Most people have heard of psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists – but it is less common to understand the real differences between these three types of individuals.
Consider this your quick and dirty guide to each of these focus areas, how they work, and how they can help you through recovery.
One of the key elements of the recovery process, and something that the vast majority of treatment programs focus on, is the opportunity to participate in one-on-one counseling sessions. But are these sessions with a therapist? A psychiatrist? Neither? The difference may not be as straightforward as you would think, since there is at least some overlap with all three of these focus areas and professions.
“Psychiatry and psychology are overlapping professions. Practitioners in both – psychiatrists and psychologists – are mental health professionals. Their area of expertise is the mind – and the way it affects behavior and well-being. Both are committed to helping people stay mentally well.”
“Our in-patient addiction recovery facility has psychiatrists and therapists on staff. Take a look at our 28 day program.”
While there are several key differences between psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists, they all ultimately have the same purpose in their line of work: to help those struggling with a mental disorder (such as addiction) identify the effects that it has on daily life and to overcome those issues. This is what is known as behavioral therapy, and is one of the main principles of drug and alcohol addiction treatment.
All three of these positions related to behavioral therapy have at least the following traits in common:
- They are there to provide guidance and support to patients
- They are highly trained in their field, with at least a master’s degree or certificate and in some cases a PhD
- They specialize in addressing the challenges and issues associated with mental disorders
- They focus on how the brain processes feelings, emotions and thoughts
- They help patients and clients make healthy decisions despite the challenges that a mental disorder presents
With that, you should have an idea of what the overarching purpose of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists is, since all three have the responsibility to help patients. But what are the real differences between the three?
What Does a Psychiatrist Do?
A psychiatrist is very similar to a psychologist, but with one main distinction – they can prescribe medications. They specialize in psychiatry, which is a branch of medicine devoted to mental health disorders. They are medical doctors who can evaluate their patients based on a number of different factors. For instance, they are able to determine if a patient’s issues stem from a medical problem. They can also tell if a specific issue is a combination of medical and mental health conditions.
Psychiatrists have a lot of tools at their disposal for diagnostic purposes. They can do so much more than just talk with their patients. They can also:
- Order blood work
- Conduct a physical examination
- Order brain imaging tests (such as CT scans)
- Order MRIs
- Test for other physical abnormalities through medical testing
Psychiatrists tend to have sub-specialties. These are certain areas where they focus most of their time. In our case, our psychiatrists focus mainly on addiction and mental health issues that often accompany that.
Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists have to complete a great deal of education to get their degrees. They must graduate from medical school and have a year of medical internship. After that, they must complete 3 years of residency in the mental health field. During this time, they are assessing and treating different mental health conditions and disorders.
Psychiatrists also perform psychotherapy for their patients. This involves talking with them about their problems. However, they tend to take a different approach because of their background in medicine.
Psychiatrists understand biology and neurochemistry. They’re always looking for a physical reason behind a mental health condition. In many ways, this is a benefit to the patient. Without seeing a psychiatrist, certain medical problems could potentially go undiagnosed.
When it comes to psychiatrists vs. psychologists, both are excellent doctors. However, many people prefer to see a psychiatrist. There are some psychiatrists who may evaluate a patient first, and then refer to psychologists. However, this is only done when it is certain that there are no medical issues that need addressing.
While psychologists work primarily with how behavior and emotions interact, psychiatrists are medically trained to examine these behaviors and emotions at a deeper, biological level. Most psychiatrists are trained to engage in psychotherapeutic practices, like psychologists and therapists, but also focus on how various emotions and behaviors can be addressed with medical intervention.
In addition to behavioral strategies, a psychiatrist will address the physical symptoms that often coincide with psychiatric symptoms such as high blood pressure, sleep patterns, and liver functioning. This is particular they case if patients have had prolonged addiction or co-occurring disorders.
In short, a psychiatrist is a specific kind of medical doctor who focuses on both diagnosing and treating mental disorders.
Continued Addiction Recovery Through Counseling
One-on-one counseling is a crucial element of any good addiction treatment program. Individual therapy during drug and alcohol rehab goes beyond the stereotypical image of a couch and the perennially soft request to, ‘tell me how you feel.’
Counseling sessions during the recovery process go well beyond this generality, instead focusing on the problem areas that addiction has created in your life and in turn creating coping strategies to deal with them. In some cases, particularly in cases where addiction co-occurs with other mental disorders, drug and alcohol rehab programs include medical and psychiatric services as an integral part of treatment. Whether you participate in talk therapy in a group setting or cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained psychologist, successfully overcoming addiction requires help. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists all can help you through this process.