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What Is an Inpatient Psychologist?

By A. Reed
Updated Feb 08, 2024
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An inpatient psychologist is a licensed mental health professional who works on staff at a hospital or mental institution, providing psychological services to the patients admitted there typically for longer than a day. Hospitals and medical centers have inpatient psychologists there to assess many situations occurring in the healthcare setting, such as in the emergency department where healthcare professionals encounter instances of suspected child abuse or a suicidal patient in need of immediate monitoring. The inpatient psychologist might be required to be on-call, being available to provide assistance during any time of the day or night at the hospital. Specialists, including clinical neuropsychologists, might also be an inpatient psychologist.

Many mental health institutions, including psychiatric units within acute care hospitals, have inpatient psychologists available to provide in-house assessments, counseling, and therapy services. Psychiatric hospitals are characterized according to the populations that they serve and the level of restriction imposed upon their patients. For instance, some specialize in helping children and teens, while others treat only adults.

Resident drug rehabilitation centers often employ an inpatient psychologist to help patients recovering from drug abuse. Also referred to as addiction psychologists, inpatient psychologists working in substance abuse facilities to assess and treat patients who are physically or psychologically addicted to illicit or prescription drugs through conducting group therapy and psychotherapy sessions. Addiction psychologists frequently use aversion therapy, a method of drug abuse intervention that causes patients to associate some unpleasant feeling or image with an unwanted behavior such as drinking alcohol or smoking.

Sometimes an inpatient psychologist works in a specialized field such as clinical neuropsychology, the subfield in psychology which focuses on studying how physiology, primarily of the brain, influences the behavior of individuals. They are involved in working with patients suffering from conditions affecting neurological functioning such as brain trauma and stroke. If a patient sustains a brain injury as result of an accident, for example, the neuropsychologist would become part of the patient's healthcare team, collaborating with doctors to learn the extent of neurological dysfunction. Through conducting neuropsychological assessments, neuropsychologists can help doctors to determine effective treatment and rehabilitation as well as potential patient outcomes. Oftentimes, neuropsychologists further specialize in pediatrics or a particular diagnosis such as Parkinson's disease or mental retardation.

Becoming an inpatient psychologist involves the completion of a doctorate in clinical psychology(PhD or PsyD), followed by a year-long internship and a post-doctoral residency for specialization such as in clinical neuropsychology or primary healthcare psychology. Depending upon the region of intended practice, clinical neuropsychologists must obtain board certification which is beyond the regular licensing requirement. Board certification is granted upon successful completion of a residency and a certifying examination.

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