Psychology versus Psychiatry: Similarities and Differences

Psychology versus Psychiatry: Similarities and Differences - A major misunderstanding that much of the lay public shares are what the differences are between the roles of Psychologists and Psychiatrists. While much of what these two types of professionals do is similar in nature, there are also distinctive differences that the potential client needs to be aware of.

Psychology and Psychiatry are professions that complement one another in the study, identification and treatment of mental health problems. They cover large areas of research in the complex web of human behavior, both normal and abnormal.

The basic difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist is in the nature of their training. Psychologists are university trained in Psychology programs that focus on the connections between the brain and behavior, research techniques, and methods of treating behavior problems. A Psychiatrist, on the other hand, is a Medical Doctor or M.D. who has specialized in both the study of the physical brain and psychology and how these interact to create the human personality. The nature of their training permits psychiatrists to prescribe medication as a means of helping a client to deal with their problems.

Psychology: The Science of the Mind

Although observation of the links between the mind and body have been of interest to physicians and philosophers since ancient times, the formal scientific study of the mind and human behavior dates back only to the career of Sigmund Freud, a Doctor who practiced in Vienna, Austria between the 1880s and his death in 1939.

Since Freud's time, Psychology and Psychiatry, as both studies and practice, have grown and diverged in many different directions with the common purpose of better understanding human behavior, and of finding the means of changing or correcting unacceptable or unwanted behaviors.

Psychology itself is the scientific study of how the human mind works with an emphasis on how the physical brain, personality, intellect, environment, life experience and brain chemistry work together to create a unique individual.

Psychology, in a clinical setting is a process of assisting clients to maximize their life experience through the correction of problem behaviors and thought patterns, and through self-actualization to make the most of their personal talents and strengths.

In addition to the normal combination of personal traits, environment and experiences that is common to all human beings, and sometimes cause great problems in a person's life, there are a vast range of mental illnesses and physical problems, not to mention other difficulties, of the human mind that affect a large number of the people.

These problems can only be understood through the study and understanding of how and why these problems interact with the physical functions of the brain. As study continues medical science and psychological science are continuing to discover medications and treatments that help manage, control and correct these physical and psychological problems.

Mental Illnesses and Psychiatric Problems

Mental illnesses can be rooted in physical problems; inborn, genetic or due to physical reasons such as head injuries, brain tumors or infections, brain damage due to substance abuse, high fevers, etc. or acquired through difficult life experiences such as trauma, long-term stress or many others.

Some of these conditions can be treated by means of 'talk therapy', commonly known as counseling, alone or in combination with medications. Other conditions may need more intensive courses of treatment as a means of management and control.

differences between psychology and psychiatry

Psychological Schools of Thought

The earliest formal course of psychological treatment was Psychoanalysis, pioneered by Sigmund Freud. This type of treatment was long-term and focused on identifying the subconscious roots of behavior and required the patient to reflect on the events of their life, see the patterns and connections and then devise a strategy for changing and/or correcting their reactions. Freud also pioneered the field of dream research as a means of connecting with personal difficulties.

Freud's work led to the research and theories of other pioneering researchers. Some of the best known of these are Jung, Adler, Franckel, Erickson, Skinner, Pavlov and Maslow who did research that took psychology in many different directions.

A short list of the most basic of these include Structuralism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Humanism, Developmental, Cognitivism and Existentialism. These long and complicated sounding names refer to the many different ways consciousness can be viewed. These various areas of study led to the most popular modern schools of practice; Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Reality Therapy, Gestalt, and Brief Therapy which focus on a more short-term approaches of identifying the problems and devising a means of dealing with the those problems.

The Psychiatrist

As mentioned above, a Psychiatrist, is a trained Medical Doctor who has specialized in the study of the human mind, both as a physiological and neurological structure and, like the Psychologist, as the center of the human personality. This combination of training makes it possible for a Psychiatrist to combine the use of medications; antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and a wide range of others, as needed with other clinical treatments to help their clients to lead normal lives. Psychiatrists primarily practice in Medical settings; hospitals, clinics and private practice.

In private practice Psychiatrists can engage in various schools of 'talk therapy' and even long-term treatment of troubled clients. In community mental health practice and other medical settings Psychiatrists are frequently limited to evaluating clients and prescribing and monitoring medications.

The Psychologist

A Psychologist is, by definition, a professional who holds a Doctorate, or Ph.D. degree, in Psychology from an accredited university. By the time he or she accepts that degree they have extensively studied the human mind and behavior, research methods, administering and evaluating standardized tests and methods of mental health treatment.

Psychologists also work in many venues; mental health clinics, hospitals, residential facilities, legal settings, private practice, schools, sport and military settings to mention just a few. Others work in such specialized areas as advertising and other businesses. A few, such as Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura and Dr. Ruth, amongst others, have made prosperous careers on TV and radio with advice shows.

In many settings; schools, prisons, and the military a Psychologist's primary job is the observation and testing of intellect, aptitudes, achievement and personality traits as well as screening for mental health problems.

Many Psychologists engage in various areas of personal, family and marriage counseling in either private or community mental health settings. Psychologists who work in advertising or other big businesses are responsible for evaluating and anticipating buying trends and for advertising and packaging products to make them appealing to the public.

Many other Psychologists work in research settings; universities or laboratories, that permit them to observe learning behavior and reactions to situations and to document and correlate the resulting data.

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