Rizaldos: “Empathy is crucial to being a good clinical psychologist”

Rizaldos: "Empathy is crucial to being a good clinical psychologist"

Miguel Ángel Rizaldos is one of those clinical psychologists whose curriculum cannot be summarized in a few lines. Born in Aranjuez (Madrid) in 1967, he studied in the Faculty of Psychology at the Complutense University in the Spanish capital. Besides devoting himself body and soul to clinical psychology, both in his face-to-face and online practice, Rizaldos finds time to teach in different Masters and courses, as well as being a regular in the media and a passionate runner.

As if this were not enough, he is also one of the most active and prominent psychologists in social networks, where he contributes “his grain of sand” (as he puts it) to the dissemination of a great many topics related to clinical psychology. Today we had the privilege of sharing a talk with him.

What made you become a psychologist and specifically a clinical psychologist?

Ugh… Well, it’s been 30 years since I decided to study psychology. Recently I celebrated with my classmates the 25th anniversary of my degree in the Faculty of Psychology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. It seems like yesterday.

There were two reasons that led me to pursue this career: on the one hand I had older friends who started doing the career before I did, and on the other hand I had always been attracted to knowing how people’s behavior worked.

You are also working to offer training courses on topics related to psychology and have taught Master’s classes. Did you see yourself devoting part of your time to teaching when you started your career as a psychologist?

Absolutely not. But there comes a time when you need to pass on all your experience. I think it’s my obligation as a professional and as a passionate psychologist. There’s no better legacy. I am an enthusiast of the skills of the therapist, I consider that the profession of psychologist after 25 years has to be transmitted and that unfortunately is not learned in the university.

Clinical psychologists have to have and work with scientifically based tools and techniques, but we also need to have the “art” of making it individual and adapted to each person. That is something that is not explained in books.

The environment in which clinical psychologists must work has changed a lot in a short time, mainly due to the appearance of the Internet. Do you think that mental health professionals are making good use of the potential offered by the network of networks? What is your personal experience in this environment?

I think not everyone is taking advantage of the Internet, although more and more professionals are joining in.

For me, for more than 4 years, social networks and the Internet have helped me to spread general guidelines that can be very useful for many people. I am firmly convinced that it is a duty as a health professional in general and in psychology in particular.

With the internet I can have a more continuous and contingent presence in therapy. People are very grateful and feel supported even if the relationship is not (and has never been) face-to-face. It is also important because in this way it is facilitated that the person “empowers”, that is to say, that he or she is autonomous in his or her own treatment and is the one who works on his or her improvement; something that is fundamental in psychology.

First of all, it must be clarified that online therapy is not a therapy in itself, but a way to reach people who need therapy. It is about taking advantage of the communication and information technologies ( TICs ) as tools that can make us professionals more accessible.

As in other aspects of life, not everyone will feel comfortable, or see it as possible. It’s normal, there are some cultural barriers that are still difficult to overcome. It will also depend on the case to see whether or not it is more appropriate to opt for online therapy. In psychology, as in health in general, we cannot be apart from technological advances and we must try to integrate them into our daily lives.

On the other hand, it can be carried out from therapeutic treatment to the resolution of small clarifying doubts, simple consultations or psychological advice, which otherwise could not take place, since normally people do not consider going to a psychologist to resolve a small doubt. In short, it is about being more versatile professionals.

What do you think clinical psychologists bring to society, beyond the services they offer to each of their clients individually?

I am passionate about the popularization of psychology and firmly believe in the potential of the Internet as a tool to reach more people and make psychology more accessible. Therefore, I consider it a professional obligation to disseminate content on social networks. I also collaborate as a clinical psychologist in different media, I believe in the advantages and effectiveness of psychology to generate well-being.

Lately there has been much talk about Positive Psychology , a branch of psychology that emphasizes the importance of concepts such as personal development and life goals linked to meaning. What do you think of the approach it proposes?

Positive psychology, together with third generation behavioural therapies, is the most innovative thing that has happened in recent years in the field of psychology. They have been and are a turning point towards a greater development and effectiveness of psychology.

It would be trivial to consider that even having difficulties I feel good, that only being positive will solve the problems. It is necessary to act. And this implies will, struggle, overcoming, sacrifice… All this, initially, can be a great obstacle and causes us rejection because it costs us effort. We tend to save energy. We want solutions without work. In life, the distance between will and power is shortened with training, with effort, with constancy. In other words, not only thinking, but also doing; as our ancestors would say: “joining gesture to word”.

Do you think people are more skilful at managing their emotions than a few years ago? How do you assess the influence of the crisis on our psychological health?

At the present time, and thanks to the rise of emotional intelligence, I believe we have the strategies to regulate our emotions in a more optimal way. This doesn’t mean that it reaches everyone as it should. It is an aspect, that of emotional intelligence, that is increasingly taken into account in the formation of our children, although I believe that we are at the beginning of transmitting to the new generations a management of emotions that generates well-being and health. Psychologists are obliged to disseminate strategies that have already been scientifically proven to be effective in generating emotional well-being, an issue that is closely linked to health.

The crisis has put the weakness of the welfare state on the table. Not long ago I was with my primary care physician and when I asked about the percentage of her patients who had anxiety or depression problems due to the crisis, she said about 80%. The problem is that it’s not being treated properly.

According to the WHO’s own protocols , pharmacological treatment is not being combined with psychological care. In Spain, psychological problems are being “patched up”. It is regrettable that there are no clinical psychologists in primary care in our country, as there are in other European countries. And the few psychologists in the mental health services are saturated and this leads to very limited care.

From the point of view of a psychologist with a lot of experience behind him, what is the message you would try to convey to those young people who want to dedicate themselves to psychology?

The only thing I would remind you of is that you are going to be working with people, and that means you are going to have to get involved as human beings as well.

I understand my work as a psychologist from the coherence and passion in this profession. I also consider it crucial to foster empathy with the person I work with, my patient, in order to build a therapeutic and humane environment that will help him/her achieve his/her goals. If you are not willing to do this, you’d better dedicate yourself to something else. I consider that in this work you cannot be aseptic, and with a lack of empathy from there you are not effective. People are much more than a diagnosis and need your involvement.

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