Most people will deal with mental health issues at some point in their life either themselves or indirectly with friends, spouses, or other family members issues. Like most life problems and situations, people want the best possible treatment and approach for their specific needs. Most people struggle to tell you the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, let alone which will be a more effective treatment approach for any given condition. The reality of making this decision is somewhat more complicated. There are certainly some research variables that can weigh in on this choice depending largely on the specific mental health issue we are talking about. The other variable often comes down to some personal preferences in treatments. We will talk about both aspects.
What is the difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?
First, we should quickly delineate the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists. Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are medical doctors and nurse practitioners who have specialized training in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse issues. Their training stems from a medical model of training that views most conditions as a product of genetics and chemical imbalances that need to be treated medicinally to alleviate symptoms and correct imbalances. Their primary treatment approach will be relief through medications.
Psychologists, therapists, counselors, and social workers typically view mental health issues as a product of life stressors, traumas, parental rearing, or any number of environmental factors that have brought about the condition. Their treatment approach is typically psychotherapy which is intended to explore underlying causes and drivers for symptoms and diagnoses and teach clients a variety of tools and strategies to alleviate symptoms and work through troubling issues from their past. Interestingly, both psychiatrists and psychologists see the value and effectiveness of both approaches and rely on research and science to guide clients toward the most effective approaches.
Can the Client’s Personal Preference Determine the Treatment?
In many instances, the treatment a client chooses comes right down to what they prefer in treating their issues. We see many clients who prefer a psychiatric approach to treating issues. By comparison, treating conditions with medications can be quick, easy, and efficient. Taking a pill once a day to alleviate symptoms has some inherent appeal for its ease and convenience. Many of these clients may say they are rather private people and are not interested in sharing details of their past with therapists or simply don’t have the time, energy, and commitment to undergo months of therapy and self-exploration.
Alternatively, we also see many clients who do not want to put medications in their bodies or become reliant on medication to manage their symptoms for fear it may create a long-term dependence to manage their issues. Often these folks are drawn to the idea of past issues hindering their optimal performance and really want to process through and put some old issues to rest so they are no longer bothering them. They enjoy introspection, self-discovery, and acquisition of new tools and coping strategies. Neither outlook is bad or wrong. In most cases, both providers would tell you that it is simply important to do something. Most mental health issues that are neglected and not treated tend to get worse over time. What starts out mild can quickly become moderate or severe. Choosing some form of treatment is probably the most important thing. A client’s preference may drive their willingness to treat the issues. If preference leads to action, most providers are fine with either approach. That said, some mental health conditions are more effectively treated with one approach over the other which we will discuss next.
Does Diagnosis Drive the Treatment Plan?
There have been decades of research and study on the most effective treatment approaches for various mental health conditions. Although most can achieve some positive results with either psychiatry or psychotherapy, some conditions respond better to certain approaches. We will talk about some of the more common ones briefly.
- Depression – Depression is often quite effectively treated with either medication, therapy or both. In some instances, genetics can play a bigger role such as when we see extensive family history in the absence of troubling past life events. These would be situations where psychiatry may prove more effective. Conversely, clients with little family history and obvious past issues such as a recent divorce, abuse, bullying, or the like may achieve better long-term results with therapy to help work through issues.
- Anxiety – Much like depression, this can go both ways. Several variations of anxiety are better treated with certain approaches. Panic Disorder may necessitate some medication initially to manage and control panic attacks while therapy may better uncover the source of the panic attacks. OCD is often best treated with both medications in conjunction with specific types of therapy (CBT and Exposure with Response Prevention).
- PTSD – Here again, many people need some medications to temper the intensity of symptoms but are often encouraged to follow up with therapy approaches like EMDR to help resolve trauma issues.
- ADHD – This is a disorder of the frontal lobes and has a significant genetic load to it. It is generally most effectively treated with medications and psychiatry. There are some benefits to ADHD coaching and learning some compensatory mechanisms, but usually, medication is the most effective approach.
- Bipolar Disorder – This disorder also has a high genetic component and is largely a chemical imbalance often necessitating psychiatric mood stabilizer medications. Typically, all the therapy in the world isn’t going to stop people from going into a manic state. Nonetheless, therapy is often encouraged as an adjunct to work on coping skills and provide stability and monitoring of medication compliance.
- Schizophrenia – This condition almost always requires medication and management by a psychiatrist. Schizophrenia has a significant genetic component and is known to be an imbalance of dopamine levels in the brain. Therapy alone is not generally effective in stopping hallucinations and delusions. Again, like bipolar disorder, therapy is a great adjunct to medication management.
If you are interested in exploring psychiatry or psychotherapy, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule an appointment with one of our providers for a more thorough assessment. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.
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