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Common Presenting Problems in Psychology

The number of people experiencing psychological distress is continuing to grow in Canada and around the world. Distress can manifest in many forms but for many people, these problems start affecting their happiness, close relationships, work, and/or functioning. Unfortunately, many individuals who suffer from one or more of these problems often feel alone and unsure how to solve these problems alone.


Dr. Paul Johnston has been helping people by providing various services including psychotherapy and psychological counselling for over 30 years. Our staff have been trained to assess psychological symptoms and work with clients to identify their unique needs and goals. Once the needs and goals have been identified, you can work together with your counsellor to formulate a treatment plan that will leave you feeling hopeful and empowered to overcome the difficulties in your life.

In this blog post, we discuss the some common presenting problems in psychology.


What Are Psychological Disorders?

Psychological disorders describe a collection of symptoms experienced by an individual that cause subjective distress and interfere with important aspects of one’s life (e.g. relationships, work, health). Psychological disorders may involve changes in the way you think, respond emotionally, and/or behave . Here we will introduce some common presenting problems in psychology. It is important to note that these may or may not apply to you. There are several reasons an individual may seek counseling and a psychological diagnosis is not required for you to benefit from counselling services.


Depression is easily one of the most common presenting problems in psychology. There are several reasons an individual may experience depression. For some people, depression has come and gone throughout life. For others, a depressive episode may develop after a stressful event such as a separation, job loss, or passing of a loved one. Genetic factors, individual coping skills and life stressors often interact to determine one’s risk factor for developing depression. Depression is often characterized by:

  • General sadness or low mood

  • Loss of interest or pleasure

  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or unworthiness

  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns

  • Lack of concentration

  • Fatigue or difficulties with motivation

As you can imagine, depression can make it difficult for people to engage in positive activities, maintain healthy relationships, initiate behaviour and be compassionate with themselves. Unfortunately, many of these processes serve to improve depression or can protect against the stressors we inevitably face throughout life.

At Thunder Bay Psychology, our team can work with you to overcome depressive symptoms using cognitive-behavioural interventions that will target unhealthy thinking patterns and encourage active engagement with behaviours that are beneficial for wellness.


Anxiety is another common presenting problem in psychology and approximately 50% of the time, anxiety co-occurs with depression. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear and worry about situations or events. Anxiety symptoms may include:

  • Frequently feeling restless or on edge

  • Irritability, short temper

  • Sensations of panic, difficulty breathing

  • Catastrophizing, always thinking the worst

  • Difficulty tolerating uncertainty

  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions

  • Avoidance of feared situations or people

People may experience anxiety differently. In some cases, the thoughts may be most troubling. For example, a man who is scared to leave the house following a car accident because he keeps imagining himself getting injured. In other cases, the physical symptoms may the first thing an individual notices. For example, a woman who experiences a sudden onset of panic symptoms (e.g. heart racing, difficulty breathing, trembling) calls the ambulance for fear that she is having a heart attack but is later diagnosed with Panic Disorder. In any case, Thunder Bay Psychology can help you better understand what anxiety is, why we have it and how you can decrease your anxiety to level that is healthy, protective and manageable.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops when an individual is exposed to a traumatic event where they experienced/witnessed something that involved a fear of death or serious injury, or where death or serious injury occurred. Several symptoms of PTSD are a “normal response to trauma” (e.g. inability to stop thinking of the event, nightmares, increase in negative emotion, hyperarousal). However, individuals with PTSD do not recover from the trauma naturally and thus, the trauma response symptoms persist causing significant distress and impairment for the individual. A notable symptom of PTSD is avoidance; individuals will avoid internal and external reminders of the trauma, processing of the trauma memory, and social interaction.

Fortunately, there are several evidence-based interventions that can be implemented to help individuals process the trauma while targeting any beliefs that may be preventing the individual from moving forward and having a happy and healthy life.

Bipolar disorder

This psychological disorder is characterized by a combination of depressive and manic episodes, sometimes featuring moments of stabilized mood. Manic episodes may cause individuals to experience: irritable or elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, acting impulsive and out of character, hyperactivity and a lack of need for sleep. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms for the first time, medical attention and medication may be required to keep the individual safe and stabilized.

Bipolar disorder is best treated with a combination of medication, psychosocial support and psychotherapy.


Schizophrenia has a genetic component and is characterized by psychotic symptoms including hallucinations (hearing, seeing, feeling things that others do not) or delusions (odd thoughts or beliefs that are not consistent with reality). Individuals who experience delusions and hallucinations often first report these experiences in adolescence or early adulthood and the psychotic symptoms make it difficult to study, work or socially interact.

Due to discrimination and social stigma, many who experience these symptoms lack access to adequate health and social support that could help treat the disorder. Similar to bipolar disorder, pharmacological intervention (i.e. medication) is often necessary to manage symptoms of schizophrenia, minimize distress and protect the individual from harm


This is a progressive and chronic condition involving the premature failure of cognitive functions. Dementia can affect the way a person thinks in several ways including notable deficits in orientation, memory, comprehension and language. There may also be a decline in social control and the ability to regulate emotions. Dementia is a broad term, including Alzheimer’s disease and the brain functions that are affected will depend on the region in which the brain cells are deteriorating.

Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder

This illness is classified under neurobehavioral disorders that can start in childhood. Symptoms of ADHD include restlessness, distractibility, forgetfulness, impulsivity and difficulty concentrating or completing tasks. A common treatment approach involves prescribing stimulants such as Ritalin that can increase attention and decrease impulsiveness. Prescriptions can be obtained through a family doctor or psychiatrist. Psychology can offer assistance through family therapy and psychotherapy which can help you and your family learn strategies for managing the ADHD symptoms and minimizing the degree of interference these symptoms may have on your life.

Let Us Help

If you feel that you or someone you know may be experiencing any of these symptoms, we encourage you to reach out to us for help. At Thunder Bay Psychology, we can provide assessments and interventions that will help you better understand your experiences, while working with you to achieve a greater quality of life. Our office can provide a safe, confidential and compassionate environment where you will work with a qualified professional to develop a treatment plan that works for you. Please visit our FAQ section to better understand the services we provide.

For information on how couples can benefit from counselling, read our blog post - EVEN THE HAPPIEST COUPLES CAN BENEFIT FROM COUNSELLING.

Call us to learn more about our services.

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