- Psychologicalally Health Workplaces
- Coping with Financial Despair
- Psychological Testing
- Psychology in the Schools
Natasha Scott, MSc & Sonya Stevens, MSc
APNS, CN Centre for Occupational Health & Safety, & Saint
Is there such a thing as a “psychologically healthy
You may be thinking Yeah right ! Work is often associated with early
mornings, deadlines, overtime, and STRESS…how can work actually
have a positive impact on our health? Surprisingly, recent research
suggests, it can! The American Psychological Association (APA) defines
a psychologically healthy workplace (PHW) as a work environment
that promotes employee health and well-being while at the same time
boosting its business performance, so both the employees and the
business are healthy. As can be seen in the diagram, healthy employees
have a positive impact on organizational functioning, and organizational
functioning has a positive impact on employees' health and well-being.
The APA has come up with five components of Psychologically Healthy
& Examples Practices
and providing opportunities for employees to express opinions,
provide feedback, and contribute to work decisions
practices that enable employees to balance responsibilities
associated with work, family, and life. Such programs include
eldercare or childcare assistance and flexible work schedules
employees for their contributions to the organization. Recognition
can be formal (e.g., performance-based pay increases, employee
awards and /or recognition ceremonies) or informal (e.g.,
feedback such as “ you did a great job”)
Growth & Development
training and development opportunities to employees to support
professional development and career advancement. Example practices
include in-house mentoring and coaching, training seminars
and workshops, and tuition reimbursement for formal education
in the mental and physical health of employees. Common practices
include extended health benefits, safety training, sick leave,
healthy lifestyle programs (e.g., nutrition, stress management),
and subsidizing health activities (e.g., gym memberships,
is integral to the success of all of these practices. In order for
employees to take advantage of healthy workplace practices open
and clear communication is needed.
Obviously, the organizational and societal context (i.e., industry,
economy, resources) influences what can be done within each of these
components. However, even small businesses with only a few employees
and minimal resources can do things that make a difference. Healthy
work practices can range from affordable and easily implemented
(such as simply involving employees in decisions) to much larger
and more complex practices (such as employee assistance programs).
Providing healthy work practices is something every organization
can do, no matter their size and/or resources. As Dr. Kevin Kelloway,
Director of the CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety at
Saint Mary's University, says “It doesn't cost anything to
treat people with respect.”
See more on healthy worplace practices here
with Financial Despair
Debra and Bob have been married for 29 years. After years of careful
investments, they were looking forward to a comfortable retirement.
Bob, a teacher, could count on a regular pension. Debra ran a quilting
business from home. Their daughters Laurie and JoAnn were still
at university, while their oldest son Dean was working out west.
Then came the crash. Bob and Debra watched in horror as each day
their stocks and investments dramatically decreased in worth.
“We should sell!” cried Debra. “No, the market
will recover”, said Bob. As their savings dwindled, their
despair increased, as did their fighting.
Bob took to spending long hours alone researching the market. Debra
became increasingly anxious, and began to awake at night in a panic.
Dinnertime became a routine of gloom, with each spouse speculating
on what they must give up to get by in the future. They were in
Many people are experiencing Debra and Bob's struggle. Although
individuals vary in how invested they are in the market, all of
us are affected by its recent setbacks. Psychologists have expertise
in helping people cope with life's challenges: using a combination
of strategies learned by psychologists, we can learn to weather
this market storm.
Psychologists make the distinction between two types of coping.
Instrumental coping refers to strategies for actively finding and
implementing solutions to a stressful problem. Emotion-focused coping
refers to strategies to manage the feelings that accompany a stressful
problem. Most stressors in our lives require a combination of instrumental
and emotion-focused coping. Moreover, these forms of coping tend
to influence each other.
A good first instrumental coping strategy is talking about our financial
situation. Couples facing reduced circumstances must negotiate their
future options. Will we work longer or more? Will we decrease what
we offer our children? Will we move? Active communication about
our financial goals can help couples formulate the best actions
For many of us, money has a deeper meaning. Our ideas about money
are often rooted in the way we grew up. We witnessed our parents
manage money, and were influenced by the cultural and community
values that surrounded us. Sometimes, couples disagreements about
money are linked to these differences. For example, Bob grew up
with frugal farmers: his feelings of safety and approval are related
to the amount of his savings. Debra's father was an unstable entrepreneur
who alternately accumulated and squandered the family wealth. Debra
views money as something fleeting which must be seized quickly to
avoid deprivation. Bob's brooding and Debra's anxiety stem from
their upbringings. Most couples can identify and resolve these differences
on their own. If they cannot, a skilled psychologist can assist
using couple's therapy.
Another sensible instrumental coping strategy is a consultation
with a financial advisor. If a couple can agree on financial goals
and values, working out options with a knowledgeable professional
can help them make wise choices about their money.
Emotion-focused coping strategies include such methods as relaxation,
exercise, and enjoyable pastimes. These methods are soothing, and
increase overall quality of life. The old adage “count your
blessings” is helpful to couples facing financial challenges.
Seen in the context of one's health and relationships, financial
problems can seem smaller. If despair over finances descends into
a clinical depression (see the companion article on this topic),
treatment by a psychologist may be required.
Debra and Bob went for couples counselling. Once they understood
each other's unique perspectives on money, they settled on a new
financial plan after they had gathered new facts from their financial
advisor. For exercise and companionship, they took up walking together
in the evenings. Although Debra and Bob did not solve the global
financial crisis, they learned to get through it together.
• In North America, depression is the leading cause of disease
burden, and the World Health Organization predicts that in the year
2030 it will be the second leading cause of disease burden worldwide
• Approximately 5% of Canadian men and 10% of Canadian women
experience symptoms of depression at some point in their life.
• While depression can be effectively treated in the community,
many people delay seeking assistance due to stigma, lack of knowledge,
• Research from the American Journal of Cardiology indicates
that individuals with depression and anxiety have a 50% increased
risk for cardiovascular illness and death.
• Research from the University of Florida found that a perfectionistic
personality characteristic with self-criticism is strongly associated
• Having one episode of major depression increases your risk
of having another, but working with a psychologist can reduce the
risk of future episodes or the intensity.
• The risk of major depression is increased with conditions
such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and during
the first year after childbirth. High levels of depression are also
common enough those with economic difficulties.
It is common and even healthy to feel sad or blue at times, these
feelings can be informative. Feeling down can tell us that we are
bothered by something, stressed and need to slow down. Feeling depleted
can indicate that particular issues burden us. These feelings can
be a guide, telling us to take time and tend to our needs.
While many of these same feelings occur with clinical depression
the difference is in the intensity and duration of these experiences.
Sadness or a sense of loss tends to linger, isolation sets in and
resilience seems to be lost. When clinically depressed individuals
fall they tend to stay down. They are often critical and blame themselves
for their feelings. They become easily overwhelmed, easily exhausted,
experience hopelessness, and withdraw socially. Some may have thoughts
of death or suicide.
The good news is that clinical depression is highly amenable to
treatment when receiving competent care. When issues are not addressed
and feeling s not expressed symptoms can worsen, creating an unnecessary
burden on oneself, family, and friends. Left untreated , major depression
can last six to 12 months with 40 percent of individuals still having
symptoms sufficient to meet the diagnosis after one year.
There is no single cause of depression that has been identified
. Most practicing clinicians understand the cause to be biopsychosocial
in nature and approach treatment in this manner. Paying attention
to your family history, body chemistry, personality characteristics,
mental and emotional functioning, and social and environmental influences
can help one discover the cause of their own personal struggle with
depression. Any approach focusing only on one of these factors is
likely too simplistic and therefore not beneficial as a treatment.
Many people who experience depression and seek help through their
family physician will find that there are a variety of medications
available. Medication for many is an appropriate route and helpful
in many cases, and for others it's neither appropriate nor helpful.
Research indicates that a combination of psychological counselling
and medication is typically the preferred choice for clinical depression.
Counselling alone can be considered the second treatment of choice,
especially in non-clinical cases, and medication alone the third
choice. There is an abundance of studies indicating that psychological
interventions are as, or more effective than medication for the
treatment of depression. By conducting an assessment, a licensed
psychologist can help to make recommendations for an effective treatment.
The psychological counselling process can help individuals improve
overall mental and emotional well-being. Clients and therapists
work together to locate personal issues and life stressors that
contribute to depression, as well as identify thinking patterns,
behaviours, and emotional awareness. Counselling helps one learn
about his or her own personal experience with depression and the
changes that can be made to help prevent future episodes.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or any psychological
difficulties it is important to address your concerns and consult
with a licensed psychologist.
TESTING: Be Informed before Consenting!
Registered psychologists are delivering services in our schools,
our courts, our communities and in organizations across Nova Scotia.
The Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia (APNS) and the Nova
Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology (NSBEP) have worked together
over the years to ensure the public receives professional services
from psychologists. The Nova
Scotia Psychology Act provides guidelines for the ethical conduct
of psychologists but does not regulate the delivery of psychological
related services by non-psychologists.
An on-going area of concern by both APNS and NSBEP is the use of
psychological tests by unregulated users. This may include assessments
in school settings, assessments for custody access, and employment-related
assessments. Individuals with various degrees and certificates --
not necessarily in psychology -- can be qualified by test manufacturers
to purchase and use psychological tests. Individuals do not have
to be registered psychologists to administer, score and interpret
psychological tests and the Nova Scotia Psychology Act does not
apply to these test users.
Registered psychologists who administer tests as part of their practice
must follow very strict guidelines to protect the public from the
misuse of psychological tests. This is especially
important when tests results are used to help make important decisions
concerning educational requirements, custody access decisions, type
of therapy, or if an individual will receive a job offer or promotion.
Psychologists are obligated to ensure you fully understand the reasons
you have been asked to take a test, what the test is designed to
measure, the nature of the feedback you will receive, and how the
test results might be used. Psychologists fully explain these issues
to their clients and in doing so seek to obtain informed consent
prior to administering any tests.
We would encourage the public to ask informed questions prior to
taking any type of psychological test regardless of who asks you
to take the test. If you or someone you know has been requested
to take a psychological test - please consider asking the following
questions prior to consenting to take the test.
Be fully informed before agreeing to take
a psychological test!
Questions to ask
when ... You are asked to take a test as part
of a job application.
Organizations and recruitment companies use psychological tests
to help them find the right person for the right job. When well
developed tests are used in a professional manner it can result
in a more productive and satisfied work force. Prior to giving your
consent to have a test administered, you should ask the following
questions about the process:
What kind of test do I have to take?
Tests can be used to measure specific knowledge, skills, abilities
and other attributes (KSAOs) that are related to the job. The test
administrator should be able to tell you in general terms what type
of test they want you to take.
How will the results be used?
Your test results should be combined with other information to make
the final decision. The test results might carry a certain amount
of weight in the selection process. Ask how the test information
will be used to make a final decision.
Who gets to see my test results?
You have a right to privacy and the results should only be seen
by those involved in the selection process. You should inquire as
to who will see your results, whether or not they will become a
part of your personnel file if hired, and what will happen to them
if you are not hired.
Will I receive feedback on my test results?
You should be told in advance what type of feedback, if any you
will be receiving about your performance on the test.
Who is responsible for the testing process?
Test publishers have guidelines in place concerning who can buy,
administer and interpret tests. You should ask who this is in case
you have concerns or other questions about the process.
Questions to ask when ... You are asked
to go through a custody access assessment.
If divorcing parents can’t agree about their children’s
living arrangements then a judge may order, or a lawyer suggest
that the parents go through a custody access assessment. Custody
access assessments are used to help the judge decide the best living
arrangement (joint, shared, sole) and schedule for access (frequency,
duration, etc.) for the child. If a judge orders the assessment
then both parents must comply; so it is in the interests of both
parents to come to agreement about custody and access issues before
being court ordered to participate in a time-consuming, intrusive,
and costly assessment. However, should parents find themselves involved
in such an assessment; the following are important questions to
What does informed consent mean?
The psychologist doing the assessment will tell you about, and provide
in written form the limitations of confidentiality; in the case
of a custody access assessment, the information gathered will be
contained in the report generated from the assessment and become
part of the court record.
What is the purpose of the custody and access assessment?
The purpose is to find what is in the interests for the child or
children and how each parent can respond to those interests. In
collecting information the psychologist will do an interview with
each parent to gather a family history, etc, have each parent complete
tests, and observe each parent, if possible, with the child or children.
This information is then used by the psychologist to write a report
that describes what the child or children need and how each parent’s
abilities relate to those needs.
How will the Custody Access report be used?
The judge, lawyers, and parents will read the report which will
then be used to resolve any disagreements between parents over the
children’s living arrangements and access visits.
Who has access to the test data, file information, and report?
The test data and file information is kept by the assessing psychologist;
the file and its contents are considered confidential but if ordered
by the judge the psychologist must release the file and its contents.
The report becomes part of the court record and anyone involved
in the case then has access to the report.
Questions to ask when ... You are asked to give consent
for your child to undergo a psychoeducational assessment.
School psychologists use psychological tests to investigate children’s
learning strengths and weaknesses and to gain understanding of social
and emotional functioning that might interfere with a child’s
school progress. The tests are chosen to be appropriate for the
child’s age, language abilities and problems. The psychologist
responsible for choosing and administering tests in psychoeducational
assessments will want you to understand the purpose of the test,
the results that may be obtained from them, and how the results
will be reported and recorded.
What is this test supposed to measure?
Each test chosen should measure specific skills, abilities or other
attributes pertinent to the reason for assessment. The psychologist
will be able to tell you what each test measures and why that information
is important. Some tests compare your child to large samples of
other children who have been given the same test. This comparison
is intended to help you understand the extent to which your child
has acquired or developed abilities compared to other children the
How will the results be used?
Results of individual tests are combined with other information
before an assessment is complete. The test results will be viewed
in relationship to one another and in context of your child’s
development. No single test result can answer all important questions
about your child’s abilities. The psychologist will be able
to tell you what kind of a decision can be based on the information
from the assessment This
is an important consideration in determining the appropriateness
of the test results. Be sure you understand the information the
psychologist gives you in respect to what each test measures, how
well your child matches the group to which he/she will be compared
and how the results will be in context to other important information.
Who sees the test results?
Test results are generally considered to be private information,
only viewed by those involved with your child’s learning needs.
The results of the test will be interpreted by the psychologist
and explained to you. A written report of the results is generally
provided for the school record with your written consent. The School
Psychologist will be able to tell you who within the school board
has access to the report and provide you with information about
what steps are taken to obtain your consent when a request is made
to release test information to others. Ask when you will be told
of the results, who else will receive this information and how it
will be kept confidential.
Who is responsible for the testing process?
Psychological tests should be selected and administered by psychologists.
The use of these tests is regulated by Standards for Educational
and Psychological Testing, a set of guidelines developed by the
American Psychological Association and endorsed by psychologists
licensed by the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology. Interpretation
of psychological tests requires specialised training. Psychologists
will be pleased to tell you about their qualifications.
Questions to ask when ... You are considering psychotherapy.
Many people encounter circumstances in their lives that may be overwhelming.
Taking the step of talking to someone who can help may be difficult.
While friends and family can be willing to lend a hand, taking to
someone who has the training and skills to help you solve the problem
can be beneficial. Talking to a professional can also help to determine
if there are any psychological problems, such as anxiety, that may
also be adding to your distress.
Who should I see?
When you make the decision to talk to someone you should make sure
that the person is a regulated professional. Many people are surprised
to know that in Nova Scotia, as in other provinces, anyone can hold
themselves out as a counsellor or psychotherapist. In Nova Scotia,
the responsibility to regulate psychologists is given to the Nova
Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology (NSBEP) by the provincial
Many Nova Scotians also do not realize that the terms “psychologist”
and “psychological” are restricted titles and can only
be used by professionals who have met rigorous standards of training
and who are able to provide a high standard of care. If you choose
to see a psychologist for therapy you are assured that they have
met the standards required by the law. Seeing an unregulated person
gives you no assurance that this person has met the level of training
needed to help people with serious and important problems. If you
receive bad advice by an unqualified person, you have no way to
remedy the situation.
Why choose a regulated professional?
Before you see a therapist, you should ask the person if a regulatory
body recognized by the Nova Scotia Government regulates his or her
practice. For example, all psychologists practising in Nova Scotia
must be registered and in good standing with the NSBEP. A list of
all registered psychologists is available online at www.nsbep.org
Any person who calls themselves a psychologist in Nova Scotia without
being registered is guilty of an offence. You should also be aware
that many therapists belong to professional associations, but membership
in such associations is voluntary and not the same as being registered.
Remember, anyone can call himself or herself a “therapist”,
“psychotherapist”, “life coach” or “counsellor”.
How do I find a psychologist?
You may locate a psychologist by talking to a friend who may have
seen one, asking your family doctor for a referral, speaking with
your employee assistance program, or consulting the Yellow pages.
Psychologists are employed in hospitals, clinics, schools and in
private practices throughout Nova Scotia. APNS also provides an
online directory of psychologists at www.apns.ca
Before choosing a psychologist be sure to ask questions about the
type of problems they deal with, their experience, and fees. In
most cases, fees for a private psychologist can be claimed through
your private medical insurance. After you have determined the psychologist’s
credentials and have started the therapy process, the best way to
decide if the psychologist is right for you is based on your feelings.
You should ask yourself is the psychologist kind, understanding
and non-judgemental and do I feel my problem is being helped? If
you don’t feel the “fit” is right, talk to the
psychologist or consider referring yourself to another psychologist.
in the SCHOOLS: A Guide for Parents
Have you met with a psychologist in a school recently? If you are
a school teacher, administrator or parent of a child receiving services
you have probably attended an assessment feedback or program planning
meeting with a psychologist during the school year.
While you may never meet the psychologist that serves your local
school, for many children and families the school-based psychologist
is the first and the only psychologist they will ever meet.
If you are the parent of a child waiting for an assessment, support,
or intervention services, getting to meet the school's psychologist
may be taking longer than you would like.
This article describes the role of psychologists in the schools
and some of the opportunities for improving the access to psychological
services in the Nova Scotia education system.
How Psychologists Fit in the School System
For the Nova Scotia Department of Education, psychologists in the
schools are “professional support staff”. That means
that psychologists employed by school boards generally serve multiple
schools and travel circuits that may cover more than one county.
While travel may be reduced in urban areas, school populations tend
to be larger and the psychologists may be assigned to seven or more
There are approximately 82 psychologists employed across the regional
school boards in Nova Scotia. That number is based in part on the
Nova Scotia Department of Education's current “core professional
service ratio” of 2,500 students to one psychologist.
The Minister's Review of Services for Students with Special Needs
recommended a review of that ratio as recently as 2007. The Nova
Scotia Department of Education is scheduled to release new guidelines
for the delivery of psychological services in schools in the very
A psychologists who works in the school system may have been employed
in the educational system before they returned to university to
become psychologists. Or she or he may have completed their graduate
level training and gone directly to work in the schools.
Some may have been practicing psychologists who worked in health,
mental health, or in private practice prior to being employed by
the school system. Regardless of the route they followed, psychologists
who work in schools have completed an accredited graduate program,
applied for registration with the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners
in Psychology, and completed or are completing the requirements
to be registered with the Nova Scotia Board of Examiners in Psychology
(NSBEP), as a Psychologist in Nova Scotia.
The way psychologists work can vary from school to school or board
to board according to policies and practices adopted in each school
The effect is that what psychologists do in a specific setting appears
to be dependent upon what teachers, principals, and school board
administrators think psychologists should do as well as how much
independence the psychologist has over how she/he does her/his job.
In the public school system, psychologists and the services they
deliver are more often managed and/or supervised by staff other
than psychologists. (e.g., principals, resource teachers, guidance
counselors, speech-language pathologists, etc.)
This can pose a number of problems for the practicing school psychologist,
one of which is that there may be unnecessary limitations or a lack
of knowledge about what they can or cannot do. Psychologists in
the schools have a great deal to offer. According to the Canadian
School psychologists provide a wide variety of both educational
and mental health services to districts, school staff, students,
and their families.
• understand educational policies and issues because they
work within the educational system
• understand the viewpoints of the many stakeholders in the
educational system because their work requires their regular and
direct contact with students, teachers, parents, and the community
• respond over long periods of time to students and situations
that are chronic in nature (e.g. disruptive behaviour disorders,
learning disabilities) and understand how these problems and situations
affect and are affected by the classroom
• bring a scientific, research-based and objective approach
to the analysis and assessment of students' learning, behavioural
and emotional problems
• have the tools to systematically measure change in behaviour
• have the training to carry out psychological assessment
of students' cognitive and learning styles for the purpose of educational
• have the training to recognize, diagnose, and intervene
with various child and adolescent behaviour and learning disorders
• collaborate with students, families, teachers and other
health care professionals in formulating appropriate recommendations,
plans, and achievable goals for students
• support parents and teachers in the implementation of recommendations
• maintain liaisons with other agencies in the community when
appropriate to ensure comprehensive service delivery to students,
parents, and the teachers with whom they collaborate
• develop, consult, and participate in programs designed to
respond to crises and emergency situations in schools
• stay current with research related to psychology and education,
and therefore offer psychological resource and expertise to the
educational system in the development of educational policy and
procedure as well as program evaluation
(Professional Practice Guidelines for School
Psychologists in Canada, CPA)
What Does the Future Hold?
Historically, psychological services in school have been closely
linked to the delivery of educational services for children with
Typically, schools expect psychologists to provide psycho-educational
assessment services, often to the exclusion of other services they
are both competent and prepared to deliver.
Currently, provincial educators are recognizing the need to integrate
education and health care services for children and adolescents.
A growing body of research documents the links between good mental
health and the ability to learn.
There is substantial evidence to support focusing the delivery of
psychological services in schools to more comprehensively meet the
needs of Nova Scotia's children, youth, and families.
Canadian epidemiology research over the past two decades has consistently
shown that approximately 18% to 20% of children will qualify for
one or more psychiatric diagnoses during their time in school.
These diagnoses range from learning disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder (AD/HD) to depression and conduct disorder. These are mental
health issues with major impacts on a child's or adolescent's behaviour
in school and serious impacts on learning.
At the same time, learning difficulties can affect a student's social,
emotional, and behavioural adjustment, and impact negatively on
the child's mental health.
Psychologists in schools are uniquely positioned to provide primary
mental health care . Similar to a primary health care model, primary
mental health care includes:
- prevention and treatment of common mental health issues
- basic emergency mental health services
- referrals to/coordination with other levels of care (such as hospital
and community based mental health services)
- mental health promotion
- healthy child/adolescent development
- school based rehabilitation services
In a primary mental health care model, the school-based psychologist
can provide direct provision of first-contact services and a coordination
function to ensure continuity and ease of movement when longer term
or specialized services are required.
“School psychologists are the most highly trained mental
health experts in schools. In addition to knowledge about prevention,
intervention, and evaluation for a number of childhood problems,
school psychologists have unique expertise regarding issues of learning
and schools. It is [school psychologists'] ethical responsibility
to become involved in programs aimed at problems that are broader
than assessing and diagnosing what is wrong with a child. As the
most experienced school professionals in this area, school psychologists
must become invested in addressing social and human ills …
Although [school psychologists] will not ‘solve' these ills,
[they] must have a role in ameliorating their impact on the lives
– Sheridan, S. and Gutkin, T. School Psychology
Review, v29 n4 p485-502 (2000)
The school-based integrated service model is already exemplified
in Nova Scotia by the growing number of Teen Health Centres housed
in public schools.
Psychologists in the schools are well placed and well prepared to
work collaboratively with health care professionals and a variety
of community agencies in addition to the Teen Health Centres. Together,
they can identify and support students with mental health needs,
and develop prevention and early intervention programs.
However, a significant obstacle to developing and enhancing the
collaborative integrated model is a matter of numbers. According
to the Nova Scotia Department of Education, there are 138,661 students
currently enrolled in Nova Scotia Schools. This means that the estimated
18% or about 24,959 students who will need psychological support
and/or intervention will likely not be offered these services.
The lack of capacity to meet the psychological needs of children
and adolescents in the schools is due in large part to the fact
that the 82 psychologists employed by school boards across the province
already have a wait list of students for psycho-educational assessment
and there is rarely time available for other services.
The Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia (APNS) encourages
the Nova Scotia Department of Education to explore and develop innovative,
integrated school based service delivery models to promote mental
health in the school age population, including but not limited to
psycho-educational assessment. As the professional organization
representing psychologists in Nova Scotia, APNS wishes to extend
an offer of support and collaboration to this end.