpline.

A competent psychologist will be able to draw on the background of their knowledge and practice to better understand what the person in crisis is experiencing and try to choose the most appropriate ways of communication and help. One of the units of the Jagiellonian University where students and doctoral students can benefit from psychological assistance is the Student Centre for Support and Adaptation. Assistance is provided free of charge within the crisis intervention paradigm, where the aim is to find out about the current situation of the person, the causes and/or circumstances of the difficulties/crisis reported, to organise this information, to establish a plan of action and the area to be covered, to provide emotional and informational support, and to accompany the person over the entire process.

In exceptional situations, such as the pandemic, due to the limitation or impossibility of face-to-face meetings, psychological support is provided mainly by telephone or online, which corresponds to the conviction about the essence of support, i.e. that regardless of the form, such assistance should be provided continuously and be as accessible as possible. 

Reference literature

Cierpiałkowska, L., Sęk H., Psychologia kliniczna, Wydawnictwo PWN, Warszawa 2018. 
Okun, B. F., Skuteczna pomoc psychologiczna, Wyd. Instytutu Psychologii Zdrowia, PTP, Warszawa 2002.
Brzeziński, J., Toeplitz–Wiśniewska M. (ed.), Etyczne dylematy psychologii, Wyd. Fundacji Humaniora, Poznań 2000.

About the author

Monika Mazur, MA – specialist in clinical psychology, psychotherapist, graduate of the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy. She has many years of experience working at the Józef Babiński Clinical Hospital in Kraków and at present she works at the Jagiellonian University Student Centre for Support and Adaptation and the Outpatient Mental Health Clinic.