Psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry are all disciplines dealing with the human mind. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, each of the three disciplines is distinct and separate from the others. Note that the differences between them would probably be important to you if you ever needed mental health treatment.
This post will outline the basics of psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry. There is plenty of detailed information online if you would like to know more. If you are already receiving professional treatment, your provider can answer any additional questions you might have.
In the strictest of terms, psychology is the study of the human mind. It is a science covering nearly every aspect of human thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. At its core is what science generally considers normal brain function. With that baseline as a foundation, psychologists can study human behaviours in relation to the thoughts and emotions behind them.
The interesting thing about psychology is that very few who specialise in this discipline actually work directly with patients. Psychology is largely an academic career heavy on research and analysis. Psychologists work at universities, hospitals, and even in government institutions. Psychology plays a role in treating mental health disorders to the extent that what is learned from psychological research can help psychotherapists and psychiatrists do what they do.
Psychotherapy is a discipline designed to treat mental health disorders separate from medical intervention. Psychotherapists can be either psychologists or psychiatrists who have undergone additional training and certification in order to practice. Yet they don’t have to be. A psychotherapist can be trained and certified in just that one discipline.
María R. de Almeida is a London psychotherapist who treats everything from depression and anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder. She also offers psychosomatic coaching. De Almeida says that the psychotherapist’s main tool is talking.
Widely used psychotherapy treatments include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies
- Group and family therapies
- Arts and recreational therapies
For the record, psychotherapy is based largely on the work of well-known Austrian therapist Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who first posited the idea that mental disorders are mainly caused by repressed thoughts, emotions, and desires.
Among the three disciplines, psychiatry is the only one that qualifies as a medical discipline. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor first and foremost. He or she has studied to become a licenced physician. Additional training in psychiatry qualifies the individual to work as a licenced psychiatrist.
Psychiatry is unique in that it looks at mental health issues from a medical standpoint. Where a psychotherapist might treat patients by helping them discuss repressed thoughts and emotions, a psychiatrist is more likely to treat chemical imbalances in the brain by way of medical therapies.
Being doctors allows psychiatrists to write prescriptions. Psychiatrists can also order a battery of medical tests and make referrals to other medical specialists. Finally, psychiatrists are qualified to make medical diagnoses. These are all things that psychotherapists and psychologists cannot do.
Different Answers to the Same Questions
It is important to note that none of the three disciplines is superior or inferior to the others. Psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry merely represent different ways to look at the same issue. They offer different answers to the same questions.
The work psychologists do directly influences how psychotherapists and psychiatrists treat their patients. Where those patients are concerned, psychotherapy and psychiatry can work together to help them successfully address mental health issues. Given all this, we can safely say that all three disciplines are indispensable.