When the mind is unwell it can pull physical health and emotional balance into a tailspin. But finding suitable support in the search for mental wellness can be another headache and source of stress. This means many conditions are being ignored and continuing their negative effects on lives indefinitely.
Fortunately, the scientific and medical communities are miles ahead of us and making phenomenal progress in understanding more about the conditions of the mind and developing a wide spectrum of solutions to address them.
Psychology and Psychiatry
A physical condition like rheumatism or arthritis can cause moderate to severe discomfort and make day to day tasks more difficult. Mental conditions are very much the same except they primarily affect thought processes causing unusual behavior and even throwing the emotional balance off kilter.1
When seeking to address potential mental conditions and improve mental wellness, advice from a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist is invaluable. Because these terms are often used interchangeably there is understandable confusion about the roles they play in good health.
Without an understanding of the processes, methodologies, techniques, and solutions you can expect from your mental health provider, it can be hard to place much faith or even value in what they have to offer. To provide the scope on these two overlapping professions it is important to understand their similarities and differences between the two.
Similarities of a Psychologist and Psychiatrist
Both of these professionals are trained to address human behavior and conditions of mental health. Like any other health professional, solutions can only be applied after a full understanding of the individual’s conditions have been reached.
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Both professionals will accomplish this through psychotherapy, behavioral analysis and often direct cooperation between each other for greater perspectives and more effective solutions. You can expect either one to be a powerful support in encountering and managing the experiences you face each day.2
Two Major Differences between the Psychiatrist and Psychologist
Education for a Doctor
The primary difference between these two professions is the category and extent of their education. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor like a cardiologist, dentist, or dermatologist. To become a psychiatrist, one must first spend years in medical school to become a medical doctor, then another year as an intern, and three more years as a resident.
After this, they are qualified to diagnose mental conditions and even prescribe medications, due to their medical training. This is probably the most important difference between these two otherwise very similar professions.
A psychologist is not a medical doctor, but a scientist in the same field as anthropologists, sociologists, and philosophers: social science. Psychologists must achieve a Master’s degree for certain positions, but a fully qualified therapist will earn a Ph.D. This is a doctoral degree which comes with the title “doctor” but is not the same as a medical doctor.
Training to be a fully licensed and qualified psychologist can include a couple of years of internships and supervised experiences. Some training that psychologist have that psychiatrist do not include training in administering personality, IQ, and other psychological tests. There are even some regions that are considering allowing psychologists to prescribe medication, as long as they complete a course in psychopharmacology.3
As mentioned, both the psychiatrist and psychologist will use similar methods for exploring the mental states of their patients and offer similar solutions as well. But because the foundations of their education are in different categories, the approaches to providing solutions can be very different.
Being doctors, psychiatrists view mental health as the product of biological processes and neurochemical balance. Therefore, someone suffering from an incapacity to concentrate might not be getting enough vitamins or chronic depression could be a result of thyroid issues. Often their solutions will include nutritional adjustments, counseling, psychotherapy, and/or medications.
Psychologists will look at a combination of factors and information gathered from assessments of intellectual function, behavior, and personality to formulate their conclusions and possible solutions. As a scientist, they are not against the use of medications for addressing some conditions. A lot of the psychologist’s work involves helping their patients identify their personal strengths and better manage their lives.
How They Work Together
Because of the special differences between psychology and psychiatry, the combined perspectives and treatments interlock perfectly to provide suitable solutions for mental health. For these reasons, professionals from both fields will collaborate often when formulating a treatment plan for situations great and small.
Where to Begin?
For example, you may begin your initial interest in addressing and improving your mental health by discussing concerns with your primary health provider. Depending on the situation, your regular doctor may recommend you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluations. From here, the next step will be decided by your personal preferences and the recommendations of the psychologist or psychiatrist evaluating you.
Depending on the results of the evaluation, the mental health professional can describe a set of effective treatment plans, some of which might include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. You will get a chance to consider the options and choose the most convenient for you.
In the treatment of minor mental health problems, medications are not always necessary and some people have an aversion to pills and drugs. A psychologist may be all that is needed to provide ongoing counseling and psychotherapy to manage and control symptoms.
In more serious conditions, including bipolar disorder, long-term depression, and schizophrenia, physical symptoms can be more severe and can begin to affect daily living. There are times when behavior can also be harmful to oneself or others around them. In these cases, a psychiatrist will be better trained and equipped to manage the immediate symptoms and begin the recovery process.
But in either situation, there is a good reason to rely on collaborative efforts for best results. A wide range of conditions are best treated with a psychologist on hand to recommend behavioral interventions and a psychiatrist providing insights on physical health and overseeing any necessary medications. This multi-faceted approach ensures the best results from treatments and longer lasting results in patients.
Even after you have decided on a preferred route to better health through the assistance of a psychologist or psychiatrist, you may still want to get a second opinion. There are many branches and specialties in these complex studies and shopping around may bring you closer to the ideal solution for you.
Final Notes on Psychiatrists and Psychologists and Mental Health
If you have gotten to the end of this reading and are still wondering what the best course of action may be for your specific needs, that’s okay. There is understandable confusion about mental health and even residual stigmas surrounding mental conditions that are hard to surmount. There may even be personal doubts as to how much it will help you and your life.
Experts always recommend taking some action rather than ignoring mental health altogether until conditions become so grave that this solution is no longer possible. To be completely fair, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a sound state of mind and smooth mental processing.
But in the end, both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to seek out the most appropriate solutions through a voyage of discovery based on full-confidentiality and trust. Even if you do not feel you have a mental illness, scheduling an evaluation with a trusted professional may reveal opportunities to enhance your mental resources and improve cognitive performance.
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