Dealing with emotional problems, difficult circumstances and mental health issues is exasperating. It is not unusual for people to seek help. However, the variety of mental health professionals with similar sounding names makes deciding from whom to seek help a daunting task. Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists etc are all part of mental health care team with some overlapping responsibilities, but differing in terms of their educational backgrounds and scope of treatment. Read on for a basic overview of the various mental health experts to help you make informed decisions.
Psychologists study and evaluate behavior, emotions and mental health problems. After receiving a graduate degree, psychologists pursue either Ph.D or Psy.D in counseling or clinical psychology. This means about five to seven years of study following which certain states require one to two year long internship or supervised practice before being granted license to practice independently. Counseling therapy is the forte of psychologists and they deal with a wide range of issues from relationship problems to mental illnesses. Most states however, do not allow psychologists to prescribe medication.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the field of psychiatry. Completion of bachelor’s degree, a four year medical school program and additional four more years of residency in psychiatry are required in order to become a psychiatrist. These doctors diagnose, treat and manage all sorts of behavioral and mental disorders via the use of medication, therapy, or a combination of various techniques. Some psychiatrists pursue further training in sub-specialties -
- Child-Adolescent Psychiatrist and Learning Disabilities – Deal with mental health issues and learning disorders in children and adolescents below the age of 18 years. This includes conditions such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Asperger syndrome and other learning disabilities, anxiety disorders etc.
- Adult Psychiatrist - All kinds of mental health and behavioral problems affecting adults between the ages of 18 to 65 can be dealt by adult psychiatrists. Adult psychiatrist can do physical examination and prescribe lab tests or medication to diagnose and manage mental illnesses such as anxiety and panic disorders, bipolar disease, schizophrenia or eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia etc.
- Addiction psychiatrist – Specific training and knowledge to help patients tackle different kinds of addictions such as alcoholism, drug addiction, food addiction etc.
- Forensic Psychiatrist – These doctors work as an intermediary between mental health and law. It encompasses acting as expert witnesses as well as assessing the mental health status and treating the mental disorders of criminal offenders
- Disaster/Post-Traumatic Psychiatrist [PTSD] – Specialized training and knowledge to provide psychological first aid after a natural (tornado, hurricane) or a manmade (terrorism, vehicular accidents) disaster and psychiatric help long after the disastrous events (post traumatic stress disorder)
- Geriatric Psychiatrists – Advanced training and knowledge to deal with psychiatric problems in elderly such as dementia, alzheimers, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia etc.
- Psychiatric Nurse
These are registered nurses with a master’s degree in mental health nursing or psychiatry. Psychiatric nurses can give counseling therapy or administer medication under the supervision of a medical doctor.
- Mental health counselor
Mental health counselors usually complete two to three years of graduate studies before they provide counseling services in variety of circumstances such as marriage counseling, family disputes, addiction counseling etc. Counselors cannot prescribe medication and the therapy is usually brief and focused.
- Social worker
Public employees after two to three years of graduate education become social workers and help tackle issues ranging from addictions, child abuse to housing and employment.
Psychotherapist is a broad term for different types of mental health care professionals who can provide psychotherapy.
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