Similarities and differences between a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, and Psychoanalyst.

There are many diverse mental health care professionals who work with people having anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties and/or many other problems in living. While there is significant diversity between mental health workers in terms of education and training, there are similarities as well. All mental health professionals have decided that they want to devote their working life trying to relieve the suffering of their patients. Of course some people are more effective than others. Sometimes effectiveness is related to education and training but other times it is due to the personal characteristics of the mental health worker. Empathy and listening ability are a few examples of the kinds of traits that promote effective treatment, and these traits may be similar in different levels of mental health professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts.

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) who after college goes to medical school for 4 years and then takes a Residency Training Program in psychiatry that usually lasts 3-4 years. Psychiatrists being medical doctors are able to prescribe psychiatric medications for patients that can often be very helpful in relieving the distress that patients feel. Their training includes developing expertise in the administration of medications to relieve the symptoms of mental illness. Psychiatrists are also trained to listen, advise and promote rational decision making by patients. Nevertheless, psychiatrists are mostly called upon to prescribe medications, often in conjunction with other professionals – including psychologists – who primarily talk with patients.

A psychologist is also a doctor, either a Doctor of Philosophy (PH.D) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) The PhD program involves more research in addition to clinical training while the Psy.D training is almost entirely clinical. Psychologists are trained to pay attention to social and environmental determinants of behavior and mental Illness. Psychologists often recognize the need for medication and refer the patient to a psychiatrist for this purpose. Similarly, a psychiatrist often recognizes the need for a patient to have expert psychological intervention involving interpersonal issues arising either in the present or in the past, and, therefore, refers the patient to a psychologist. In some states psychologists can prescribe medication, and in some instances psychiatrists concentrate on talking at length with patients without prescribing medication. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases psychiatrists primarily prescribe medication while psychologists primarily talk and interact with patients at length.

A psychoanalyst can be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist who has had advanced training in how unconscious processes affect interactions with others and general well being. The best known psychoanalytic spokesperson has been attributed to Sigmund Freud, but there are many other psychoanalysts who have developed their own programs and who have lots of followers and practitioners. In psychoanalysis, what happens in childhood is crucial to the understanding of the patient as an adult. Training in psychoanalysis usually is done part-time over a long period of time. A central feature of this training is the requirement for trainees to have their own psychoanalysis which will help them understand the psychoanalytic process when they become analysts themselves.

The prescribing and monitoring of psychoactive medications is referred to as psychopharmacology. Talking to patients in an effort to reduce their distress or change their behavior is known as psychotherapy. One major type of psychotherapy is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy which follows psychoanalysis by emphasizing the importance of uncovering unconscious memories or behaviors that are presumed to affect behavior and distress in the present. Another major type of psychotherapy is Cognitive – Behavioral Therapy, which is the basis for most talk therapies practiced currently. Most therapists who talk with patients try to modify irrational or self-defeating beliefs(cognitive) and to gradually allow patients to change their behaviors that are also self destructive. This often requires a gradual diminishing of fear associated with behavior change.

Psychologists are prominent in both psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. Research has demonstrated the efficacy of individual talk therapy without medication. There is also research support for the efficacy of psychiatric medication without including psychotherapy. However the research seems to indicate that the largest improvement is when medication and psychotherapy are utilized together.

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