Psychiatry, Psychology, and Counseling: Not All the Same

A person suffering with a mental health disorder may seek the services of a psychiatrist or psychologist. Likewise, someone having relationship difficulties might seek out a counselor. There are even times when psychiatry, psychology, and counseling overlap. But the three are not all the same.

One of the biggest misconceptions in the mental health arena is that all treatments are identical across the board. Patients or clients sit in a comfortable chair and talk for 45 minutes. The mental health professional then takes the final 15 minutes to offer some advice.

A lot of people think it works that way. Truth be told, this description isn’t even close. To illustrate the point, we need only talk about the differences between mental health professionals. Understand those differences and you can begin to understand the treatments.

The Psychiatrist

Among the three, the psychiatrist is the only one licensed as a medical doctor. In other words, a psychiatrist is a fully trained doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. As such, the psychiatrist understands the brain’s physical functionality.

Psychiatrists are licensed to write prescriptions. They have the ability to offer treatments not available through psychologists and counselors. In essence, they can treat mental illness from both a medical and psychological standpoint.

Another important distinction is that psychiatrists are able to understand mental health issues in relation to other physical conditions. This additional insight is important when it comes time to write prescriptions or recommend non-pharmacological treatments.

The Psychologist

A psychologist is not a medical doctor. That said, a psychologist has earned a doctoral degree in psychology. Their training emphasized study of both the mind and human behaviors. This makes the psychologist the expert in how the mind works in relation to thoughts and emotions.

Because psychologists are not medical doctors, they cannot write prescriptions or perform procedures considered medical in nature. Psychologists will work with psychiatrists when such treatments are necessary. Their collaborative effort will involve the psychologist handling psychotherapy while the psychiatrist addresses medical issues.

The Counselor

For the purposes of this post, the counselor is a licensed mental health professional who possesses a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related area. This suggests that a counselor may be a psychologist as well. But like the psychologist, the counselor is not a medical doctor.

Licensed counselors are able to evaluate mental health issues from a psychological standpoint. They treat such problems through a combination of counseling and psychotherapy. Like psychologists, counselors may work with psychiatrists when a particular case demands it.

Note there are some who offer counseling services without being licensed mental health counselors. They include:

  • Social Workers – A clinical social worker with a master’s degree is capable of offering counseling services.
  • Nurses – Both mental health and psychiatric nurses can offer counseling with additional training in mental health services.

In most cases, the biggest difference between counseling and the services offered by psychologists and psychiatrists boils down to the type of therapy being offered. For example, counselors at Relationships & More in Rye, New York offer relationship therapy. Their therapy is primarily a talking therapy.

Talking therapies have proven effective for some types of mental health issues. When talking therapy alone is insufficient, a patient may need psychotherapy or medical intervention. This is where psychologists and psychiatrists enter the picture.

Suffice it to say that psychiatry, psychology, and counseling are not the same thing. They are different disciplines that deal with different aspects of mental health. All three work together to provide patients a way of addressing mental health issues.

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